It has been a while since a game has genuinely sold me on a horror story. Often in video games, developers are more interested in creating jump scares or some disturbing murder monster to try and sell shock value to the player, which in the end, comes off as cheap and fake. Developed by Spike Chunsoft, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls delivers a truly creepy story that is original and well executed with some; unfortunately, mediocre gameplay mixed in.
After the increasing crime rate and a devastating war, the children of Towa City decide to take matters into their own hands and execute a plan to kill all adults. Orders for murder are carried out by Monokumas, viscous bear-like creatures that do as the children command. Main protagonist Komaru Naegi is captured by the leaders of the child rebellion, who call themselves The Warriors of Hope. Thrown into the city against her will, she is hunted by the children in what they describe as a “game.” Along the way she meets Toko Fukawa, a socially awkward girl who has a split personality with a psychopath called Genocide Jack, and the two team up to escape the madness in Towa City.
I loved how well the story unfolded. Certain parts kept me guessing while others made me feel uncomfortable, which is great for a game with such an eerie tone. Komaru and Toko have great chemistry and are enjoyable foils to each other. Each of the five members of The Warriors of Light take a while to come into their own, but the payoff of their character arcs are well worth the wait. Aside from some lulls in story progression, the engaging tale kept me wanting to know more.
The presentation is exuberant, perfectly capturing a distressed and chaotic city. The sky glows red and destruction is all around with high graphic fidelity. Character models and enemy designs are a treat, all fitting and well surpassing what is seen in a typical PS Vita game. The sound design gets the job done, but has no real stand out moments. When it all comes down to it, a scary atmosphere can only work with fearful gameplay.
Unlike previous titles in the series, which played like visual novels, Another Episode is an action-adventure game with horror elements. Komaru uses a megaphone shaped hacking gun that comes equipped with different functions that help defeat Monokumas and solve puzzles. The gun can only be used while holding down the left trigger, aiming the gun, which makes Komaru move much slower. This increases the tension and helplessness that the game is trying to evoke. Enemies will often run at you from around corners or attack you in susceptible hordes.
Different types of bullets can be used to attack and deceive enemies, or manipulate particular objects in the world. The basic break bullet function deals damage to your enemies, the move function, will cause objects, such as cars, to move as well as activate switches on or off. A mind control function, called link, allows you to take control of a Monokuma to use to your advantage. It is an interesting mechanic that requires memorization for where each function can be used and which enemy types will react best to specific functions.
Not to be outdone by Komaru’s lead, Toko is also playable under her recently controlled psychopath personality, Genocide Jack. She plays more like a typical action game, think Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, only not as deep and with scissors as weapons. Face buttons allow basic attacks which when strung together into a combo fills a fever meter that allows the player to unleash special attacks that often clears the screen of Monokumas. She is more powerful than Komaru and thus can only be used given that the player has enough battery life, which is needed for the stun gun that tames her violent personality to a controllable level. I understand why Spike Chunsoft limited Genocide Jack’s use, but that doesn’t defeat the fact that Komaru’s combat just isn’t as enjoyable.
While I liked what the developers were going for with the combat, it often feels like it just gets in the way of a good story. Neither Komaru’s nor Toko’s style of combat feels deep enough to qualify for such a lengthy game time. After a couple of exhilarating encounters with Monokumas, I was finding that shooting at the same weak spot, their signature glowing eye, was growing tiresome. I just wanted to know what was going happen next in the story. Luckily, combat isn’t the only form of gameplay.
In a successful effort to break up the pace, puzzles are thrown to calm the player down and change up the gameplay. They come in two forms. One will often have you in a room with one of the diabolical children where you must manipulate the room using the hacking gun’s functions to decipher a code. An example of this was when I was challenged to use my detect function to scan around a room and find the answer using a vague clue. I liked the way these puzzles were designed, often coming across as clever and thought-provoking.
The other type of puzzle comes in the form of arcade machines that will give you an aerial view of a locked room and instructs you to kill all of the enemies in that room before proceeding. There will always be a smart way to do things, often allowing you to kill all of the enemies in a couple moves. These are also fun, but I found that even when things didn’t go as plan, it was too easy just to defeat all of the enemies by going in guns blazing.
There is a better story here than there is a game. If you are looking for a twisted, original, horror themed tale, Danganronpa Another Episode has a great one to tell. It will keep you guessing throughout with visually stimulating environments and cutscenes. While the gameplay will be entertaining at first, it will quickly become just a means to get to the next story section.Note: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls was reviewed on PlayStation Vita. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.