Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and Vita.
We return once again to the land of Danganronpa. I’ve already covered the original Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 which left two more games for me to cover. This time around we are looking at a title originally launched on the Vita, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls.
This game is set between Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 but came out 3 years later. This was a push by the studio to take a step away from their Visual Novel roots of the previous two games. So Spike Chunsoft made a spinoff and decided to keep that new game in the same universe for the popularity and marketing, and as such it made me wonder about a few things. By the end of the game, I felt like I had answers, but they weren’t the answers I was hoping for.
Danganronpa was originally a Vita title and has limited graphical options on the PC. It pops up a settings dialog box before the game to ask what settings it should run at. It’s a strange start that I have equated with weak graphics due to several old games (many from Japan in the 90s) that do this same trick, but oddly enough, Danganronpa looks surprisingly good.
The graphics aren’t amazingly detailed, but the Monokuma that you’ll face throughout the game are nicely detailed and work well, and the characters that you play as, look good as well. I was ready for an underwhelming performance, as moving from a mobile platform, even one as powerful as the Vita, to a modern PC made me expect some degradation in the graphics but the fact is Another Episode looks rather good in this format.
The anime cutscenes are the high point of the game’s graphics with a lot of detail.
The characters here are impressive looking, the cutscenes seem acceptable to me, as they are as detailed as the original two games, which isn’t a high bar to hit, but still, Danganronpa Another Episode hits that and looks like it is on par with those games.
It seems that there’s more detail in Danganronpa Another Episode just due to the player being able to explore the locations at their own pace in a 3D exploration system, instead of the odd Visual Novel format.
At the same time, Dangaronpa Another Episode shows about the same number of unique characters as the original games. Though it has this habit of showing adults as blue or purple nondescript mannequins which make both models standout but lack any real impact on the game. It’s noticeable to see blue and purple models when exploring a level, but ultimately without any features, they feel like a game construct far more than a character in the game. While the deaths in the previous Danganronpa stood out because we could see the characters, here the eye is drawn to these characters, and then the player instantly forgets about them because “That’s another adult.”
This could be intentional but it doesn’t work as intended. The characters are not desensitized to this violence, but lacking a character model makes it very hard to care about another stack of bodies being piled up.
There are also some well-executed cutscenes where the main characters play out more detailed scenes which are done as anime cutscenes. These cutscenes look pretty good, and I found these segments to be the most interesting, however, I would mention that the animated cutscenes lack subtitles for some reason, which is a strange choice for a game based so strongly off the story.
This is what anyone older than 18 looks like in the game. Adult D, for sure.
Ultimately, Danganronpa looks fine, it just has some strange quirks that force the player to make allowances. The adults feel strange, and it’s the one thing that kept making me ask if the game was seriously making these choices consciously or if this was a decision forced by the limited scope of the Vita that the game was originally released on.
The reason I picked up Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls was due to the continuing story of the universe of Danganronpa. I’ve become so invested in this universe I am planning on checking out the Anime before playing the final game in the series.
However, this is also the biggest issue I had with Danganronpa Another Episode. I wasn’t expecting amazing gameplay, but after playing through Danganronpa Another Episode, I question how valuable the story presented in this game is. Besides, this game has shaken my faith in the series. The game has always teased the Tragedy as the “biggest most awful most tragic event in human history” and we finally have a story where a character could have lived through it, and it’s not even discussed. At this point, I start to doubt if we’ll ever receive the answers to this question due to how little was explained here.
The biggest thing is Danganronpa Another Episode is a departure from the previous two games. While the gameplay is a spinoff, the story is also quite different. Rather than starting with fifteen students who get a lot of development and are the focus of the story, we instead start the game with a single character, Komaru Naegi, and yes, that is a relative of Makoto Naegi. Komaru is Makoto’s sister. Already some of the surprises about her is lost.
The writing isn’t exactly the high point of the game either.
But the game starts with Komaru being held hostage, rescued by Byakuya Togami, and then meeting up with Toko Fukawa from the original game, who decides to assist her while attempting to save Toko’s love, Byakuya. This is a very short synopsis of the opening but it also summarizes a bit of what is going on.
