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Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Games
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS Vita Review - 'Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 18, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

In Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls players will take on the role of two heroines, Komaru Naegi and Toko Fukawa, as they are thrust into a despair-ridden Towa City with one goal–escape.

The first two games in the Danganronpa series were good, but they were even bigger deals for those who only owned a Vita as a portable platform. Not only did they get a good alternative to the Ace Attorney series, but they also got a grim storyline that brilliantly clashed with the presentation. The third game in the series, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, takes a slightly different approach as it swaps out the investigative visual novel adventure for a story-heavy, third-person shooter.

Despite the change in gameplay style, the story remains as twisted as ever. You play Komura Naegi, a normal teenager in a two-room apartment. She's been held captive in this makeshift prison for 1.5 years, though food is constantly delivered. One day, a murderous monokuma breaks down her door, allowing her to run into a group of rescuers who give her a megaphone-shaped hacking gun. After barely making it out of a restaurant alive, she is captured and wakes up in the care of five children who call themselves the Warriors of Hope. The kids have made it their duty to take over the city by killing all adults who stand in their way. You're soon forced to take part in their game and meet up with Toko, a girl with a dangerous split personality. With your new companion, your job is to find a way out of the ruined town.

Like the previous games, the overall plot is a play on movies like "Battle Royale," specifically the second one, with some "Lord of the Flies" thrown in for good measure. The idea of the crumbling world has been used enough, but it's an uneasy notion that kids are inflicting this violence for their own amusement. You get a backstory on each child and how they came to hate adults, and as in the previous games, the stories don't hold back on the twisted details. Scenes of death and despair as more innocent people die and more obstacles appear are constant, and while the game doesn't go out of its way to show you heaps of gore, the result isn't any less impactful.

Once again, the characters make the story interesting. Komaru and Toko take quite a while to break out of their initial personalities of scared victim and distrusting ally, respectively, but at least their dialogue comes across as natural thanks to equal amounts of seriousness and humor. Meanwhile, the kids who comprise the Warriors of Hope are more disturbing because they believe that none of this is evil, making them formidable villains and putting them on par with some of the characters from both of the main games. Despite Ultra Despair Girls being set between the first two titles, the many revelations and character ties mean that it is best to play this after the second title unless you don't mind some spoilers.

The story is something of a slow burn. The first two Danganronpa games got over this by having interactions with lots of characters. Since you never spent a great deal of time with one person, every conversation felt diverse and fresh. The story in Ultra Despair Girls is solid but can drag at times since most of the interactions are confined to two people. For series newcomers, the first few hours can be dull once the introductions are done, but it becomes much more rewarding if you stick with it.

Even though the game is billed as a third-person shooter, there are a lot of visual novel sequences. At least half of any given chapter is spent on dialogue and furthering the story in this manner. There are items that trigger short scenes, like seeing Toko's reactions to the various books you pick up in the world. They aren't essential to the main story, but they give you insight on her snobby attitude toward most literature.

Once you take control of Komaru, you'll find the shooting mechanics to be familiar. Standard shooter controls apply; the dual analog sticks control movement and camera, and the shoulder buttons handle aiming and shooting. Face buttons let you pick up objects like ammo and money while the d-pad allows you to switch gun ammo types. You start with standard code bullets but soon acquire new bullet types, such as one that lets you uncover hidden objects, one that commands other objects to move, and one that stuns a monokumo in place.

When all else fails, you can call on Toko for help, and like a scene out of the more recent Persona games, she'll taze her brain to become the serial killer known as Genocide Jack. From here, the game becomes a third-person beat-'em-up as you slash at all of monokumo in your path using your dual scissors. Like any good beat-'em-up, constantly hitting foes builds up a meter that lets you go into a frenzy with more powerful attacks. Oddly enough, you're completely invincible when taking control of Toko, but you're limited in the amount of time you can play as her.

If taken as a third-person shooter, the game is pretty dull. Granted, Komaru doesn't immediately go from scared teenager to ruthless robot bear killer, but she moves rather slowly in any area, even if you give her the command to run. Firing her weapon requires her to stand still and aim, and the loose sticks of the Vita mean that precision is going to be a chore. Shooting isn't a fast endeavor, so expect to fire bullets slowly instead of at a rapid clip. It doesn't help that the camera feels too close to the character even without aiming initiated, so you can't really get the most optimal viewpoint of the field. In this regard, action fans would see this as a big disappointment if it weren't for the fact that you can upgrade your bullet abilities and Toko's stats.

Should you choose to approach the game like a survival horror title, however, the pacing and other quirks become less bothersome. The slower movements and deliberate aiming fit that genre perfectly, and the lack of any real AI on the monokumos makes them perfect analogs for zombies, especially since they have a weak point that requires precise aiming to hit. Ammo is a scarcity, so making every shot count is paramount, and the game often makes those bears pop out for jump-scare moments. There are also a number of puzzles that need solving to obtain key items to proceed.

Speaking of puzzles, those are often the best part of Ultra Despair Girls, and you'll encounter them pretty often. Some require solving children's riddles to decipher the numeric code that unlocks a door or a safe that contains a valuable item. Other times, you have to figure out a way to eliminate all the monokumo in an area using specific bullets. While the former can produce some brain teasers, the latter can easily devolve into blasting all of the mechanical bears without bothering to do things the suggested way. Though not exactly recommended for maximum enjoyment, it does at least ensure that few will ever get stuck.

Graphically, the game works well because of the mixed-up cut scenes. The styles vary but include darkly colored manga with stilted animation, in-game cut scenes, fully animated snippets and 2-D visual novel portraits. All of them transition rather abruptly, but the randomness of which style you'll get next is somewhat exciting. Elsewhere, the character models are fine, and the environments aren't too exciting to look at. Most of the time, the game looks like typical PS2 fare with cleaner textures. The additions to the environment make the game stand out since the choices minimize the horrors and make them more artistic instead. Fire, for example, is depicted with strong blue, orange and red colors in a flat paper style that makes it look fake. The adult corpses are human silhouettes in blue and pink, and blood is fluorescent purple instead of red. Like the cut scenes, the clashing graphical elements make this visually interesting and a real looker despite not being as technically adept as other titles on the system.

Like the graphics, the sound mixes up lots of things that normally shouldn't work well together. This is especially true of the soundtrack, which is comprised of a traditional anime score, funk, light jazz and some instrumental tunes, just to name a few. It seems to be a confused and almost random soundtrack at first, but it fits as it is meant to convey the chaotic mess the world and its protagonists find themselves in. Taken separately, each of the tracks is great to listen to, so the scattershot approach is actually fine. Elsewhere, the effects are good while the vocal performances are pretty natural. Oddly, the game only comes with an English voiceover track, so those who prefer a Japanese track will have to download that separately. Keep in mind that the add-on is over 1.7GB in size, so adding that to a game that's already over 2.25GB means you'll need a pretty big card whether you want to download the game or buy the physical version.

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is for those who care more about story than shooting. The amount of time given to cut scenes is on par with earlier games in the series, and the tale is fascinating as long as you can handle some pretty dark content. The shooting is serviceable, but it works more as a device for solving puzzles since it feels too slow for an action game. As long as you know to temper your expectations in that regard, Ultra Despair Girls makes for an interesting spin-off, but it would be nice to see improvements if the series goes down this route again.

Score: 7.5/10

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