Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a game that isn’t sure that it should exist. Yes, it takes place in the Danganronpa universe that we have all come to know and love (hate?), and it shares some characters with the previous entries. It takes place between the first two Danganronpa games in the timeline, and although it offers supplemental information on those stories (and heavy spoilers from the first two games – do NOT play this game first if you intend on playing the other two), it shares very little in common with gameplay. Ultra Despair Girls features some of the same overall charm that the series is known for, but ultimately falls flat in execution.
The game starts off in the oft-used format of giving you access to all weapons and then stripping them away from you. This doesn’t seem to serve much purpose other than following conventional game design techniques; the weapons used in the game are not particularly interesting or desirable, and they lack substance overall, and thus the tease isn’t as impactful.
Unlike the main games in the series, Ultra Despair Girls’ main gameplay elements involve lackluster third person shooting and fairly unimaginative puzzle rooms. It feels like a game from a developer who has never worked on third-person shooters before. Clunky controls and aiming, occasional awkward animations, and uninventive methods of directing your gameplay (i.e. telling you directly: go over here) all spoil the experience.
Your gun consists of a megaphone that allows you to shoot several different types of bullets that affect enemies in a variety of ways, but the mechanics are terrible. First, you need to have pinpoint accuracy in order to get a boost shot by hitting your enemies directly in their left eye, which is especially difficult with the tiny twin sticks on the Vita. Frustrations from this annoying feature are exacerbated by poor gameplay design. There’s no option to quickly spin around, meaning you must slowly and laboriously turn your character around to face incoming threats. The auto-aiming is borderline broken; if you try to aim at a character that you’re directly facing, you will instead be spun around to aim at whatever enemy is closest to you. That might not be so bad if you actually aimed at that enemy, but unfortunately you’re just left aiming in a general direction. It reeks of 90’s shooters when developers were new to the genre and just figuring things out.
It’s even difficult to pick up items on the ground, as you have to be perfectly aligned in order to activate the proper action. There are some upgrades that you can get for your weapons, but it’s often not clear what these various “bling” upgrades even do, and it feels like yet another feature that was shoehorned in because they knew they were supposed to have such a system, but didn’t quite understand how to make it work.
In mentioning enemies, it’s worth noting that there’s basically only one, and that’s the Monokumas. There are a variety of types of Monokumas, but for the most part you’re just facing wave after wave of monotonous enemies. Further dampening the experience is that they basically just stumble toward you blindly with very little variation; the boring nature of these scenarios are only broken up by the exclamations of rage from controls that weaken already poorly implemented gameplay.
The game does have visual novel aspects, as there is a lot of dialogue and writing, but it’s very much a mixed bag. The story itself is great, and in typical Danganronpa fashion, leads with themes of hope and despair. The story alone is what will motivate most players to finish the game, but even that isn’t a smooth ride.
The story might be sound, but the dialogue is severely lacking in quality. While performed competently by voice actors, they can only do so much with what they are given, which by and large is weak and lazy conversation. You play as Komaru, Makoto’s (the protagonist from the first game) sister, and she is accompanied for most of the game by Toku Fukawa. But even these familiar overtones can’t save the overly verbose writing, and you’re left suffering through wave after wave of subpar exchanges.
At one point Komaru says to Toku “Aren’t you being a bit dramatic?” and that sums up the first few hours of the game. The experience does get better once the story elements ramp up, but it’s quite a trek to get to that point, and many players will leave discouraged. If you persevere through some painful dialogues, their relationship does end up being endearing, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you can stomach the ride.
Thankfully, in addition to the story, familiar but modified music makes experienced Danganronpa players feel right at home. The music in this series is some of the best in all of gaming, and this game doesn’t disappoint in this area. It’s just a shame that such a strong story and music experience are bogged down so significantly by gameplay and dialogue.
Ultra Despair Girls does spoil the other two Danganronpas in a significant way, and you really should play both of those games first if you intend on getting into the universe. Which, you really should do, because the first two games are some of the best gaming experiences of the last decade. Really, you should play those games first. Like, now. Immediately. Stop reading, go buy those games, and start playing them.
Ultra Despair Girls’ is a game whose flawed mechanics and monotonous dialogue seriously impair the overall quality of the experience. But as most of us are likely here for the story, the characters, and the Danganronpa universe, the many stumbles never quite result in a full-fledged collapse. A strong story, music, and ambiance help keep the game moving until the end, but even that isn’t done right, as the game goes on too long and becomes tedious. The first two Danganronpa games remain in my list of favorite games of all time, but unless you absolutely must experience the story details that fill in some blanks in the timeline, look up the main story arcs on Youtube and save yourself the frustration.