Note: Due to the nature of the game, this review will have spoilers for Danganronpa 1. Read at your own risk.
Earlier this year, the first two Danganronpa titles made the jump from the Vita handheld to the PlayStation 4 console and Steam, giving more gamers the chance to try out the crazy visual novel series. Now, NIS America and Spike Chunsoft have done the same for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, a kind of side-story that takes a different look at the world of this franchise, and tries other another game genre to boot. How does this title hold up to the series' pedigree?
Taking place between Danganronpa 1 and 2, Another Episode focuses on the story of Komaru Naegi. Unlike her brother, Komaru is a very average, very normal high school girl... that's been imprisoned for unknown reasons for over a year. However, one day things turn around for Komaru when she is suddenly freed... but then a riot breaks out, and when Future Foundation’s rescue efforts fail, Komaru is forced to play the deadly game cooked up by the Warriors of Hope if she wishes to survive.
Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair have very focused settings; the games put a laser point on the characters and the twisted situation Monokuma forces them into. Another Episode, however, gives us more background information on The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History (or just The Tragedy, for short). The first two games do give us an idea of how things have really gotten in the world, but when Another Episode thrusts you into the violent world, complete with armies of Monokumas and brainwashed children murdering citizens en masse... it really drives the effects of The Tragedy on the world home.
At the same time, while Another Episode does give an interesting outlook on the world and The Tragedy, the game's plot is ultimately inconsequential to the Danganronpa franchise. Other than a throwaway episode in the Danganronpa 3 anime, the series still places the most importance on the main characters instead of the "mundane" people of the world. This makes it so that Another Episode isn't particularly a requirement to play through plot wise, unlike how 1 is important to help understand the events and twists of 2.
So, should you play Another Episode? That mostly depends on how you feel about the gameplay, which ditches the typical 'visual novel with mini-games' mechanics of the mainline games for... a third person shooter. It is quite the change of pace, but it's hard to say whether or not it works in Another Episode's favor.
Komaru early on gets the means to defend herself from the armies of Monokumas with the Hacking Gun, which shoots Truth Bullets to disable Monokumas. She'll also get a wide array of bullets along the way, which range from unlocking things to stun enemies to even taking over other Monokuma units. The majority of the game involves traversing from environment to environment, learning the best Truth Bullet combinations to take down the different types of Monokuma units you encounter, with occasional Genocide Jack use and copious amounts of cut-scenes thrown in for extra measure. There are also puzzle rooms you'll run across occasionally, which requires Komaru to dispatch all the Monokumas in a room without being noticed.
The issue is that... the gameplay just is not very fun. Aiming the megaphone can be sluggish, and during hectic times aiming, shooting, and switching bullets can be a stressful and frustrating mess. Additionally, I personally did not enjoy the puzzle rooms--it takes the action in the game and slows it to a crawl, and it's not particularly fun to sneak around a small room full of enemies that otherwise you would just blow up in a couple hits. However, those that enjoy stealth sections will probably find a bit more enjoyment out of them. Nevertheless, while it may not be fun, the gameplay is serviceable and gets Komaru from point A to point B without any major issues... and considering the series and its emphasis on storytelling, that is what's most important here.
Ultra Despair Girls may not be as great as the first two Danganronpa titles, but it's still a worthwhile experience for fans of the multimedia franchise. There is plenty to look forward to in this entry, especially since Another Episode takes a wider look at the world than its predecessors. Getting through some of the shooting bits may be a little rough, but overall Another Episode is a game worth playing through.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.