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Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

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Great story, odd gameplay loop

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair have been some of my favourite Vita games in recent years. A pair of murder mystery visual novels, the games melded puzzle solving, courtroom drama, and murdered school kids picking each other off into a beautiful combination. Earning an 8.5 and an 8 here on Destructoid, I was excited to see if the third Danganronpa game would hit that same sweet spot the previous two entries had.

Unfortunately, I don't entirely know what to make of Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. While much of the polished writing and narrative presentation is still intact, the new set of mechanics the story is wrapped in rarely left me fully satisfied. While Danganronpa made a great murder mystery visual novel, it's not as impressive as a third-person shooter.

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Released: September 1 (North America), September 4 (Europe)
MSRP: $39.99

So, let's start with where Ultra Despair Girls departs from the previous Danganronpa games on Vita. Instead of investigating crimes scenes for clues, the bulk of your gameplay time in Ultra Despair Girls will be spent as Komaru Naegi shooting robot Monokuma bears with a techno-megaphone. The megaphone, which apparently acts as a "hacking gun," shoots lines of "code bullets" to effect the robots you come into contact with. Break Bullets act as standard damage dealers, but your gun also has less typical ammo types, such as Dance Bullets that cause enemies to stop on the spot and dance, allowing you to put distance between them and yourself.

Much of the core gameplay loop feels like you're playing a zombie-themed third-person shooter. Enemies tend to be slow and rambling, take time to kill, and deal large amounts of damage if they reach you. While this is fine in theory, claustrophobic environments, an overly close camera, and numerous invisible walls make this core gameplay at times more frustrating than it needs to be.

The idea of a code gun shooting robotic enemies is cool, but the gameplay hiccups -- as well as the infrequency of acquiring interesting new code bullet types -- meant I rarely got excited. Oh, there's also a melee sword combat-focused playable character, but their use is limited by a meter. That's a real shame, because a second gameplay style available to switch to at any time might have helped keep the mechanics from becoming stale this fast.

So, does the narrative save Ultra Despair Girls from death at the hands of one of Monokuma's elaborate devices? Well, yes and no. It rescues the game from death, but still gives it a mild case of public torture.

In Ultra Despair Girls, we find ourselves in a city overtaken by murderous young children bent on seeing adults torn to shreds. This gang of prepubescent killers, the Warriors of Hope, have amassed an army of youngsters to control robots that are utilised to kill from safety. Playing as the younger sister of the first game's protagonist, who has conveniently been locked away in her apartment for a year and not noticed that the world has gone to shit around her, you escape with the series running split-personality serial killer and attempt to take back control of the city.

Thanks to the shift in narrative focus from confined drama to city-sprawling mission, there's a lower frequency of plot twists than in previous entries. The twists and turns in the narrative are among the strongest in the series, but they feel padded further apart. The cast of characters introduced in Ultra Despair Girls are just as over the top, memorable, and well-written as any characters introduced to date in the series, which is one of the areas the game continues to shine. General moment-to-moment dialogue and character interactions are superb and were the driving force that kept me invested through to the end.

The biggest problem: narrative pacing. The game felt like it was probably five or six hours too long.

It's worth noting that both the enemy designs and narrative in Ultra Despair Girls are some of the darkest, creepiest, most unsettling to date, and that says a lot for this particular series. From horrible mutated creatures to themes I would hesitate to subject adult characters to let alone children, the game gets pretty unnerving in places. That's not a complaint by any means -- Ultra Despair Girls pulls it off perfectly.

Ultimately, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls just didn't click for me the same way previous games did. Sure the narrative still has some strong moments, but it's punctuated with third-person shooter gameplay that doesn't enhance my engagement with the narrative the same way the first two visual novels did. If you're a series fan, there's a good, text-heavy, hands-off narrative to be explored here, but the gameplay sections really dragged it down for me.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]


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Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls reviewed by Laura Kate Dale

6.5

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Laura Kate Dale
Laura Kate DaleFormer Queen of England   gamer profile

Laura's gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, ... more + disclosures


 



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    Filed under... #NIS #PS Vita #Spike Chunsoft #Trailers #video

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