Danganronpa Another Episode revolves around the Komaru and Toko as they explore Towa City, and the big issue I have with this game is that these are our main characters. Normally, a Danganronpa game has a large group of 15 characters which the player is expected to learn about and discover secrets about to try to figure out who the traitor or villain of the group is. Here, we have just two major characters, it’s the villains that Danganronpa Another Episode seems to want to focus on.
The problem is, the villains aren’t interesting. We already have ideas about the workings of the “Despair” groups so rather than try to pretend to have positive ideas, we instead are treated to five kids, each from elementary school and they all decide to hunt “Demons” or rather adults. They take on aspects of Dungeons and Dragon classes, such as warrior, mage, and cleric and set out to kill our heroes.
The enemy’s stories are all a bit weak but you also don’t even face most head to head but rather focus on large mecha fights, which we can talk about in gameplay, but as characters, they’re not very interesting. Most of their character development is bludgeoned into the player.
“Oh I’m so ugly and horrible, do you hate me now?” A character asks over and over, while he wears a mask, and when the mask is removed, he’s quite attractive as he bemoans his “hideousness”. That’s the reveal and like most of these characters, it’s about as obvious as you can get. Most of the story here doesn’t attempt to add in an interesting story arc, just a plot point to hammer over and over.
Here are our villains, but sadly they don’t do much more than sit around and talk.
There is one character that rubbed me the wrong way. One of the villain’s who has a dark backstory. We don’t see much of it, but it’s clear that she was the victim of some level of child abuse, almost definitely sexual, and… it’s uncomfortable. And yet she turns around and does odd things in response. Now victims of sexual abuse might do this, it’s one of the sad facts about abuse, but rather than talk about a serious issue, Danganronpa Another Episode plays this off as a joke rather than a dark story.
The thing is if this was done as any other character in another Danganronpa game it would be a dark personal tragedy that could enhance the story, here it’s played for humor. There’s even a battle where the character is stripped by numerous attacks and at the end when you can see her underwear and the character throws out the line “I’m 18” or something along that line as if that absolves the creators for doing this. It doesn’t because the abuse was done years before, and even if that character was 18 the other characters involved in this storyline don’t appear to be.
The final big issue I have with the story here is there’s just no tension. Because so much of the game focuses on the gameplay, Danganronpa Another Episode doesn’t even try to make an interesting story after the first hour or two. But what’s worse is the game style does much of this damage itself. Danganronpa Another Episode focuses on this world where the villains have legions of kids running around in Monokuma heads, they revel in the violence and celebrate the despair of the world, but by having them jump up and down and celebrate the collapse of the world, there’s little purpose to the game because the player sees so much of this and knows that they won’t attack. The player’s weapons don’t hurt the children, and the children don’t attack the players, so watching them dance or celebrate with the same animation ad nauseam just feels obnoxious rather than macabre or terrifying.
This might look creepy, but…. This is all the npcs do, it gets boring after a while.
There’s more. There’s at least one character from Danganronpa 2, who has very little purpose here, a plotline about the successor to the villain in the first game, but goes nowhere since we’ve seen the sequel and a story that feels like it lacks a purpose. Rather than explore characters we already know Danganronpa Another Episode, seems more comfortable to just talk about the universe but seems afraid to change anything. It’s possible they worried that it would be harder to sell Danganronpa V3, the true next game in the series if fans felt they missed out on something important in Danganronpa Another Episode. To me Danganronpa Another Episode lacks a purpose to its story and that was the main reason players would flock to this game.
While the continuing story is what had me interested in the Danganronpa series, it’s true that Danganronpa Another Episode is focused on the gameplay more than the story. This isn’t a visual novel, but rather an action-adventure game. It plays more like a homage to Resident Evil than Danganronpa and overall it’s a different type of game.
Danganronpa Another Episode focuses on third-person, over the shoulder shooting. All the enemies are based on different variants of Monokuma and each takes large lumbering attacks at the players trying to attack them.
