Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and once I got into it all I could do was beg for more. The sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair released to consume my life, and I beat it just as quick as the first – but even when I was done, all I could do was hope for a third.
With Danganronpa 3 barely touched on, I thought my wait for more would be almost eternal; but from the heavens something different emerged in Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. A visual novel at its core, Ultra Despair Girls adds third-person shooter and beat ’em up action to the mix… and surprisingly creates something beautiful in the process. Let’s dig in and have a look, shall we?
The first thing we should look at is the premise; now I promise to keep spoilers and such to a minimum, and I promise not to reveal anything you wouldn’t learn immediately (or in the other two games). That said, the game itself spoils plot points – and references – both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, so be sure to play them both before diving in.
Ultra Despair Girls starts with a normal day for the teenage Komaru Naegi; get up, get dressed, bang on the door for your captors to let you out… those kind of things. This is because ever since the tragedy, Komaru has been a prisoner – fed her meals through a slot like a convict. That isn’t to say she’s in a typical prison though, and it’s certainly fair to say that her cell is less an eight-by-eight cement cube and more of an inescapable apartment with cushy furniture. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before – only with a different building.
This monotony however has been going on for a year and a half, and would have continued if not for the unexpected entry of a bloodthirsty Monokuma. A frightened Komaru does her best to get away, and thankfully someone shows up to help – giving her a hacking gun and demonstrating its use. It’s here that the game truly begins, and it’s here that you truly begin to fall victim to despair.
You follow your rescuer’s advice, going to a location across the street where someone who can help is supposed to be hidden – but things go wrong and you’ve got to flee. When all is said and done, you’re captured; a mysterious teenager known only as “Servant” explaining your situation. You’re introduced to the Warriors of Hope next, and you learn about your role in their twisted hunting game. You’re to be the prey, and they’re to be your predator – but the good news is that you get a head start.
Ejected from the scene, you soon meet up with Toko Fukawa and team up due to some mutual interests. At this point however, your only choice is to run; to find a way to get off this island and save yourself… but that’s not going to be as easy done as said, ’cause this city you’re in is full of left turns.
That’s all I’ll say with regards to the plot, other than the fact that it’s pretty brilliant once again. This is definitely a Danganronpa game, and even though it’s got some never before seen elements like third-person shooter gameplay, it holds true to the things that truly make the series great.
Now let’s look at the actual gameplay itself. Aside from the visual novel elements, which play out just as any of the other Danganronpa games (and a million others) do, there are quite a few elements that come together to make this one a whole. There’s the direct action bits – the first person shooter/beat ’em up combination that surrounds battling off Monokumas and taking on bosses, and then there’s the puzzle elements that still require those action bits but in a less “shoot until they’re dead” capacity.
The direct action part of the game is actually a lot like Resident Evil Revelations 2 mixed with Senran Kagura; you have a character with a hacking gun that can use different ammunition to take out enemies, and then you have another character which plays like a Senran Kagura character – using scissors to cut up the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Just like in Revelations 2 you swap between them with triangle, and (also just like it) each character has their own unique weaknesses and strengths which must be played off to win.
When you’re using Komaru, you have the hacking gun as your weapon. It can use eight different truth bullets, and each has their own special action and use. The different bullets include Break, Burn, Paralyze, Knockback, Link, Move, Detect and Dance. Break looks to do just that; break the enemy, while Burn is a direct fire attack; Paralyze is an electric attack (which can travel through water), Knockback sends your enemy flying, and Link allows you to take them over for a short period of time. Move, Detect, and Dance aren’t really attacks or usable for direct damage – but Move can activate electronics, Detect can uncover what’s hidden from view, and Dance can immobilize the enemy (and more if you hit a Siren Monokuma). You’d do best to learn how to use these truth bullets efficiently, as they can be scarce sometimes – and you can’t always depend on Genocide Jack.
Speaking of Genocide Jack, when you play as her you use scissors as your weapon and attack like you would in a brawler. Square is your main attack button; a single press allowing you a quick slash, while holding square will execute an advanced attack. Circle is evade, and the left trigger modified with triangle or “x” will execute a special attack if you’ve filled your “Fever” meter with hits to the point where it has lit up a set of scissors. The only thing you have to worry about when using Genocide Jack is that your use is timed – you can only bring out the personality with the use of a taser, which requires batteries… and batteries run out. That said, otherwise she’s invulnerable; so if you’re in a pinch and have the batteries, use them.
