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Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

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Shot Through The Heart

When it was first announced that Spike Chunsoft's third Danganronpa game wouldn't be a visual novel, a lot of folks, including yours truly, were understandably apprehensive. Trigger Happy Havoc and its fantastic sequel Goodbye Despair were master-class examples of the medium, after all. Shifting genres for the spin-off, titled Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, could signal a shift in priorities away from the tense plotting and killer characterization that buoyed the series so far.

Thankfully, that hasn't proven true of the final product, though the experience has left me wondering whether the change was necessary at all. 

[Note: This review will mention certain elements from both Danganronpa games that may be considered spoilers. No major plot developments in Ultra Despair Girls will be discussed but some details that hint to towards the circumstances of the other games are unavoidable.]

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls  (PS Vita [reviewed])
Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Spike Chunsoft (JP) / NIS America (EU, US)
Released: September 25, 2014 (JP) / September 1, 2015 (US) / September 4, 2015 (EU)
MSRP: $39.99

The change I'm referring to, of course, is the swapping of the core games' visual novel mechanics with third-person shooting gameplay. Players will use a specialized, bullhorn-shaped "hacking gun" to shoot "truth bullets" with varying effects at the legions of Monokuma, the two-tone robotic death bear that serves as the series' mascot. 

The mechanics themselves are serviceable but unremarkable, with the act of shooting resembling nothing so much as a stripped-down version of the laser-sight-guided gunplay of Resident Evil 4 and the like. Different truth bullets have different effects and enable varied tactics against enemies. Knockback bullets send hostiles flying while Dance bullets stun enemies with the power of funky music. Link bullets take control of enemies by remote while the Detect "bullet" is more of a flashlight that highlights puzzle clues, rather than a tool for combat.

Ammunition is kept relatively scarce, privileging good aim as players can save on shots by hitting oncoming foes in their weak spots, and enemies come in varying shapes, sizes, and attack patterns. The game also mixes things up with "game rooms", essentially puzzle sections with specific win conditions and restrictions on ammo type. One room might demand that players clear every enemy in a single explosion, or by exploiting both the special functions of the different truth bullets in conjunction with environmental elements.

It's all solid and works fine, for the most part, but Ultra Despair Girls hardly distinguishes itself against any dedicated shooters on the strength of its gameplay. And for the most part, that's not what fans of the Danganronpa series will be playing the game for in any case.

Thankfully, the parts of Ultra Despair Girls that Danganronpa fans will be playing the game for - the bizzarro narrative twists, the off-the-wall characters and unpredictable storytelling - are all intact and fully present. Any fears that becoming a shooter would diminish the series' ability to spin an engrossing yarn are quickly proven unfounded.

As with the core games, virtually all but the most cursory discussion threatens spoilers, so I'll keep the summary somewhat vague: Players take on the role of Komaru Naegi, sister to Danganronpa protagonist Makoto, as she and a partner fans will find familiar roll through the ruined city of Towa, fighting a group calling themselves "The Warriors of Hope". The narrative is quick to let on that virtually nothing is what it seems at first, and even subverts some of the core games' key themes through its story beats. Fans of the deeper lore will also find plenty of interesting references and callbacks to both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, as Ultra Despair Girls functions, chronologically, as a bridge of sorts between the two games.

Twists and turns aside, Ultra Despair Girls also features good characterization, quickly and effectively establishing its cast in the over-the-top manner unique to the series. The English dub is effective, with key performances from actresses Erin Fitzgerald and Cherami Lee anchoring the project. The quality of the other voices is a bit more variable, but overall it works, and purists have the option of grabbing the original Japanese voice track (which helpfully adds subtitles to the cutscenes) as free DLC on the PSN Store.

Side content is also plentiful, as collectible books poke fun at common tropes in Japan's geek-literary scene. Fans who don't mind reading on the Vita's screen can also peruse a tie-in novel included on the game cartridge, starring Danganronpa alumnus Hiro Hagakure. 

All this in mind, one can't help but feel that Ultra Despair Girls' greatest flaw isn't that its adoption of shooting gameplay doesn't work - it works fine - but that the game is almost as good without it. Just as some may make the credible argument that the original games' minigame sections were a blemish on an otherwise pristinely entertaining visual novel, here, it's the gameplay portions of this game that are the least remarkable aspect.

In the end, though, that's hardly an offense, and everything works well enough that it's quite easy to recommend putting up with mediocre shooting to get to a meaty and substantial entry into the Danganronpa canon.


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Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls reviewed by Josh Tolentino

7.5

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



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