Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita) Review

By Az Elias 23.09.2015

Review for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on PS Vita

As the future of Zero Escape was stuck in limbo, Spike Chunsoft - with the help of NIS America - came along to fill the horror visual novel void with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Both released in the West in 2014, the sadistic and brutal high school killing games immediately became one of the prime reasons to own a PS Vita, establishing a passionate fan base eager for the continuation of the franchise. A third mainline entry is officially underway, but in the meantime, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls takes a different approach, looking to provide answers to many questions introduced in the second title.

When this spin-off was initially revealed, Ultra Despair Girls didn't give a hopeful impression. A Danganronpa third-person shooter? The clunky-looking gameplay did little to quench the "milking" feelings that couldn't help but rise to the surface of the mind after the success of the first two visual novel entries, plus the anime and other media that spawned since.

Despite the change in design and fears that the title may not live up to its predecessors' billings, though, it would be difficult to find anyone that enjoyed the series with no interest in Ultra Despair Girls at all - and that mainly comes down to the plot and wonderful characters that have made Danganronpa the revered adventure franchise it is. Needless to say, it is again the story that is the main appeal of this action-oriented spin-off.

Komaru Naegi - sister of protagonist Makoto of the first game - has been living an isolated life. Kidnapped and completely unaware of what had been going on during the events of Trigger Happy Havoc, and none the wiser to the aftermath of The Tragedy, Komaru finds herself free from her torment one seemingly usual day, when familiar-looking black and white bear robots - Monokumas - attack her at the same time that Byakuya Togami, a survivor of the Hope's Peak Academy murders and now a member of Future Foundation, attempts to rescue her from her imprisonment. Escaping into the outside world and armed with the Hacking Gun - a megaphone-like device capable of destroying Monokumas, courtesy of the now-captured Byakuya - Komaru meets another recognisable face in the form of Toko Fukawa. Learning that Towa City, the place Komaru has been tied up in, has been overrun by Monokumas and crazy children that are murdering adults left, right and centre, she teams up with Toko to rescue Byakuya and escape the island.

Screenshot for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on PS Vita

Ultra Despair Girls' story is not too far removed from what has come to be expected from Danganronpa. Its themes are unapologetically horrific - even sickening - but its humorous and loveable characters, cheeky innuendos and contrasting colourful visual design, complete with trademark pink blood, serve to take the edge off the atrocities at play. There aren't too many major bombshells, and the mystery of the central plot isn't really on par with the visual novels titles, but it still retains the essence of Danganronpa - cringe and all - and doesn't feel out of place in the grand scheme of things.

Whilst the familiar and new soundtracks help to keep the Danganronpa feeling alive, it's the characters, more than anything, that are the driving force behind making Ultra Despair Girls as "Danganronpa" as possible. For starters, the chemistry and banter between Komaru and Toko is undeniably hilarious. With the latter's split personality, it creates perfect opportunities for the developer to go nuts and let loose with the two very different sides to Toko. It's just unfortunate that her crazy alter ego of Genocide Jack doesn't get more screen time.

Although it's also a shame that some other faces don't show up in person this time around, there really couldn't have been a better choice than the Ultimate Writing Prodigy as Komaru's sidekick. There isn't enough material to work with for the other survivors of Hope's Peak, and Toko does have the rampageous Genocide Jack residing in her, after all - the perfect fighting machine. There is a lot to learn about Toko, and no matter how harsh she can be on innocent and "average" Komaru, it's hard to dislike her, since she has issues of her own and has led a troubled life, and her bluntness, profanities, and obsession with "Master" Byakuya - along with filthy fantasies that leave her daydreaming, and literally babbling and foaming at the mouth - make her all the more endearing.

In true Danganronpa fashion, though, there is a lot of narrative to bust through - so much so, that the flow of gameplay can often be broken up too much due to the frequency of small scenes. It's in keeping with the nature of the series, which has never been big on its gameplay aspects, and relies on its storytelling first and foremost. This doesn't always become too frustrating if going into the game solely for its plot, because that's what Danganronpa fans primarily play the series for, but there will always be moments of annoyance when finally getting into the rhythm of it as yet another stoppage occurs to let a short scene play out.

