In 2010, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc released on the Sony PSP in Japan. Since then it was ported to the Vita with new touch controls, spawned a second game, manga, and even an anime. It has been a hit in the US as well as Japan, where it has become a phenomenon itself with merchandise selling in most game stores. Now we are being treated to a new entry in the franchise, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls.
The premise of the original game is fairly simple and macabre; take over a dozen elite students, lock them in a school only to force them to murder one another for a chance of escape. There catch is that during a trial period, if your peers find you guilty and you indeed are, you die. If your peers come to a consensus and are wrong, they all die and the murderer is set free. All of this was orchestrated by remote control stuffed bear named, Monokuma.
The original two games has the same kind of set up as touch controls helped in finding clues, recreating the murder act, and contradictory statements had to be picked before time ran out. For a visual novel, it had a lot of gameplay elements compared to other games like it, i.e. Steins; Gate.
Set about six months after the original game, we are introduced to Komaru Naegi, a high school girl that was kidnapped from her home and locked in an apartment for the better part of a year until she is rescued from multiple robot Monokumas by a familiar face from the first game. The attempted rescue mission is a failure as she is captured by children that are seemingly behind the deaths of the adults in the town.
After she is set out on her own to traverse the town with killer robots after her, she is equipped with a “Hacking Gun” that sends signals to the Monokumas that can disables them as well as hack into electronics that shoots out items. She doesn’t get far as another character from the first game, Toko Fukawa, a self-loathing student that happens to have a split personality that happens to be a murderous psychopath. We personally didn’t like the character in the first game as she came off more obnoxious than anything, but for the purpose of this entry and how it is set up, it makes sense that she would be the other person accompanying you.
What sets this new entry from the rest is that it no longer maintains a visual novel style that some are used to at this point. Instead it is made as a third person shooter and it’s not too bad given the gameplay change. You have the ability to switch characters on the fly when things get hectic. Fukawa can change into her other personality and unleash numerous attacks on an enemy, but for only a limited amount of time; if you don’t need her, don’t use her as she has to refill her gauge.
Attacks and abilities can be upgraded by either leveling up or by buying items from shops with coins you obtain from killing Monokumas. There is no cover system in this game which isn’t necessarily needed, but there is only so much space you can see at a time and the Monokumas can sneak up behind you if you are not searching every nook and cranny.
There is no question that Danganronpa entries are extremely violent and Ultra Despair Girls may be the most violent, but is masked well. Blood is once again pink instead of red and dead bodies are colored in as blue or pink. This is mostly because of the ratings boards in all countries, but it goes well with the art style of the games.
One aspect of this game that we enjoyed is what happened to the world after the first game. We got a glimpse and the end of the original Danganronpa, but were thrown into a vacation spot in the second game and never saw the aftermath. Of course, to be fair, we have not yet completed the second game so it possible that writers did and we haven’t seen it yet.
To its credit, it is nice to see familiar faces in this new entry and we mean that literally. New characters come into focus at times with faces that resemble other characters that we have seen before, but instead they are related to the original characters in some way. We are not sure if this comes off a lazy from a character design standpoint or if it meant for the player to try and remember the original game and its characters. This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but the second game uses a lot of the same character designs as the original.
The areas that the player roams are not extremely detailed like they were in the first two games. You have random vending machines, unremarkable buildings, some crates, and random rooms with red curtains and a checkered floor that have the resemblance of the dream room from the television show, Twin Peaks.
While we were not a fan of the Toko Fukawa character from the first game, she grew on us a little more this time around. She is a bit more forgiving in this game than in the original when she is in her regular personality. Fukawa has good moments, not many, but way more than she did in the original game.
What Another Episode lacks in the visuals during gameplay, they make up for in their animated cut scenes and the eeriness that the Monokuma’s portray. At times they are downright terrifying in the cut scenes and while we are used to Monokuma on a one on one basis from the other games, they bigger robot versions are cold and nightmarish.
One of the downfalls to this new entry is that the use of the touchscreen has been severely downsized. There are still times you can use it to chance your weapon load-out if you want, but you can easily use your D-pad on the Vita to do it quicker. We missed using the screen this time around. There are some puzzle elements to the game but they came up few and far between and they still didn’t use the touchpads.
We love that fact that we now have some sort of idea what is going on with the world. As the other games left is very vague on the overall plot of what is going wrong with the word, Another Episode gives us more to go on. The story arc involving the children killing the adults is engaging. It is easy for villains to be written without any real motivation behind their actions, but there is a rhyme and reason behind the massacre and sometimes its little heart breaking to watch. It doesn’t make the overall story less over the top, but it does bring out the fact that some children in the world are witness and victims to acts that no child should go through and that they want some kind of retribution.
Danganronpa Another Episode is a brave departure from the first two games. If you prefer the previous approaches to the gameplay then this may not be for you. However, it is worth playing if you are interested in the overall story line and what happened after the events of the first game. There is nothing to speak of in terms of set pieces for the most part, but the eeriness of the background visuals and music help set the tone. When it is all said and done, we are still on board for another game but we are not sure if another shooter is what the series needs. The puzzle elements and mystery are what brought the fans in, but perhaps the shooter aspect will help draw in new ones. There are worse shooters on the Vita, but this entry is not one of them.