The player will be given a special “hacking” gun where they can shoot a megaphone at Monokuma to do damage or control them. If this sounds a bit like Resident Evil, that’s clearly what this game is going for. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Danganronpa Another Episode wanted to be Resident Evil from the first moment of gameplay, and it’s a comparison that lasts the entire game.
The hacking gun is initially given along with most of its upgrades to the player at the beginning of the game. Then after the initial areas, all the functionality of the device is stripped from the player so they can earn those abilities back. But there’s no surprise left in the gun as the player has seen most of the functionality of it in the first scene.
In the first area you have access to all the ammo and thus can use everything in the game.
The loss of your powers in Metroid works because there’s a strong reason for it, and the player feels like they are regaining power and unlocking the map as well as linking to previous games where Samus is quite powerful, but in Danganronpa Another Episode, these unlocks feel more like the game is giving you the upgrades rather than you finding them, and the result feels more like you reached a predetermined point of the story where you get the item.
The bullets in Danganronpa Another Episode start with the burst, which is a simple damage bullet, but from there range from Move (which amount to “activate”), dance (“Stun”), and knockback (Self-explanatory). Each bullet has a purpose and a use in the game, but players will mostly stick with the damaging bullets during the action of the game because those are the useful ones.
Danganronpa Another Episode’s gameplay doesn’t just feel like a similar game to Resident Evil but has most of the same feeling in the enemies and weapons. Characters lumber towards the player and take large swipes at them. There are various versions of enemies from standard Monokumas, to Monokuma’s that alert other enemies, fast-moving enemies, and even four-legged freaks.
With each of these enemies based on Monokuma, it’s not surprising they have similar weaknesses. Each one is weak to “being shot in the red-eye”. That’s the easiest way to beat almost every enemy the fastest. Shoot them in the red Monokuma eye for maximum damage.
Enemies all have the same motif, but they are at least differentiated, this one alerts others to the player’s location.
While it is good that Danganronpa Another Episode has a specific motif to the enemies and even a similar danger, it’s not a very challenging system and it is easy to play through most of the game with little trouble. There’s a special power that Toko has where she turns into Genocide Jack. From there she’s invincible for a short time and able to kill enemies quickly, but I didn’t even use this ability for the first half of the game, because there was almost no challenge with the normal gameplay and the only reason I needed to make a change was the game had enemies that only Genocide Jack could kill.
While the combat starts strong for the series, it quickly becomes routine, especially with the lack of challenge. The game’s flow becomes enter a room, get a little dialogue scene between Toko and Komaru, explore the area, kill enemies if there are any, and then continue onwards to the next room. While there are changes, none make a major difference in how the game plays.
The big change of pace in Danganronpa Another Episode is a collection of puzzles, and these come in two forms. The first is the typical “figure out a riddle”. In these scenes, a young child with a Monokuma head passes the player a riddle, where the player needs to figure out some simple puzzle. Almost all of these will take puzzle fans mere moments to solve, long before the game allows the player to start making the moves needed to solve the puzzle. Even if players don’t get the riddle right away the NPC will give you clues as you make mistakes to assist you.
There are also puzzle rooms, which involve several enemies in a room with a challenge, usually killing all the enemies in a single attack. Players are limited with what bullets they can use for these rooms, but the ultimate reward for them is just a higher score at the end of the level, and again most of these rooms are rather simplistic.
The biggest issue I had with the puzzle rooms is there’s not always a way to complete them correctly. If you are lacking a specific bullet the room needs, there doesn’t appear to be a way to get that bullet. If you need a bullet to shock an enemy and you wasted your last bullet of that type right before entering the room, you’re going to fail the room no matter what you do, and this is what happened to me. I had the solution, I understood the room, but I was physically unable to complete the pattern because I didn’t have the right equipment.
The riddles are rather simple as well, almost every riddle is easy, far easier than the puzzles in the other games.
Similarly, if you make any mistakes you get 0 credit for completing the room correctly, but this has very little influence on the game, so the question becomes what is the purpose of these rooms?
