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The Danganronpa series originally debuted on the PSP in 2010 where the series enjoyed popularity in Japan before Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair made a huge splash on the Vita in 2014. Known for its visual novel and adventure gameplay, Danganronpa fans eagerly anticipated the next title from developer Spike Chunsoft to arrive on Western shores. Thankfully, it’s been a relatively short wait as Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls has finally arrived on the Playstation Vita.

The story takes a year and a half after the events of the first game with Komaru Naegi, younger sister of the protagonist imprisoned in her Towa City apartment. On the brink of despair as she is about to give up entirely, her front door is smashed open by a violent Monokuma. As she narrowly escapes the deadly encounter with her life, she is shocked to learn that the world she once knew has drastically changed as the city has fallen into anarchy and utter chaos. Armed with her trusty megaphone-like Hacking Gun, she searches for clues and answers and teams up with a girl named Toko Fukawa. Together, the two girls fight to survive in a world rampaged by the Monokumas.  As the two become travel companions, Komaru quickly learns of Toko’s alter ego, Genocide Jack that appears any time Toko sneezes and one who possesses an eccentric and sadistic personality.

The Hacking Gun is the primary weapon that utilizes 8 types of Truth Bullets in battle against the Monokumas. As you destroy more Monokumas, more bullets are unlocked that include Break, Burn, Paralyze, Knockback, Dance and Link bullets. Break bullets damage the enemy while burn bullets send the Monokumas into flames in rapid succession. Knockback bullets keep the enemies at a safe distance with Link bullets allowing you to temporarily hack and control Monokumas. Fans are in for a surprise as Ultra Despair Girls is a third person adventure that deviates from the visual novel elements of the previous games. Players are able to upgrade their characters’ skills and abilities in addition to solving a variety of puzzles throughout the game. Paying careful attention to your environment is your key to survival as you will often be attacked by waves of Monokumas. Strategic attacks like headshots and sniper shots to the Monokumas’ red eye allow you to quickly get past your enemies as you complete your objectives. If you’re in a bind, you can unleash Toko’s “Genocide Jack” form to unleash havoc and lay waste to your Monokuma foes. Fans of Happy Trigger Havoc will no doubt recognize names like “Byakuya” and “Toko” as the events take place in the same universe, albeit a year and a half after the first game.

Fully animated cutscenes and event scenes are found throughout the game as you explore and travel from Point A to Point B. Ultra Despair Girls features three difficulty levels: Genocide Jack, Komaru Mode and Despair Mode. Those who wish to breeze through the game will find the Easy mode or Genocide Jack fitting with Komaru Mode being moderately difficult.  Fans looking for a challenge will find that and more in Despair Mode at the highest difficulty level. Various items and reading materials are collectible in the game to provide insight about Towa City and grant access to special conversations. Among these are a Hit List, Manga books, a children’s picture book and Hidden Kids stickers that resemble the devious children’s group controlling the Monokumas known as the Warriors of Hope. The visuals in the game are decent but the backgrounds and environments invoke a feeling of “déjà vu” as they look rather bland and repetitive with the automatic camera angle being more of a hindrance during battle scenes and explorations. 

There are sinister and evil mysteries surrounding the Monokuma rampage, the Warriors of Hope and the Future Foundation. As you progress through the game, the tidbits of information and facts you are given about the surrounding world will be shaken up as loyalties are questioned. Expect that there will be much despair, anguish, betrayal and plot twists in this dystopian Danganronpa world. I was surprised at the depth and magnitude of the game and its willingness to delve into issues of life, death, friendship, murder, malice and deceit. Much like the name suggests, Ultra Girls Despair is far from your typical action title with many hours of events and animated cutscenes as part of the gameplay experience with a large dose of “despair” elements.  There is more to Komaru, Toko and the other supporting characters than initially expected that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat.

Danganronpa AE: Ultra Despair Girls is a much different game than most Danganronpa have expected with its narrative dialogues and third person shooter elements. Despite the reservations some may have about its departure from the traditional visual novel elements, the developers were able to craft a game that balances the storytelling and action scenes quite well. With its emphasis on character development, plot twists and shooter gameplay, Ultra Girls Despair surprised me with its dark blend of action sequences and story-driven interactions that was unique, strange and compelling with a hint of “despair” for good measure. Fans who are able to accept the shooting gameplay elements will find that Danganronpa AE: Ultra Despair Girls has a lot to offer that satisfies their cravings for another Danganronpa title.

 

SCORE – 80%

This review is based on a digital copy of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls on the Playstation Vita provided by NIS America. It was reviewed using the Playstation TV system.

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