Sins of the Family
Warning: Contains spoilers for the entire Danganronpa franchise.
Ever since last year’s release of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and its follow up Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (both remakes of previous PSP games), the Danganronpa franchise has gained a surprisingly large cult following in the US. Danganronpa’s mix of bizarre mind bending story, instantly memorable characters, unique gameplay, and style for days has been a breath of fresh air in today’s game scene, and one of the best cases for owning a PS Vita. In Danganronpa Another Story: Ultra Despair Girls developer Spike Chunsoft decided to go a completely different route, gone is high school life, gone is the whodunnit murder mysteries, gone is the courtroom drama, all of it replaced by a new story, and a completely different type of game. The great question was, could they pull it off?
I’m happy to report that, yes, Danganronpa Another Story shapes up to be something truly memorable, even beyond it stumbling on a few notable issues. The game’s release seems timely. We are just a week out from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Ultra Despair Girls feels like Spike Chunsoft’s trying to do their take on the Metal Gear Solid franchise. This is a weird statement, I know, but the parallels are there, the gameplay is comparable (particular to MGS’ handheld outings), both feature an over the top story, lots of twists and turns, long dialogue, and wildly over the top characters.
In Danganronpa Another Story: Ultra Despair Girls you play as Komaru Naegi (little sister to Makoto Naegi, the protagonist of the original Danganronpa game), a fairly ordinary high school girl who was mysteriously abducted, and kept locked up for a year. Timeline-wise the game takes place between the two original Danganronpa games, knowledge of either is not necessary to enjoying the game on it’s own, but will certainly enhance your experience as several familiar faces pop up, and plenty more are referenced.
As Komaru finally escapes her captivity, she discovers that she is in Towa City, a metropolis that has fallen apart thanks to an event known as The Ultimate Despair, an apocalypse level event that causes world war among other things. Soon after she finds herself in the clutches of a group calling themselves the Warriors of Hope, a group of 5 elementary kids who are commanding an army of robots (in the form of Danganronpa’s now iconic Monokuma), in a crusade to murder all the surviving adults in the city. They release Komaru into the city as part of a game they call Demon Hunt, where they take turns hunting and murdering adults loose in the city. Komaru is set on the run armed only with a special Megaphone that inflicts a variety of effects on the robots. Once on the run she meets up with the other despair girl Toko Fukawa (another Danganronpa alumni), a writing prodigy, and owner of an alternate personality, Genocide Jill a serial killer. Then and only then does the story really gets going. Still with me?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ultra Despair Girls’ story. The anchor of the Danganronpa series is its story, and the trailers for this game had been incredibly vague. I was pleasantly surprised that Another Story features a long and enjoyably deep story, particularly in the case of The Warriors of Hope. At first the kids are played off as a bunch of children being evil for evil’s sake, but quickly you learn that they are more than meet the eye. The Warriors of Hope bear deep scars as a result of mistreatment by their parents in various horrifying ways, and their war against the adults is fueled by fear and anger towards the abuse they suffered, rather than wonton malevolence (not unlike the Beauty and the Beast Corp in Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots).
The game mostly succeeds in serving as a commentary on the damage inflicted through generations, but…. but, (big BUT), undermines itself at times with its tone and content. It’s a given the Danganronpa series has always been a bit on the sordid side with its focus on female anatomy, and a fairly naughty sense of humor. The games in the past usually kept it reasonably tame, but Ultra Despair Girls takes it to new, cringeworthy levels at points, and as a result clashes against the games darker, more mature themes. Ultimately though, I can get past that, because it truly feels the message at the end of the day is that what happened to these kids is tragic, despite the occasional foray into the lurid.
The only other negative note I have about the story is that Toko Fukawa is a really grating character to be stuck with for the entire game. She was a hard character to like in the original Danganronpa and her constant insults, combined with her own low self esteem makes her a bit of a drag on the story at times, though she does improve towards the end. Her inclusion is ultimately justified, however, as her alter ego Genocide Jill provides a key element of the gameplay.
Gameplay-wise Another Story is a 3rd-Person Shooter, much in the line of other Vita games such as Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Freedom Wars. As Komaru you roam around Towa City fighting off the marauding hordes of Monokumas using your multifunctional megaphone. As the game progresses you encounter a wide variety of models of Monokuma’s each more fearsome than the last. Luckily as you progress you gain a wide variety of upgradable attacks for your megaphone causing everything from electric shock to instantaneous dance parties. The wide range of attacks, coupled with the the RPG-like Skill system added on top of that ensures a fairly deep and varied gameplay experience (especially in Despair Girl’s game rooms, which task you with defeating a room full of opponents in a really specific way).
What really sets it apart from other shooters of the same type is the inclusion of the aforementioned Genocide Jill as a gameplay mechanic. If things get too hairy in battle, you can opt to switch out for Genocide Jill, for a limited amount of time, who can absolutely devastate the enemies using her trademark scissors, along with a set of combos and unstoppable ultimate attacks. The cherry on top when using Jill is that she is invincible, which can be a lifesaver against a particularly difficult foe. Also worth mentioning are the boss fights, which each feature a different strategy that are a lot of fun, and provide great caps to each of the game’s chapters.
There are only two real rough points I encountered in the systems gameplay. First, the camera system can be extremely lacking at times, and there were multiple times I found myself trying to run around picking up ammo and health, only to be undermined by the camera doggedly trying to focus on various enemies I was trying to avoid. I tried it both with the camera on manual and automatic, and I did not notice much of a difference. The game also has some glitches. I didn’t encounter a lot of them, but the major one I encountered forced me to restart the final boss fight just as I had won. Luckily, I did not encounter anything persistent enough to detract from my enjoyment of the game.
The graphics serve the game well. The cutscenes are rendered in gorgeous anime cutscenes reminiscent of Persona 4 Golden. The in-game graphics are solid as well. The only thing that stuck out as odd was that some of the cutscenes were rendered in a third way, in lower res 3D graphics, I’m not sure if they didn’t have the time or the budget to render more in the aforementioned anime style, but it did stick out a little, though hardly detracted from the overall quality.
The Verdict: 8.9 out of 10
Danganronpa Another Story: Ultra Despair Girls is an ambitious step away from the series’ normal style. The game excels with a deep, twisting story that fills in the cracks of the Danganronpa universe. The gameplay seems to refresh the genre, with its enjoyable varied progression. Issues in tone and camera mechanics are easily overcome by what this ambitious package has to offer. I’d recommend it for both Danganronpa fans, and anyone looking for something quality to play on PlayStation Vita. I’m not going to lie, I’m excited for the point when Danganronpa ventures back into more traditional territory. But any time Spike Chunsoft wants to experiment, I’ll happily volunteer as a test subject. Ultra Despair Girls stands as proof that there are still quality titles coming to the Vita.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.