I did start to run out of bullets near the end of the game, about an hour before the final encounter. This is the part of the game where the player is forced to fight gauntlets of enemies so the scarcity wasn’t the game attempting to push me towards a different play style, but rather this was just when the game stopped giving me a plethora of bullets and having to hunt for ammo at such a late part of the game wasn’t an exciting change either, especially when the game continued to throw arena after arena of enemies at me.
Danganronpa Another Episode also has boss battles at the end of each of the five chapters in the game. These are essentially just boss battles against each of the villains of the game, where they all get a rather large mecha and try to kill the player. A few of these battles are challenging, but they all amount to the same gameplay of shooting the Monokuma emblem on the robot and none of the bosses put up a fight for very long.
The boss battles are interesting but all five bosses are very similar and because of that it feels like you’re fighting almost the same enemy due to the same way to defeat them. Even when the bosses change a bit, you still just use your newest attack bullet on them and suddenly they become vulnerable to the same old system.
The boss robots are introduced in an epic manner, but really just require a little more running than the other enemies.
Players also will gather large amounts of “Monokuma” coins but rather than using a Gacha mechanism, players instead can buy bullets and upgrades for their characters. The Bullets come in the form of adjectives, that slightly modify bullets, and the upgrades only affect Genocide Jack, but neither of these upgrades feels sufficient to change the feeling of the game. The same is true for the skill books Komaru find as the game goes on. These are used in conjunction with the Skill Points Komaru gains when leveling up, but again these are just basic upgrades, more health, more batteries (that decide how long Genocide Jack appears for) and similar upgrades. None of these change the game sadly, and that’s ultimately a big problem for Danganronpa Another Episode.
The fact is, the gameplay here doesn’t stand out and it drags Danganronpa Another Episode down. Ultimately, that’s a big problem because so much of the game feels the same. While the game does release new characters and major encounters at a regular rate, it’s not changing the gameplay with each one and instead of a unique experience over a couple of hours, this becomes a large slog over 20 hours of gameplay.
If Danganronpa Another Episode had a stronger story, I could accept the weaker gameplay as the price of admission to seeing the full story. If the gameplay was better, I could forgive a weaker story for an interesting game that I wanted to keep playing. Sadly, neither of these are true. Around halfway through Danganronpa Another Episode, my mind wandered quite a bit and so I asked myself “Why am I still playing this?” And the answer I came up with was for you, dear viewer, because I wanted to review this game. I also admit that I wanted to see the full story so I could judge the game and the series properly.
The other question I had was “Who is Danganronpa Another Episode for?” It’s clearly for fans of the original two games, but since the story predates Danganronpa 2 and isn’t referenced in that game, I don’t know for sure. The only answer I could come up with is that it was a quick release between the second and third game to keep fans busy or just a way to get a game released on the Playstation Vita. This is probably close to the truth.
But it’s 2019, we already have the third game in the series, and this is being released for Windows machines and PS4, so the portability isn’t as important. So is there a purpose to playing Danganronpa Another Episode today? The truth is, I don’t know for sure, as I don’t know if anything in this game will attach in a meaningful way to the series as a whole, but I also don’t find myself caring enough, even if there is an important link I wonder if a single paragraph of text could impart the same information as a 20 hour slog.
Personally, I think I should have just skipped this game to just play Danganronpa V3 or even start the Danganronpa 3 anime. I might return and correct this at the end of the year or whenever I finish Danganronpa V3. I just can’t find a reason to recommend this one.
I give Danganronpa Another Episode a
That’s a “Do Not Recommend” and die-hard fans of the series might disagree with me, but I ask, is there something valuable in this game that’s worth 20 hours, and about 30 dollars? Or would that time be better spent playing another game in this series or another Visual Novel, or even replaying the series from the beginning a second time, which appeals more to me?
I struggle with this and I honestly think most of what this game gave me isn’t necessary at this point. It introduced me to a character, and I’m sure Komaru will return, but I don’t think that’s enough to warrant such a long experience. Of course, I could be wrong, and time will tell.
Final Thoughts: A weak entry in the Danganronpa series. While the gameplay is a divergence from the franchise, a weak story and repetitive gameplay left me wondering why I played it. Maybe one to skip.
Stats: 22.6 hours played, 23/35 achievements earned