Ultra Despair Girls:
A hopeful yet despair inducing review
If I had to describe what Danganronpa is, I would say its Battle Royale meets Phoenix Wright. In order tosurvive someone must get away with the perfect murder. The characters go through class trials to be the last one standing in a battle between hope and despair. Unlike the predecessors Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair which play as visual novels, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls for the PlayStation Vita drifts away from the visual novel and plays as an action-adventure game. Class trials are eliminated and now you must blast your way through Towa city, destroying rogue Monokumas (evil black and white bears with a thirst for blood) in order to escape.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls follows Komaru Naegi who has been captured and imprisoned in an apartment for unknown reasons. When she finally escapes, Komaru discovers the world has fallen into despair and Towa City has been overcome by riots. Komaru is captured by a group of “Li’l Ultimates” (children from Hopes Peak elementary division), forced to wear a Battle Royale-esque wrist band, and play a twisted game where she must escape from homicidal children out to slaughter every adult in sight. Along with Toko Fukawa (the Ultimate Novelist who shares a split personality with a serial killer called Genocide Jack) Komaru uncovers the mystery behind the riots in Towa City, and how they are connected to “The biggest, most awful, most tragic event in human history” and Junko Enoshima. The timeline of the game takes place between the events of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair.
The horrifying notion of children murdering adults is enough to send chills up anyones spine –it’s the perfect concept for a despair inducing scenario that Danganronpa is known for. However, I felt the story line was slightly too predictable. Of course Toko and Komaru would become friends, and clearly Monoca is the mastermind. In previous games I like how I was jerked around unable to guess “who did it?” The mystery slowly revealing itself through the clues and dialogue is something I look forward to in a Danganronpa game. Ultra Despair Girls, on the other hand, is pretty straight forward: “The only way to defeat the children is to fight them. Don’t worry though, you have hope on your side.” Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of surprises, but I felt that many of them revealed themselves in obvious ways.
What I love most about Danganronpa is the 2D pop art, however, that has also been eliminated in Ultra Despair girls and almost everything is 3D. This works for the character design, but not so much for the background. While I understand that I’m maneuvering through a city ravaged by despair I felt that the levels were plain and repetitive. I found myself going through the same hallway, the same factory setting, the same town setting, the same sewer setting over and over again. I often lost track of how far I’d actually gotten in each stage because there was no way to differentiate between the different areas –it all looked the same. There were some levels that do pop, but it is not consistent throughout the game.
Another steeple of a Danganronpa series is how violence is portrayed. Ultra Despair Girls maintains the same theme. Pink blood splatter is still a prominent feature and in order to depict the magnitude of violence blue and pink bodies with minimal characteristics portray the adults –dead and alive– throughout the game. The cruelty of children becomes even more shocking when they jovially dance over and toy with the dead bodies. Sometimes I found myself gasping by the amount of bodies in a location or by how they were positioned by the children —Danganronpa didn’t hold back.
Since Ultra Despair Girls is an action-adventure game you are given the opportunity to blast away hordes of Monokumas with a Hacking Gun loaded with Truth Bullets. There are different types of Truth Bullets to help you combat different types of Monokumas so when faced with a mob of unending enemies you must strategically plan how to shoot them down. If you run out of bullets or find yourself overwhelmed, you can switch to Genocide Jack to slice the bears to shreds but her power runs on a battery that will, eventually, run out. You do not have unlimited ammo so you must plan your shots carefully. The game also isn’t entirely shooting. There are a lot puzzles that range from solving riddles to escape a room, or utilizing Truth Bullets to destroy groups Monokumas with a single explosion.
Being able to shoot Monokumas down is loads of fun, but it would have been better if the reticle was easier to control. I found it extremely difficult to aim. When it looked like I was on the mark, it still took several shots to take down a Monokuma. Of course, you can upgrade your skills and bullets with Monocoins as you level up, but even so, the skill felt like it made no difference. The reticle control became extremely troublesome when I couldn’t aim it high enough because of the level design. Despite the reticle hurdle, I felt the game was too easy at times. Ammo and health dropped continuously throughout boss battles so I never really ran out –I never stressed when my bullets ran low because I knew more would drop. My last qualm with the game is how overpowered Genocide Jack is. While she is limited by her battery, she can slice through multiple Monokuma and take zero damage when hit. Like health and ammo, batteries are also dropped frequently so most of the time you could just shred through groups of Monokuma with Genocide Jack rather than Komaru.
While Ultra Despair Girls is meant to be action-adventure game I felt that it was too text heavy with far too many cut-scenes. Every time you found an item Komaru and Toko would have a long conversation over it. While the cut scenes help develop the friendship between Komaru and Toko, they were extremely long winded. Although, some of them were fun, especially Toko’s frequent snide remarks and her crazy fantasies of Byakuya.
I might find myself picking up the game again. Like the previous games, extra content can only be unlocked by purchasing it with Monocoins. Sadly, I used up all of my Monocoins in the game buffing up my Hacking Gun. Although I have quite a few issues with the game play, I think Ultra Despair Girls fits nicely, story wise, between Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair.
Have you played a Danganronpa game before? Which one is your favorite? Let us know!