The Danganronpa series has such an expansive narrative, it’s spread itself across multiple games, anime, and short stories. By its very nature of spreading itself out so thin, some of the side projects just aren’t going to mean as much in the long run. Therefore, the hope is that the side projects can carve out their own unique identity within Danganronpa‘s wacky universe.
The “another” in Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls‘ title implies it’s an extraneous adventure, and that’s somewhat correct. It may lack the impactful writing of the rest of the series, but Another Episode mostly makes up for it with an admirable shift in gameplay style and tone.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Released: June 27, 2017
Taking place in-between the events of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Another Episode follows Komaru Naegi, sister of series protagonist Makoto, after she was kidnapped and kept locked in a room for a year (essentially missing the start of the Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History). Forced into a survival game by five kids calling themselves The Warriors of Hope, Komaru and her new friend Toko Fukawa (and Toko’s serial killer alter ego), have to escape the town and use a megaphone hacking gun to defeat an army of killer robot bears.
As the narrative here is informed by the other two games in the series, and if you’ve somehow avoided the other two (and their PS4 re-releases), I’d have trouble recommending Another Episode. It’s not completely necessary to have prior knowledge of the series at the jump, but the real worthwhile bits in the plot have to do with how it fits into the overall series. So to truly enjoy some of the reveals and Easter eggs throughout, a working knowledge of the series is needed rather than, say, just a base interest in the quirkiness of the characters like the rest of the entries. And it’s not like the plot is involving enough in its own right without the murder mystery draw of the previous titles. The characters here are intriguing, and Komaru is probably my favorite character in the entire Danganronpa series, but the depth just isn’t here.
As an apology to series fans for a lack of depth, Another Episode decides to evolve the series in other ways. Becoming a third-person shooter, Komaru often finds herself in tight corridors, hallways, and the occasional open area as the killer Monokuma robots chase her down. Unfortunately, the shooting tends to get repetitive. Komaru’s hacking megaphone eventually gets differing types of “Truth Bullets” (e.g. ones that make enemies dance in place, a flamethrower, ones that move objects in puzzle segments, etc.), and there are a few differing types of baddies with morbid designs, but most of Another Episode‘s gameplay feels bloated. I feel like trimming a chapter or two down here would’ve instead amplified how novel an idea this new gameplay style is rather than make it feel like a hindrance when the plot starts making significant headway. Clearing rooms soon feels like a chore instead of stakes-infused gameplay with plot revelations as a reward.
Controls for the re-released version of Another Episode are definitely a cut above the PS Vita version. Along with the built-in ability to choose English or Japanese audio, being able to use a DualShock on the PlayStation 4 version is a dream. Dealing with the camera is still a struggle, and aiming can feel like moving through pudding when dealing with multiple enemies, but it felt as if I were being held back by the limits of the framework rather than falling victim to avoidable mistakes. Playing as Toko, thanks to a limited invincibility melee mode, feels much better as well with easier to connect melee attacks. I still fought with the camera many times, but at least I was more inclined to activate that ability than before.
For fans of the Danganronpa series who’ve never experienced Another Episode, I can’t recommend it enough. The shooting gameplay may be stiff, but the world draped around it is more morose than much of series past. Yet despite these darker visuals, there’s an even more lighthearted tone than ever before. Komaru and Toku are a delight, and have a witty banter between the two even while trying to survive a death game.
But if you’ve already played through Another Episode on PlayStation Vita, or have never experienced a Danganronpa game before, there’s not a lot to go on. The shift to third-person shooter is a novel idea, but soon becomes unbearable.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]