Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls PS4 Review – A Flawed Experience
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, PS Vita
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 27th June 2017 / 1st Sepember 2015 (PS Vita)
The Danganronpa series accompanies me since my purchase of a PS Vita in 2015, quickly becoming one of my favourite Visual Novel series of all time, due to its crazy, bizarre artstyle, story and everything else these gems have to offer. Surprisingly I never picked up its Third Person Action/Shooter Spin-off Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, partially because I never believed it could be any good after seeing the mediocre mini-games of the main entries. However, with the release of a PS4 and PC port I decided to finally give it a try, and honestly, it could surpass my expectations in nearly every aspect.
In contrast to the main Danganronpa games, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls completly focuses on Makoto´s sister Komaru and Toko Fukawa. Mainly playing as Komaru we´re experiencing her own story of struggle and despair between the two games, when an army of Monokuma´s attack Towa City, slaughtering every human they come across, except childs. Led by the self-proclaimed Warriors of Hope, a group of five kids, their goal is to kill every adult in the city, in order to create their very own paradise. Naturally, neither Komaru or her new-found partner Toko can´t allow that, throwing them into a cat and mice game against Towa City´s children, the Warriors of Hope and hundreds of Monokumas.
Despite this rather cliché-y beginning simply spiced up by some Danganronpa lore, it evolved into the darkest, most brutal story ever told in the series, while staying true to its roots. Focusing on a way more action-packed scenario, only a tiny handful of characters and hundreds of faceless civilians, Another Episode doesn´t present us with one death every few hours, rather dozens of them in mere minutes. Throughout the game we´ll be witnessing children laughing at dead bodies, Monokumas ripping bodies apart, hatred and pure despair, quite fitting for the name. In every aspect Spike Chunsoft embraced the idea of an action oriented spin-off, giving us a seemingly one-sided evil, a pure good and way more action, or deaths, to be precise.
Luckily at no point did Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls disappoint in its story or abandon Danganronpa´s unique aspects. Even though it may seemed to lack any depth or potential, I got catched off guard by the first hours, dragging me into the weird, totally different world of Another Episode. Especially after the first two chapters the plot starts to really get off the ground, showing us not only a whole new side of despair through the Warriors of Hope but also a quite realistic problem. However, its ending left me somewhat disappointed, simply because of the – without spoilering too much- happy message it wanted to convey, something a bit out-of-place for a game that showed you only death and despair. One of the biggest reason its story is so engaging is the writing itself, being as good as in the main entries, presenting us memorable characters, great dialogues and the right potion of fun and happiness being mixed into the tale. The constant references to Danganronpa 1+2 are also a neat addition!
Said story is mostly told in the typical Danganronpa cutscenes or Visual Novel elements, mixed with some more in-game and also anime cutscenes this time around, quite a good fit for a straight forward action game, if you ask me. To fit the overall way darker tone, the whole artstyle and graphics were adjusted as well, bringing a lot more red and black to the colour palette of the game. The whole atmosphere seems overwhelmingly grim, particularly due to the red skybox in 3D areas and the focus on dark, destroyed environments, spiced up by surreal passages. Surely, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls doesn´t look great, it´s a Vita port after all, but as stylish as any other Danganronpa, coated in an extra layer of evil, a unique and new interpretation. Solely Komaru´s kinda oversized boobs are a bit out-of-place here.
So, story- and presentation-wise it´s a pretty amazing game, how can the gameplay possibly be not great as well? Well, Spike Chunsoft somehow managed to “fuck up” the biggest part of their game, the Shooter-gameplay. Nothing about the Third Person Shooter parts is particularly fun, mostly sending hordes of dumb robots against us. The fact, that every enemy is basically a bullet sponge, considering how few ammo we actually have, we´re forced to hit their red eyes in order to one-hit them and gain an extra powerful shot. Otherwise every encounter would basically feel like any ordinary zombie shooter. Sadly, even then during every passage we do the exact same thing, shooting Monokuma´s in their red eyes with the same bullet-type over and over again. No feeling of power, no feeling of danger, I felt nothing during most encounters, just boredom. Simply put, Another Episode is nothing more than a below average Shooter.
Of course, the game tried to add some sort of variation to its boring base system, sadly none of them work. On the one hand we´re given the opportunity to switch to the melee focused Toko aka Genocidal Jack, in theory a great way to add a second system to the game, yet restricted to rare consumable items and superficial depth. On the other hand Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls occasionally throws “Challenges” or “Arcade Rooms” at us, in form of special rooms, in which we have to eliminate Monokuma´s in a certain way. Since it´s optional to obey the rules, they could be some sort of optional riddle rooms, but because they´re very easy throughout the whole game and used way too often for my taste, I quickly lost interest in them and was even annoyed towards the end.
The Monokumas themselves are also rather unspectacular, no matter in which variation they may come. Clustered with uninspired designs, nothing about the encounters seem special as soon as you remove the Danganronpa theme, except bosses maybe, they´re pretty cool to fight. I also had the impression, that a dodge button would actually be of use, since some enemy attacks are a pain in the ass to run away from, the only way of avoiding attacks.
Along the upgradeable Truth Bullets we collect in the game, that are way to numerous to be useful, resulting in the use of the same 1-2 types of bullets throughout the most part of the game, nothing really works as it should here, Spike Chunsoft apparently didn´t know how a good Shooter needs to work or feel, resulting in a below average gameplay experience.
Gameplay-wise Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls couldn´t have motivated me long enough to endure its ~18 hours playtime, it´s far too boring, repetitive and unresponsive to keep me interested in it longer than an hour at max. However, there´s a reason I completed it in only 2 days and am still shocked and impressed by it, I´m talking about the story. Where the main entries concentrate on a rather slow, thoughtful tale of crime, we´re bombared with death, despair and darkness here. Similar to a sledgehammer Another Episode brings down the restrictions of the main series, mixed with a nearly as interesting main plot at the same time. As a fan of dark horror tales, I was sucked into this world in a matter of minutes, completely letting me go, something not many games can achieve that easily.
All in all, even though it might certainly not be a perfect or good “game”, it´s still a damn great Danganronpa experience, fitting for every fan of the series and basically essential at this point.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls might be a spin-off to the main series but in the end, it suffers from the same problems.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]