After releasing on PS Vita back in 2014, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls makes its way to PlayStation 4. While the jump from small screen to large hasn’t marred the sardonic, witty and brilliant narrative that the game exudes so naturally, the gameplay, visuals and environments definitely suffer.
For those unfamiliar with the Danganronpa franchise, stop reading now, like seriously. This is a spin-off which takes place in between the first and second entries in the series so is for die-hard Danganronpa fans only. The lore is much more obscure this time around and the world building is plentiful and dense. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls starts off as any Danganronpa game does, with an imprisoned protagonist. This time around it’s Komaru Naegi (the sister of Mokoto from the first game) who finds herself confined in a hotel room with no contact with the outside world. Things quickly take a turn as a psychotic, mechanical Monokuma breaks through her door and all hell ensues. It’s here that one of the game’s best features comes into play, it features several returning characters from other games. These sometimes brief cameos do wonders with the source material building out the already complex but wonderful world lore.
One character from the first game comes back in a more substantial role, functioning as a secondary playable character. Toko Fukawa, the schizophrenic, shy and sometimes murderous writer from the first game accompanies the player throughout the game. Toko is a real treat from the get-go as her short fuse and obsessive personality clashes with Komaru’s timid and pacifist attitude early on. They’re a regular odd couple with most of the game’s humour coming from the back and forth between them.
Despite being a Danganronpa game, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls does away with the detective gameplay we all know and love and instead offers a third person shooter as a substitute. This is where things start to fall apart for the game. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a perfectly adequate if noticeably dated shooter with semi-interesting shooting mechanics and enemies. The character movement is extremely frustrating by being slow and unresponsive. In certain areas which task the player with defeating more mobile enemies, the movement really hinders the experience. This becomes particularly troublesome in the boss sections which often require quick movement. In terms of weapons there’s a sort of multi-tool which shoots a range of ammo to affect the Monokuma enemies. One bullet acts as a regular bullet would while another causes the enemy to get their groove on, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Killing enemies builds a special meter which can be used to triggered Toko’s alter-ego Genocide Jack. In these moments the game is faster, bloodier and quite frankly more fun. It’s a shame that Toko isn’t the main protagonist, to be honest. Thankfully, the shooting sections are usually short and broken up by what is the main draw of the game, the story.
I’m happy to report that Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls continues the series’ trend of offering a weird and wonderful sci-fi mystery which never holds back from playing with dark themes. The core baddies in the game are a group of children who are leading a revolution against all adults. Each kid is a lil’ Ultimate-something like in previous games and feature imaginative and unique character designs. Stylistic choices really make the game stand out. Blood is pink in this world and is used in excess to amplify the violence. Corpses are coloured neon blue and red and are usually being prodded and poked at by creepy kids in Monokuma masks. This battle between young and old is the core theme here with the iconic thread of hope and despair tying the package together. The narrative is the main reason to pick up this companion piece. While it is in no way vital to understanding the other games, it fills in some gaps and makes the series feel like more of a complete package.
Visually, the game leaves a lot to be desired. In some instances, the visuals are brilliant like in the fully animated anime cutscenes. In other areas like in 3D character models, the game really falls short, especially with it being a Vita port. Environments are incredibly repetitive and not really worth exploring, which is a shame because you spend a lot of your time back tracking through it. The actual character designs are so damn good that it’s a shame when they are muddled into a 3D environment. The majority of the game plays out through on screen text which can get a little dull but will be familiar to fans of the series. Unfortunately the narrative is so dense and sprawling that text is really the only way to portray it.
Your enjoyment of this game will depend on two things; How much you enjoyed the overarching Danganronpa story-line in the other games and whether or not you’re attached to the detective mystery format. There’s a lot to love about Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls’ story but unfortunately it’s all hidden behind a wall of uninspired and dated shooting-action sections. Cameos from returning characters are the real highlights here, proving that they are the true heart of the franchise. As a shooter, the game stumbles but as a companion piece to the main entries in the series it truly excels.