Screenshot for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on PS Vita

Across five overly long chapters, which take place in mostly different and linear areas, the basic premise in terms of gameplay is to shoot Monokumas with the Hacking Gun's various Truth Bullets - all of which have specific traits and uses. Paralyse them, make them dance, knock them back off edges, and even take over their bodies to attack others. Their red left eye is their weakness, which defeats them in one shot if landed, but it isn't always easy to hit the nail on the head. The initial fears of clunkiness do still linger; this isn't the well-polished gameplay expected of a modern action game, but it does the job of delivering an arcade experience. The lack of strafing is a minor gripe that is gotten used to, but the need to hold the Square button to run and not being able to spin the camera at the same time with the right stick keeps things from being as smooth as possible.

It's probably a relief, then, that the normal difficulty isn't really all that tough. Bosses are extremely simple to beat, but with how Ultra Despair Girls draws itself out in terms of story and gameplay, keeping it easy enough to see through to the end does ensure even those not keen on action games, preferring the visual novel style of the original titles, will appreciate the slightly laidback approach. There are moments of aggravation in certain mini-game-like scenarios, whereby Komaru must reach the end of puzzle rooms by defeating enemies in a particular way - the worst being stealthy areas that force not being spotted by crazy Monokuma beasts, else restarting the section over again - but most can be blasted through by just killing everything, instead of causing a chain reaction to take foes out in one hit. The less retries it takes to nail the goal of the room with the intended bullets, the better the chance of a high grade at the end of the chapter.

Further adding to what can make getting through Ultra Despair Girls a breeze is the option to switch to Genocide Jack at any time. She runs on rechargeable batteries, now that Toko is able to control her murderous split personality, but is an overpowered madwoman in the heat of battle, hacking and slashing with her scissors at blistering speed and able to perform special attacks that can decimate enemies in one hit. In times of dire straits, usually when Komaru is low on health or bullets, it is always recommended to switch to Genocide Jack to clean up, or simply blast through anything that stands in the way for quicker progression. She does feel cheap, but the hardest difficulty limits how much Toko's "twin" can be used.

Screenshot for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on PS Vita

One area that some may find issue with is in the skills that can be equipped. Levelling up allows more abilities to be applied to Komaru and Toko, which can be bought or found throughout the city, but if playing as normal and taking out most of the enemies that appear along the way, rarely will there not be enough space to equip all abilities. Skill management becomes almost non-existent, since nearly everything can be applied at once. Perhaps the intention is that it is the reward for levelling up, but it defeats the purpose of having to manually equip them and giving each skill numerical values that take up space.

Presentation values are right up there with some of the best on Vita, as expected of any Danganronpa title. The actual visuals are some of the finest looking on the system, with nary an inch of aliasing on character models. These are some of the cleanest graphics around, perhaps achieved through the minimalist, yet stylistic, level design. Things run smoothly, but there are some audio issues that can flare up on occasion. One major example is a seemingly random occurrence of sound effects continuing to play over and over in the background, and following through during cut-scenes. This glitch can eventually resolve itself if left long enough, but a game restart is generally in order to wipe it out (this happened on two separate occasions during a single playthrough). It is highly recommended not to set the dialogue to "auto," as the ends of spoken sentences will be skipped as the next page is automatically jumped to. It's a huge oversight that should have been picked up on, but using the "manual" dialogue option should always be the way to go, regardless.

A final minor complaint would have to be the two types of cut-scene movies used for important story segments. After opening with a fantastic anime video, rather ugly 3D CGI movies are mostly presented thereafter. It is particularly jarring going from a beautiful anime scene to a CGI one that looks a bit too amateur for its own good, and vice versa. No doubt financial constraints prevented anime being used throughout, but it is hard to get accustomed to after being spoiled by the more lavish clips that do show up now and again.

Screenshot for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Like it or not, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is an essential part of the series canon, despite the vastly different take on the previous visual novel format. Whilst far from perfect gameplay-wise, and dragging on too much for its own good, many of the positive attributes Danganronpa is known for successfully transfer across to this entry, filling in the gaps left between the previous two releases. It is the plot that carries Ultra Despair Girls along, but had it not been for the entries before it, this may not have been received as favourably. Either way, this is still a must-play for Danganronpa fans.

Developer

Spike Chunsoft

Publisher

NIS America

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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