Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls marks the third entry in Spike Chunsoft’s beloved franchise, though it’s the first one to be developed for the PS Vita from the ground up. As such, our expectations from the game are slightly higher than they were for the last two titles in the series. But with Ultra Despair Girls being promoted as a spin-off with a radical shift in gameplay, will Spike Chunsoft be able to tell a plot as convoluted and mysterious as in Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair? Let’s find out.
Ultra Despair Girls takes place prior to the events of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, with the story revolving around a girl named Komaru Naegi. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s meant to; fans of the series will instantly recognize her as the sister of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s protagonist, Makoto Naegi. Accompanying her is a returning favorite from Danganronpa, Toko Fukawa. The girls find themselves trapped in the midst Towa City, which has been taken over by an army of Monokumas and despair-driven children. It’s a little difficult to maintain an element of surprise when it comes to prequels, but Spike Chunsoft has managed to overcome this hurdle by introducing a bunch of interesting new characters, each with its own quirky personality and background that the Danganronpa series is now well-known for. In addition, the game also touches upon some really sensitive and dark themes.
As far as gameplay goes, Ultra Despair Girls is a stark departure from previous iterations in the series. Unlike the previous visual novels, Ultra Despair Girls is essentially a third-person shooter. As the player, you gain control of Komaru Naegi, as she travels around Towa City shooting down Monokumas and a wide assortment of their hybrids using her trusted hacking gun. By pairing her weapon with a variety of different ammunition, the game manages to keep things fresh by providing you with new “Truth Bullets” every now and then. Each of these truth bullets are particularly effective in certain situations, and also key to defeating certain enemy types.
The variety of ammunition adds a layer of strategy to the encounter design, and the game takes full advantage of this by throwing you into puzzle-like combat areas. These mini-games of sorts are dubbed “Monoku-Man”, and they reward you for taking out all the enemies within the area in one go using the truth bullets at your disposal. It’s a neat little diversion that doesn’t really come in the way of enjoying the game’s storyline, though a bit more variety in these sections would’ve made them thoroughly enjoyable on their own. Ultra Despair Girls also features more traditional puzzles that require you to scan for hints using the ‘detect’ truth bullet in order to come up with a solution. Most of these puzzles are relatively simple to figure out, though some do require a bit more thinking on the player’s part.
At any instance, you also have the option to assume control of Toko’s split personality Genocide Jack for a limited period of time. The time duration is dictated by the amount of battery power you have at your disposal. As Genocide Jack, you switch over to melee combat using the pair of scissors she carries with her at all times. At this point, the game almost feels like a swift character action game. In addition to raking in quick combos, Genocide Jack can also perform a speedy dodge maneuver. If that wasn’t enough, she takes no damage whatsoever, and her special attack can also wipe out multiple enemies at once. Yes, Toko’s alter ego is very powerful, and the game leaves no stone unturned in getting that point across to the player. That said, the gameplay feels rather unbalanced and trivial as a result, especially if you opt to play on the easiest “Genocide Mode” difficulty setting. Provided you have the batteries to spare, if the going gets tough for Komaru, all you have to do is switch over to Toko’s alter ego and make short work of enemies.
It’s disappointing to see a lot of modern game designers shrug off boss encounters as archaic design. That’s not the case with Spike Chunsoft, however, as Ultra Despair Girls celebrates its boss fights in spectacular fashion towards the end of each of its five chapters.
The icing on the cake is the game’s splendid audiovisual design. Taking advantage of the Vita’s more capable hardware, Ultra Despair Girls brings Towa City and its inhabitants to life with more detailed environments and character models, all while retaining Spike Chunsoft’s trademark art style. The game also brings back remixed versions of the classic audio tracks from previous Danganronpa titles. Despite not sounding all that different from their original iterations, they’re a treat to listen to and go a long way towards setting the right mood for Ultra Despair Girls’ comic and tense moments.
Thanks to its enjoyable albeit easy game design coupled with an engaging plot, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls manages to retain the spirit of its visual novel roots. It’s a must-have game for fans of the series, and also a great way to ease newcomers into the quirky, humorous, and mysterious world of Danganronpa.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls Review