The first two Danganronpa games are two of my favorite games of recent memory, without question. Featuring characters that are *completely* out of this world and a story that constantly had my head exploding, both games are visual novels that are able to just *be* visual novels due to the strength of the writing. However, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a spin-off that takes place between the first two games and is no longer a visual novel, but a third-person shooter. It’s a big change for the series, though it wasn’t pulled off as well as it could have been.
This time around we’re controlling Komaru Naegi, who is the little sister of Makoto from the first game. The game begins with her being imprisoned in an apartment for a year and a half, which is a result of “The Tragedy” that we learn about in the first game. After months of being alone, a Monokuma robot eventually breaks in to try and kill her, but she’s able to escape and is soon provided with a hacking gun to take on the army of Monokumas roaming the streets. And this is what the majority of the game consists of: gunning down wave after wave of variations of Monokumas in third-person combat that’s serviceable, but definitely not good enough to keep it interesting for very long. This new PlayStation 4 version does make it a little easier to control than it was on PlayStation Vita, so that’s at least a definite improvement.
While I have nothing against third-person shooters, in a series that previously featured a fantastic visual novel experience which culminated in incredible courtroom debates, this game just doesn’t offer a good enough replacement. As you are wandering the streets of Towa City to try and escape with your sidekick Toko, the mechanics involved are pretty basic. If you see a Monokuma running at you then you stop, point your gun and aim for the weak spot in the eye. You’ll get variations of bullets that allow you to do things like make the Monokumas dance to distract enemies, knock them back so they drop their shields, or even hack into them to manipulate them into attacking other enemies. However, the controls are a little ckunky and the combat itself isn’t challenging or deep enough to really make it all that engaging.
The challenge is further diminished when you switch to your sidekick Toko, who acts as a summon that you can call on to deal devastating damage in a short amount of time until her charge runs out. I rarely found myself in a position where I *couldn’t* use Toko, and when the standard boss fights came around at the end of each of the game’s five chapters I was able to beat them to a pulp with Toko without any fuss at all. It’s great to be able to go nuts on a hoard of Monokumas, but Komaru’s hacking gun is usually plenty to get the job done thanks to constant ammo and health drops. It also doesn’t help that taking on hoards of Monokumas gets repetitive after a while, even if the game does offer up new versions of Monokumas that require you to take them out with slightly different tactics.
Fortunately, the game is able to throw in some puzzles that will actually require you to use your head if you want to get through them in one go. There are dozens of rooms you will come across that will have Monokumas lined up in various position and you need to figure out a way to take them all out at once. These rooms can be very tricky to figure out, and result in what is probably the most satisfying gameplay element that Ultra Despair Girls has to offer. Other little puzzles are strewn throughout the game that will require you to figure out passwords to move on, and one in particular towards the end really had me stumped. I wanted to just kick down the freakin’ door because I was being an impatient idiot, but eventually I figured it out and I stopped crying. It was these brief moments that gave me the sense of victory that the first two games regularly did, and I loved that.
While the new gameplay elements don’t really shine through very well in this game, it is thankfully elevated quite a bit by another great story and characters. Komaru and Toku’s bond that grows throughout the game results in some really funny and heartfelt movements, even if it does get a bit too cheesy at times. Apart from them you have the Monokuma kids and leaders, who are all determined to kill all of the adults in the world and create a children’s paradise. The insane aspect of the first two games is perfectly replicated here, but the fact that a lot of it now involves children creates a creepiness that even goes beyond those first two games.
The story is also crucial to the first two games, as it sheds a lot of light on the overall story arc and provides plenty of revelations on both the game that comes before it and the game that comes after it. It all culminates in a finale that, while maybe not as mind-blowing as the first two games, is still the highlight of the game and features several twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat. You never really *know* what’s really going on in a Danganronpa game until the end, and I was glad that I hadn’t figured everything out before the ending.
While Ultra Despair Girls isn’t on the same level as the incredible Trigger Happy Havoc or Goodbye Despair due to the shift in genre, it’s salvaged thanks to another great storyline. You really feel like you are in a world that is completely off its hinges, and the dread of walking through the streets and seeing Monokuma kids dancing around the dead bodies of adults is something that chilled me more than once. However, these moments are unfortunately mixed in with run-of-the mill third-person shooter gameplay that just isn’t a whole lot of fun when all is said and done. Still, if you were invested in the storyline that the first two games had to offer then you won’t regret playing through Ultra Despair Girls.