In 2014 we were lucky enough to have two really unique games make their way to the West, Danganronpa 1 & 2. Now, a year after the second game, we have a new entry in the series; this new title is Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. Surely a spin-off title of a different genre couldn’t be as enjoyably bat-shit crazy, right? Wrong!
Ultra Despair Girls is set between Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, pulling the franchise, and its fans, out of their comfort zone and entering into a world of action, a rather worrying move for many fans of the series. Sure, Ultra Despair Girls is different from previous entries, but there’s no reason to despair; the game offers a rich story and colourful characters, all the while retaining the dark humour we love.
Players are put in the shoes of Komaru Naegi, the younger sister of Trigger Happy Havoc’s protagonist, as she steps out into Towa City, which is crawling with an army of robot Monokumas. Armed with only a hacking gun and returning character Toko by her side, Komaru sets out to escape from the city.
It must be noted that Ultra Despair Girls easily lives up to Danganronpa’s dark nature, delivering, possibly, the most chilling, suspense-filled storylines yet. It might be a spin-off, but it’s just as sharp and integral as any other title in the series.
The gameplay is straightforward enough; walk around Towa City, fending off assailants with your hacking gun. Each bear has a weak point in its eye and hitting it makes battles a lot easier, so go for the eyes! The game isn’t afraid to surround you with enemies, so taking advantage of their weak point stops you from being overrun. However, if you’re getting well and truly dogpiled, then it’s time to rely on your partner. Pressing triangle will allow you to control Toko’s split personality, the serial killer Genocide Jill, for a limited time; when doing this, you’re able to cut through your enemies using scissors, and even use special moves, one of these being a reference to Goku’s spirit bomb in Dragon Ball Z. It’s a useful ability to have, although sometimes it does make those more tense battles feel a little too easy. Fans who want a more masochistic level of challenge should definitely dive in on the hardest difficulty setting.
There are plenty of ways to get stronger and unlock more skills for Komaru and abilities for your weapon, which in turn means more sadistically fun ways to crush your enemies. Also, as you travel through Towa City, you’ll find arcade machines; these are located in special rooms that challenge you to clear them in a certain way, whether it’s destroying enemies all at once or sneaking past them. At first, this can be seen as a nice way to test your skills but eventually feels like a chore, disrupting the flow of the story.
The camera can be a bit of a pain at times; it jumps around and, in some instances, can restrict your aim, a big issue when you’re surrounded. Not a deal-breaker, but certainly a nuisance.
Danganronpa must be a very difficult series to localise, but NIS America have done an absolutely amazing job; the writing is sharp, witty and oozes charm. As the Japanese audio is only available as DLC after the game is released, we were only able to experience the game with the English dub, which was absolutely brilliant; the voice cast have done an astounding job. The soundtrack is a joy to listen to; some tracks return from previous games along with a few new welcome additions.
There’s a fairly meaty 14-hour run-through to finish the game, and even after there are still so many items to find, arcade machine challenges to perfect, items to find and Monokumas to hunt. Also, after you complete the game, you unlock a nice little extra, an in-game novella which follows Yasuhiro Hagakure, a survivor from the first game.
Many panicked about Ultra Despair Girls, wondering how a third-person shooter would live up to the pure joy and insanity of the previous titles, but there’s no reason to worry. Although the game does become rather repetitive and has a bit of a slump towards the end, it’s still a wonderful experience.
Bring on the next handheld Danganronpa title and please, be quick about it!
Now is a great time to be a Danganronpa fan in the UK, with Danganronpa 1, 2 and Ultra Despair Girls all available on the PlayStation Vita, and as physical releases at that. These three titles belong on your shelf.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s anime adaptation will be available on blu-ray and NTSC DVD in the UK this December from Manga UK – Preorder it here.