Moving on to the puzzle bits, you really only need to use Komaru to get them done. Puzzle elements come in two forms; one a series of completely different challenges given to you by the Monokuma kids, and the other dealing with smart use of truth bullets and an arcade machine which is more like a security camera than a game.
The challenges given to you are thinking man’s games, usually involving using your mind and your available resources to discover something you’d need to get a passcode – which would then get you through a locked door.
The arcade machine challenges however give you an overview of a “playing field” full of Monokumas situated next door, and you must figure out how to complete the given requirements (usually take them all out with one hit) when you enter the room. They also tend to give you restrictions on truth bullet use, though if you’re really in a pinch you can just storm through and kill everything to get by. It’s not as clean or the proper way to do things, but sometimes you’ve got to do things the messy way.
For the record, this Danganronpa game contains no trials, no direct clue-finding (Detect’s a bit different), no daily life “get to know people” bits, and no school-life minigames or post-game… but it still feels quite true to form.
Aside from the gameplay itself, there are ways to upgrade and enhance your truth bullets and Genocide Jack’s attack skills. More truth bullets can be gained through playing the game (they’re given to you as you go as presents by Monokuma kids), however you can modify the truth bullets you have with special bullets. These special bullets are purchasable in the game’s Monokuma Kid shops, which pop up as you play along, and react differently depending on combinations. There are quite a few to collect though, and using them right can pack quite a wallop – so if you rely on the hacking gun a lot you might want to experiment with them.
As for Genocide Jack, that same Monokuma Kid shop can be used to upgrade her scissor abilities, including making it easier to fill her special gauge, giving her longer battery life, or simply making her quicker or stronger at attacking. Personally, I chose to upgrade Genocide Jack over worrying about special bullets – and found that the bullets were much less important in the long run.
There are also items that you can come across, which appear as a sparkling point and must be picked up with “x” to acquire. The best of these items are skills, which allow you to change Komaru’s base parameters – adding life points, changing the speed of aiming, getting you more Monocoins, and more.
Some other things that pop up for collection along the way include books (and book fragments) and hit list cards which detail people the kids want to kill – so watch out for those sparkling items. There are also MonoMono toy vending machines situated around the city, and if you use the “Move” truth bullet on them you can get a random drop (which can be either ammunition for your hacking gun, batteries for Genocide Jack’s taser, or hearts to restore Komaru’s life points).
In addition to those types of collectables already noted, there are also hidden Warriors of Hope images to be found – with all five kids’ images appearing in each of the main five chapters. These are a little harder to find than sparkling item drops however, and are instead sparkly areas which you must use “detect” on to identify. I found just under half of the kids in total and I was looking pretty diligently as I went, so it’s safe to say they’re quite well hidden.
Other nice inclusions include Ultra Despair Hagakure – a novelized spin-off, a new game plus mode where you keep your upgrades and coins, and an extras menu where you can purchase media and see game records.
Graphically, Ultra Despair Girls runs pretty top notch; there were no noticeable frame-rate issues on my end, and all the art was nice and crisp to the eye. That said, the game isn’t trying to look realistic or overly complex – so it’s definitely no console show-piece, though it does look quite good. As for the music, it’s another set of thumbs up, with both familiar and fitting tunes gracing your eardrums as you play. The music always fits the mood, is never intrusive, and doesn’t get old – exactly what you want in a game that lasts as long and is as story-heavy as this one.
The voices are another story however, as my one complaint about the audio has to do with the voice actor cast as Komaru – she seems to vary her voice (or her confidence in the voice) throughout the game. At the very start it almost annoyed me, but the voice used towards the end was much less grating – and I’d like to note that I played the start over, so it wasn’t perception. This complaint is small however, and I rarely found myself putting any thought to it even after experiencing it a second time.
As for my final word, it’s this; Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a game which steps outside its tradition for something a little different, but in doing so doesn’t lose any of the heart that made it so interesting. While it’s certainly not as involved as the two mainline games, coming in a bit shorter and with what seems to be less emphasis on the visual novel bits (though it’s still very present), it’s very much just as memorable and enjoyable to play through. In my mind, it’s a must have for any Danganronpa fan – and an excellent addition to the series.