Danganronpa’s killing game kicked off by presenting the unwilling participants videos indicating something terrible had happened to their loved ones and the only way to learn the truth is to win the killing game. When the game came to conclusion the player naturally had questions about the fate of those loved ones and the world at large which would be enough plot for a whole additional game. So we got a spinoff game for exploring parts of the game’s universe which would could not be covered in sufficient detail, and this time around an action game… and a third person shooter without a cover system!
Our heroine and sister of the first game’s protagonist, Komaru Naegi, was abducted and has been living under confinement for so long that banging against the door, demanding her freedom, has become just a part of her daily routine. One day she is able to escape under harrowing circumstances as she discovers the city where she’d been confined is under attack by an army of robots and strange children who’ve gone full Children of the Corn. Things go from bad to worse as the ringleaders inform her she’s going to be part of their game in which she has to survive their efforts to hunt down and kill her. However, as the game begins in earnest Komaru finds an unlikely ally in her struggle to stay alive and escape the city.
As with earlier entries in the series, the primary appeal of the game is the plot (this is not code for boobs) and it unfolds to the player in many kinds of scenes. There are a few anime cutscenes, prerendered CG scenes, scenes in the visual stylings of the execution scenes from the core series, and regular in-game engine chatter between the characters. Hell, the book collectibles even unlock banter between to the two primary characters. This is good because the game remains consistent with the very talky, character driven elements of previous games. Yet the game would have benefitted from tightening up small talk with in-game chatter that happened as the player moved around. That is a legitimate option and the game could handle it because they do that several times, but doing so a little more would have helped move things along.
Combat is pretty straightforward as Komarus uses a special kind of gun which fires “Truth Bullets” which originally had been a mainstay of the series in rebutting weaknesses. Eight bullets in total, and each has a unique effect which can be used in combat or even a little puzzle solving. Depending on the difficulty, a regular enemy can soak up quite a few regular Break bullets which is only a problem when dealing with a mob of enemies. However, a single shot to the eye can one shot kill most regular enemies and buffs the next shot to deal even more damage. More than once you’ll create an impromptu conga line as you back away while lining up your shots.
In the event that you’re low on ammunition or you’re flat out exasperated with the number of enemies one only need press the Triangle button to call upon Genocide Jack for help. She’s invincible, fast, and with a sufficiently charged gauge can perform super attacks that can wipe out whole swaths of baddies… provided there’s enough juice in the stun gun (long story). There’s incentive in making sure you always have a battery fully charged because in the unlikely event you are near death Jack can come to your rescue, but on Normal level difficulty this is only really necessary if you’ve been completely distracted by a collectible and didn’t notice an enemy has gotten the jump on you… and are about to swallow you whole. However, it’s advised not to rely on Jack too much because I’m pretty sure experience points only accumulate for enemies defeated by Komaru.
The hardest difficulty doesn’t appear to be particularly more challenging than normal mode. Enemies don’t hit harder, they don’t seem to be particularly more aggressive. Instead it seems they have more health, but this is offset by the greater reward in Monocoins (and maybe experience points). Monocoins this time around are used in shops to buy upgrades to Truth Bullets and Jack’s specially made scissors. Each so-called Bling Bullet is identified by a verb and in different combinations can grant bonuses in addition to the regular stat boosts. By leveling up, the player is able to equip various passive skills which are acquired mostly through skill books found in the world, but a handful of good ones are gained as rewards for the top ranking of a particular chapter. Just about all of them are helpful, though the Autolock skill is not nearly as helpful as one would think. Tried it out during a tower defense type event in the game and was immensely frustrated by its worthlessness.
In addition to combat the player regularly navigates multiple MonoMan arcade rooms. Some of these serve as tutorials for new Truth Bullets you acquire over the course of the game, some of these are puzzles which use the unique attributes of Truth Bullets and enemy types to require using one’s head. Studying the layout, thinking it through, then seeing the solution click in your head is satisfying. One type of puzzle I hated with a passion required evading a very nasty foe while looking for the source of a song which made this for even more vicious.
The prologue is the part which has the greatest risk of turning off people who might enjoy the game. Specifically, the scene with the introductions to the Warriors of Hope, who are responsible for the mayhem. In the main game the villain would sometimes ramble on and go into non sequiturs to mess with their victims and because they were nuts. Five of these little monsters pulling that crap grates on the nerves very quickly as they try to out special snowflake each other with their purported uniqueness. Things do pick up quickly when you get some one on one time with the psychos and obtain some insight into their specific damage.
Some fans might find the villainous Monokuma turned into a generic enemy a little unsettling (imagine a Bioshock game where you fight a bunch of Andrew Ryans), but it does lead to filling out a bit of the story which had gone unanswered. As for the new talking bears with their own unique personalities: Kurokuma is hardly around and this is a good thing because he’s a lousy character who only exists for the one really running things to chat with about important plot points. Shirokuma, on the other hand, is great. At first glance he’s suspicious as hell, but he’s got an interesting range and at times he’s the voice of decency in an indecent world. One out of two being a good character isn’t bad.
Bridging the two main games was an interesting decision. There are going to be little details which someone brand new might find odd, but will send a chill up the spine of one well versed in the story… which will give someone curious to try Danganronpa 2 after this game a few things to scream and flip out over once they put the pieces together. So it’s probably the perfect point in time to set the story of Ultra Despair Girls. A nice little treat are details in the ending which will likely come into play when Danganronpa 3 comes out.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a mouthful for what’s okay as an action game, but it’s a good model for what a spin off game should be. Stylistically it looks like what a Danganronpa action game would look like, and the game remembers story is the primary draw for fans of the series. We get to see a little growth from one of the established characters as she’s rudely forced out of her usual dynamic with the other characters, in contrast to other spinoffs which throw the whole main cast into a contrived situation which does little to enrich the characters or the plot. The first couple chapters established a kind of formula for how the story would go, then in the end of the third chapter flips that formula on its head and from that point on proceeds to drop bombshells of plot which change the game and motivations as a result of growth. Games which focus on story, this is how you do plots! In the balance, the weaknesses aren’t so bad and the positives make this a recommended title primarily for those already Danganronpa fans.