Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita Review)

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Spike and Chunsoft’s DanganRonpa series are amongst one of the best titles on the Playstation Vita. The neverending cutthroat struggle between despair and hope that pits classmates against a Battle Royale-esque rumble was a kind of game that became hard to put down once you started. So it’s no surprise to hear more games are coming our way. The next game in the series trades its established visual novel and detective gameplay for something a little more trigger happy (pun intended), and Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls looks to fill some the void of missing events between 1 and 2.

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Timeline-wise, UDG falls between the events of DR1 and DR2. You play as Komaru Naegi, a typical normal schoolgirl who also happens to be the sister of the first game’s player character, Makoto Naegi. After being captured and living in confinement for an entire year, Komaru finds herself in the midst of a city-wide attack by Monokumas controlled by kids. Along the way, Komaru has the unfortunate pleasure of teaming with DR1’s resident split-personality love novelist/serial killer, Toko Furukawa. This unlikely duo needs to find a way out off the hellish city before it kills them.

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It wouldn’t be out of place to say Ultra Despair Girls (UDG) is a completely different game. Namely now instead of searching for evidence and accusing killers, you’ll be shooting down Monokuma robots 3rd-person shooter-style with a megaphone-shaped hacking gun, somewhat. While it’s nice to see Chunsoft try new things with the series, the formula of the game falls victim to its own game commentary. Let’s start with your main weapon, the megaphone. The gun is equipped with several types of ammunition, though thanks to a design known as “game balance”, these are taken away from you at the beginning of the game. (One of the game’s characters seriously tells you this.) These different bullets range from a “Dance” bullet that stops foes in their tracks to a “Link” bullet that lets you hack a Monokuma and control them remotely for a short amount of time. Though, the standard damage “Break” ammo will be the one you use the most to take down these robotic murder machines. Speaking of the Monokumas, you can not simply just outrun them and progress through to the next stage, therefore forcing you to deal with them before moving on. It forces you to fight them in tight spots and little room to maneuver that often resulted in a game over. Later on, you’ll have to think creatively on how to use them to advance through the many puzzle rooms you’ll encounter.

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As a shooting game, UDG is a frustrating experience. With tight corridors and camera angles, it’s difficult to see where your character moves, often times right into another unseen Monokuma’s claws. If you can not hit them in thir weak spot, it becomes a matter of putting some distances between you and try again. If things get too hairy, you can switch to the lovable serial killer Genocide Jack to cut down your foes. Unlike the slow, clunky shooting, Genocide Jack can snip the opposition down with a flurry of combo attacks with one button which builds the fever gauge. Pressing Triangle while locked on to a Monokuma triggers a powerful cinematic attack that feels incredibly satisfying. These moments are short-lived thanks to a battery gauge that limits the time you can use her. It helps alleviate the monotony of traveling from one objective to the next if even a little.

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Despite these gameplay shortcomings, UDG delivers an excellent script with its cast of stellar characters. Some of them familiar like Byakuya Togami.  The story is meant for those already invested in DanganRonpa’s universe and should not be your first game if you are new to the series. For the rest, it’s a grim dark look at the responsibilities of adults and children alike with Komaru being the audience’s point of view. Your villains are a band of kids calling themselves the “Warriors of Hope” attempting to reform the city into a paradise free of adults. Meanwhile, people they capture becomes subjects of their Demon Hunt, a classic manhunt a la The Most Dangerous Game.

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When not advancing plot points, you’ll be spending your time listening to a lot of small talk between Furukawa and Komaru. It’s entertaining enough to listen to them argue, weep, and reconcile together as they grow throughout the game. In addition, the streets are littered with notes and books that add to the reality of the world. Occasionally, the duo will offer their opinions about some and it’s a treat to watch. Just like previous games, things are never what they seem until it’s forced upon you. One point of issue is the inconsistency of the presentation that cycles between an anime cutscene, CG cutscenes, or just plain simple dialogue. The mish mash of styles never gives UDG its own identity nor do they feel as memorable as the previous games.

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Spike Chunsoft took a gamble taking DanganRonpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls in a new direction and gave us a game that’s only truly enjoyable when you’re not actively playing it. Perhaps it’s snarky commentary about video games copying each other or simply their lack of experience in this genre. Whatever it is, it forces the player to adhere to its clunky controls and erratic unreliable weapons. The gameplay boils down to a matter of getting from Point A to Puzzle Room to Point B to advance the story bogs down the experience and flow. Ultra Despair Girls wants you to swim through molasses to see it. What’s important is that DanganRonpa continues to deliver where it matters in its world building and stories. When it does shine, boy does it grip you on the edge.  To fans of the series, it’s a no-brainer to play.

Rating: 3.5/5 Atoms

NR 3_5 Atoms - B-

Review copy provided by NIS America. Completed the main story.

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Hokan Lo
Hokan Lo 324 posts

Hokan Lo is a contributing writer and photographer for Nerd Reactor. He likes Pizza Butts and Mello Yellow. You can contact him on twitter @colorinlive. <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>