Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls – review

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An action spin-off from a series that’s at least 95% dialogue; a recipe for disaster, right? Well yes, it is, but Spike Chunsoft have cooked up quite the delectable dish here. That said, if you don’t already have a taste for it, it’s debatable just how palatable you will find this gaming meal.

Now that the painfully overwrought food metaphor is over, let’s get on with talking about the game itself. If you’re already a fan of Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2, then you absolutely want – nay, need – this game. The “Another Episode” part of the subtitle is very apt. Chronologically it seems to be set between the first two games, and is quite firmly wedged in the same universe. Characters and events in the first game are mentioned, alluded to, and even featured explicitly; one of the main characters is in fact Toko from the first game, who has developed emotionally since then and continues to do so until the end. The truth is that her actress plays the character superbly, obliterating the perfectly competent competition.

The bright anime styling of the main games is continued, with the plentiful blood being a garish pink rather than red. The new stylistic choice of note is to have most human NPCs a solid blue with no detail, which somehow makes the corpses littered around the scenery more disconcerting than fully detailed ones would be. Whether you’re familiar with the series or not, the atmosphere remains unique and disconcerting.

One thing it’s important to stress is that, although this is an action game, there are hours upon hours upon hours of dialogue here. If you just want something you can pick up and blast through now and again, stay away. Characters talk at the beginning of levels. They talk at the end of levels. They talk during gameplay. They stop to talk many times during levels. They have conversations with talking heads against the backdrop of the game (a la Persona). They talk in cutscenes using in-game graphics. They talk during full-blown anime movie scenes (a first for the series). They talk. A lot.

Big exclamation marks above enemies’ heads. It’s just like Metal Gear Solid 5! Er, sort of.

When you do get to move around, you’ll find yourself playing what is essentially an over-the-shoulder shooter. Your megaphone-shaped gun (why not?) gradually has more types of ammo made available to it until you have a whole weapon wheel to choose from. Your enemies are robot bears called Monokumas, which come in several different flavours themselves; choosing the right ammo, or sometimes combinations of ammo, is key. For most types, though, scoring a hit right in the red eye means an instant kill (and a higher level of currency to pick up).

The controls are just about good enough to do the job but, in all honesty, are pretty poor. Aiming is twitchy, with none of the associated upgrades doing much to help things. Perversely, that helps generate a sense of achievement when you take enemies down. While Komaru wields the megaphone gun, Toko is a melee fighter (she has a split personality with a serial killer – if you don’t know, don’t ask) that can take Monokumas down pretty quickly, and her abilities are also upgradeable. However, the time you get to control her is limited, as her use drains a battery gauge – and if you’re not controlling her directly, she won’t fight. A handful of boss encounters are included which utilise both characters but, unfortunately, all follow the ‘shoot the weak spot then hammer it when it falls down’ template.

It’s not all combat though. There’s a large amount of collectables to hunt down, and there are also dozens of puzzles sprinkled through the experience. These usually take the form of puzzle rooms where you’re given a specific objective – which tends to mean setting things up so that you kill all enemies in a room at once. You get a birds eye view of the room via a camera, then you toddle in to do your thing. Some of these rooms really do need you to stop and think, but they’re usually very simple. It can still be quite satisfying to take out a group of enemies with one shot/explosion/burst of electricity/runaway car.

Pretty good synopsis there.

We need to come back to the story and script, because the bottom line is that’s the core of the experience. As previously mentioned it’s a canon part of the Danganronpa tale, and is as well written as the first two games. Knowledge of the main games isn’t necessary to understand what’s going on, but it’s definitely preferable, and there’s no way you’ll understand everything completely without background knowledge (particularly whichever of the endings you get). It’s smart, it’s witty, it can be laugh-out-loud funny – but it can also be very, very dark. The fundamental idea behind the plot, easy for anybody to understand, is that you find yourself in a place called Towa City. The city has been cut off from the rest of the world, and is overrun by the Monokumas who are killing every adult in sight. The reason the children are left alone is because… they are controlling the robots, slaughtering all the grown-ups. How and why this has come to pass gets more and more twisted as the details are uncovered.

From a fan’s point of view, the greatest criticism is perhaps that reducing Monokuma to cloned cannon fodder was a bad decision – because none of the antagonists meant to fill the void are nearly as memorable or entertaining as he was. That’s not too important in the midst of 16-20 hours of a game that, let’s face it, is still mostly story. And there is the rub, my friends. Existing fans will happily forgive this game its flaws, and gorge themselves on this new exploration of the story’s world. Everybody else, however, would be best advised to consider playing this game like walking into the cinema halfway through a movie carrying somebody else’s half-eaten bag of popcorn.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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