Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
Danganronpa is a story heavy series and with that it can be easy to spoil yourself if you’re not too careful. As was the case with my reviews for the first two Dangaronpa games I’ve done my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. That said there are a few things regarding the first game’s story that just can’t be helped in reviewing Another Episode. It’s also worth noting that, even though this game takes place between Danganronpa 1 & 2, you should not play this without having played 2. Significant things will be spoiled if you don’t.
It’s no secret that I love Danganronpa. (Both games easily ranked as my favorites from last year.) With Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls being positioned as a spin-off with radically different gameplay however, I went in a little nervous. No reason to despair though! Another Episode’s story is fantastic, setting up some very interesting things going forward (beyond just setup for D2), and the gameplay is actually really well thought out. This stands on its own as a great game while adding even more to the overarching narrative throughout the Danganronpa universe.
Another Episode stars Komaru Naegi (younger sister to the first game’s protagonist) and Toko Fukawa. Unlike most characters in this series Komaru is just your average girl. The game makes a point to let everyone know just how average she is. It’s part of her growth as a character and the way that she views the world around her. Komaru’s partner, Toko Fukawa, couldn’t possibly be any different. The dynamic between the two works really well and seeing them grow together as characters leads to a really satisfying conclusion to their story. In particular Toko, someone I’ve never been a huge fan of, is now one of my favorite characters in the entire Danganronpa series. She’s seen some serious development from her introduction in the first game and I just love where her character ends up.
In Another Episode we finally get to see the world outside of the classroom/vacation island settings. Despair has filled the streets with hordes of Monokuma attacking people, kids wearing Monokuma helmets running around, and a group known as the Warriors of Hope leading the mass killings. Much of the terror in Another Episode comes from the idea of kids rising up to brutally murder adults as if to enact some sort of revenge. The Warriors of Hope for instance are made up of 5 kids each representing the “Lil’ Ultimate” of something. In exploring the backstory of these kids there are things brought up that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game willing to tackle. One in particular is a very touchy subject and from my understanding the localization hasn’t been censored. For the most part things are only implied, not shown, but the implications are dark. The controversial themes aren’t just there for the shock value and they’re used to build character/further the story. It’s the kind of thing where you start to sympathize with the Warriors of Hope despite the terrible things that they’re doing.
Regarding Controversial Themes: I feel like there are some things I should address and I promise to be vague here. Another Episode explores some themes involving young kids that are highly controversial and I anticipate that some will feel really uncomfortable with what happens in a few scenes. At first I didn’t quite know what to think myself. The game uses these sequences to make you feel uncomfortable and to show you just how f***ed up the Danganronpa universe is. It succeeds in doing so. I don’t think it’s wrong to include these themes in a story (movie, game, book, etc.) as long as it’s used to build character/world building. This is the darkest Danganronpa yet and that’s probably not going to be a good thing for some people. Ultimately that’s for you to decide when you get to these moments. This specific subject matter is disgusting and I’m surprised that the game went as far as it did. At the same time I don’t think that makes this a bad game or one that should be reprimanded for including such things. In this case it helped me understand what would drive a character to behave the way that they do in the game. How could I not sympathize with them after what I learned? It’s worth discussing in the future in an environment that people won’t need to worry about spoilers. I’m sure that people will have a LOT to say about it. With the exception of one scene I think it handles this subject matter pretty well. I completely understand if you disagree though.
Komaru and Toko’s journey puts them up against not just the Warriors of Hope, but also endless hordes of Monokuma bears. Komaru is armed with a specially modified megaphone that allows her to shoot an assortment of truth bullets. Break, Burn, Dance, Detect, Knockback, Paralyze, Link, and Move all provide their own uses and make for some really interesting gameplay. Things can get action heavy at times, but for the most part the combat relies much more on puzzle solving. Specifically there are rooms in the game where you’ll have to solve a certain challenge. Most of the time these challenges require you to take out all of the Monokuma in a room at the same time. To do this you’ll need to use a combination of each bullet type in a way that’ll allow you to succeed. The solutions start out simple and get much more challenging as the game progresses. It helps that there’s a great variety of Monokuma that allow for different approaches to each challenge. (Some throw grenades, some set off alarms, some have shields, etc.) Even outside of these rooms the game gives off a sort of survival horror vibe. (Despite not having to worry about ammo too much.) Enemy encounters are often much more about puzzle solving than the action and conserving resources. Toko’s roll in battle comes in the form of Genocide Jill. If you have enough battery Toko can taze herself and briefly switch to Genecode Jill mode. In this mode you can use scissors as melee weapons to easily take out large numbers of Monokuma. It’s really overpowered, but allows you to easily get things under control if things start to feel overwhelming.
As you battle through the city Komaru will level up and gain skill points. Skill points can be spent on special abilities that increase accuracy, fire power, aim speed, life count, battery, etc. This can be accessed in the menu where you can also view character bios, collectible stories that are found throughout the world, and the map of each area. You can also buy upgrades for your weapon and Toko’s scissors using Monocoins at various shops setup by the Monokuma Kids. There’s actually a lot of depth here as you can slot in two different upgrades in each truth bullet that’ll upgrade different stats. Finding combinations that have a higher rating is important as they’ll have a far greater impact.
Another Episode’s soundtrack continues the trend of great Dananronpa music. Old favorites return and new tunes like the theme for the Warriors of Hope make a great impression. There’s also the title theme that’s just way too good. (“Mmm mmm mmm, yeah yeah yeah!”) Of course there’s also a moment when one particular song finally played that had me jumping up and shouting in excitement. Needless to say there’s a lot of really great moments that people will enjoy as Danganronpa fans.
In spite of the genre switch Danganronpa still shows its visual novel roots which leads to one of my minor complaints. There’s a lot of times where a few minutes of gameplay will be sandwiched between very long cutscenes leading to some weird pacing. Sometimes finding a collectible will lead to a lengthy scene where Toko and Komaru discuss their preferences in writing. I love the characters and story in Danganronpa, but for what this game is some of those scenes went a bit long.
Another Episode delivers on story and characters in the way that Danganronpa always does. I don’t think it quite reaches some of the same highs as the other games (looking at you Danganronpa 2 Chapter 5), but it gets pretty close. Komaru, Toko, The Warriors of Hope, and some other characters I’ll leave unnamed make up a great cast. One in particular makes for the best villain this series has seen yet. That the story and characters are so good isn’t super surprising to me. I’ve just come to expect as much from Danganronpa. What is surprising is just how much I enjoyed the gameplay. The variety of truth bullets and Monokuma bears opens the game up for so many different possibilities and experimentation. Solving puzzles, taking out hordes of Monokuma, and confronting large bosses ultimately made for something far more enjoyable than I ever expected. As I said earlier in this review Another Episode is capable of standing on its own, presenting a fresh take on Danganronpa, while also adding a lot to the overall narrative.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Story and characters are of the same quality you'd expect from Danganronpa
- Looks and runs really great on the Vita.
- Truth bullet and Genocide Jill gameplay is a lot of fun
- Puzzle rooms are fun to solve
- Adds to the overall narrative of the series
- So many 'moments' throughout the game that I won't spoil
What I Dislike:
- Some pacing issues