If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Danganronpa series, it’s that hope can be a powerful force that enables people to overcome some seriously scary situations. Hope is great. Also, never trust anyone under the age of about 18. Only adults can be trusted. Keep the faith. Oh, and monochromatic bears are terrible, horrible things. But never give up hope, because hope is the best.
I say these things because Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls reinforces all of these things despite the shift in genre from adventure game to over the shoulder, third-person shooter. It’s still a mystery. There are many unanswered questions that resolve themselves as you play through the game. But there’s one constant. While the promise of truth and freedom is a big draw, something else makes this game appealing. Even in the prologue and first chapter, it’s clear that the characters are greatest incentive to play.
Toko Fukawa is probably the biggest draw initially. She is a returning fan favorite from the original Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. I mean, you have to have a soft spot for a heroine who is simultaneously the Ultimate Writing Prodigy and the Ultimate Murderous Fiend. She’s more refined here, though her wit remains intact. Part of this comes from her having found a way to control her dissociative disorder. She uses a stun gun to let Genocide Jack, her alter ego, out when absolutely necessary. Her unique perspective on the world, unbeatable temporary assaults and reassuring presence will be a big part of what pulls people into Danganronpa Another Episode. Especially since her flights of fancy provide some incredibly unexpected, but more than welcome, humor to what is otherwise a dark and depressing adventure.
She’s a welcome presence, since it can take a while to warm up to the real protagonist, Komaru Naegi. The sister of Trigger Happy Havoc‘s Makoto, she begins the game trapped in captivity since the beginning of the events of the first game. She has no idea what’s been going on and has spent over a year and a half alone. She’s not a very hopeful figure, and that’s exacerbated by Monokuma bear robots attacking her and invading Towa City just as Byakuya Togami and the Future Foundation arrive to rescue her. Despite being given a high-tech megaphone-hacking gun that can incapacitate and destroy the Monokuma rampaging through the city, she doesn’t initially use it to protect herself or save others. She cowers and flees.
This leads to her being captured by the Warriors of Hope. A council of five elementary school children, they have banded together to turn Towa City into a paradise for children, killing any adults around in the process. They control all of the Monokuma in the town and turn Komaru into their prey. Whoever ends her life “wins.”
They’re incredibly effective villains, in part because each one is compelling on their own. They have titles like Lil’ Ultimate PE, Lil’ Ultimate Social Studies and Lil’ Ultimate Homeroom. When they aren’t engaging in horrific and insane activities, they appear to be ordinary, and perhaps even well-adjusted. One could even call them cute.
It’s only as the first chapter draws to a close that players get a glimpse of why these Danganronpa Another Episode foes are so fascinating. Komaru and Toko find themselves caught in a trap laid by Masaru Daimon, the Warriors of Hope’s Hero. Trapped in the subway Killaseum, we finally see what sort of motivation could drive a child to a point where he would think the “paradise” that is Towa City and employing of Monokuma is a good idea. We see that this villain isn’t flawless and omnipotent, but an incredibly damaged and fragile individual. That crack is the ultimate payoff, and one which makes the rest of the game more enticing.
Knowing that characterizations matter so much and the story has a punch is reassuring. You wonder what might happen when a spin-off of an adventure game belongs to another genre. Will the things that mattered in Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair remain as important in Danganronpa Another Episode? After a prologue and two chapters, I can say that seems to be the case.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls will be released on September 1. It will be $39.99 and you can find it on Amazon. NIS America’s online store is also selling a $64.99 limited edition that includes a soundtrack, art book, eyepatch, tie and pin.