If a Danganronpa game gets you questioning the use of continuing onward due to tragic events and overwhelming odds, then you know it’s a success. The whole point is to get you weighing the potential of hope against the reality of despair. Making you question your faith means it has done something right. In that way, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls succeeds.
However, there’s also gameplay to consider. The major installments in the series are strong adventure games with visual novel elements. They’re packed with content and challenge people to piece things together and prove their points, which can prove even more challenging when you know the truth and have to show why you’re right. As a third-person shooter, Danganronpa Another Episode is best when you’re using Truth Bullets to solve puzzles and strategize, rather than take out swarms of enemies.
Danganronpa Another Episode takes place about a year and a half after The Tragedy, and six months after Trigger Happy Havoc. Komaru Naegi, sister of the first game’s Makoto, has been trapped in an apartment building, isolated from all outside contact since shortly after The Worst, Most Despair-Inducing Incident in the History of Mankind. She’s about to give up when she hears a noise at her door. Rather than salvation, it’s a Monokuma robot determined to murder her.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is at its best when it makes a player think.
Komaru escapes her apartment to find the entire building on fire, filled with Monokumas and suddenly occupied Future Foundation members led by Byakuya Togami, one of the previous game’s survivors. They were alerted that a person of interest was in Towa City, and “coincidentally” Monokuma riots began at the same time. Byakuya gives her a Megaphone Hacking Gun and tells her to run.
It’s then that things get interesting. By which I mean Komaru is going to have the worst week or so of her life. That’s really saying something, given her previous predicament. The Warriors of Hope, a council of five children, have decided to turn the island city into a haven for children, by children, killing all adults in the process. She is captured, forced to wear an explosive tracking wristband and released in the city for a cat-and-mouse game. The first one of the Warriors to kill her wins.
Fortunately, she meets Toko Fukawa, another Trigger Happy Havoc survivor. The two team up, with Toko wanting to prove herself fit for full membership as a Future Foundation officer and Komaru hoping to finally find freedom.
They have a shot at achieving these goals, because these two women are no damsels in distress. Sure, Komaru may have been a captive, and Toko isn’t exactly threatening when her normal personality is dominant, but both are intimidating individuals when they need to be. Komaru’s Megaphone Hacking Gun allows her to fire Truth Bullet codes at Monokuma robots, inflicting various status effects or taking them out. It also helps her surpass challenges in her surroundings, with the ability to control certain machines and detect hidden messages.
Toko is just as dangerous, but can only be used in small doses. She has a dissociative identity disorder, with her dominant personality being a famous author and the latent one a serial killer named Genocide Jack. (Don’t worry about Komaru; Toko’s tamed that side of herself and, even if she hadn’t, Genocide Jack only goes after cute young men.) A stun gun can bring her destructive and invincible other side out, which will use scissors to rage against any enemies in the area. A battery gauge at the top of the screen limits the length of her appearances, making her a valuable resource for areas with multiple Monokuma.
Danganronpa Another Episode shines when you have the time and luxury to plot every shot.
Here’s the funny thing about Danganronpa Another Episode. It’s a third-person shooter. There’s no debating that, even though Toko’s appearances change it into a beat’em up. Yet it’s also an exploration game with strategic elements and plenty of puzzles. Komaru and Toko are attempting to survive, help other people trapped on the island and learn more about the truth of the situation. The game is at its best when Komaru and Toko aren’t randomly fighting robots.
It isn’t that the shooting parts aren’t bad. It’s more like it lacks precision. The basic Truth Bullets for the Komaru’s megaphone aren’t very good. It takes multiple hits to bring down even a standard Monokuma. One hit kills are possible, but only if you hit the enemy right in its left, red eye. Not an easy feat when it’s constant moving toward you. Multiple kinds of bullets help — Dance, Knockback and Paralyze especially — but by that point you’ve bought stronger words to attach to bullets to make it easier to bring down foes.
Danganronpa Another Episode shines when you have the time and luxury to plot every shot. Luckily, you get many opportunities to make the most of this. The Monokuma Kids and Warriors of Hope want to prove they’re smarter than adults like Komaru and Toko, after all. Some puzzles come up that require brains. The kids will have a critical item to advance the story hidden away, and a puzzle will have to be solved so a password can be entered into a computer. This can involve brain power or using something like a Detect Truth Bullet to reveal hidden clues.
Even better are the puzzles that involve Monokumas. Every once in a while, Komaru and Toko will enter a room with an arcade machine. Firing a Move Truth Bullet at it will provide an overhead view of the next room and guidelines. You’ll only be able to use certain bullets and need to stay within the rules to proceed. In one instance, multiple Monokuma lurk in the hospital’s entryway and the duo has to sneak past. In another, you must get all of the Monokuma robots in an area clustered together by moving a car, making a Siren Monokuma dance and attacking only a Bomber Monokuma at the right time so all of them are defeated at once.
Though, as much as I enjoyed being tested, perhaps the most intriguing moments involved exploration and exposition. We learn so much about the major and minor characters here. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is one of the few games that made me genuinely feel bad for the villains. I still wanted them to face severe repercussions for their actions, but the story made me understand why they did what they did.
Taking your time also means getting to enjoy some quality time with Komaru and Toko. Aside from finding skill books tucked away that can add additional abilities to Komaru, random books and comics can be found around Towa City. Since Toko is an author, she has quite a few opinions on such things. These almost always result in funny back-and-forths. One of my favorites was a riveting discussion about an imaginary shojo manga called The Bomb Inside Her, about a girl with a womb full of bombs that will explode when she falls in love. Yeah, this game is weird. But in a good way.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is at its best when it makes a player think. Whether it’s about people’s natures, morality, the power of hope and despair or how to best proceed through a particularly puzzling area, it excels in every way. It’s only when the game forces people to focus on shooting that it occasionally stumbles, given the enemies constant movement and small weak spot. As daunting as going from a deliberate genre where people have plenty of time to think to one where they have to be on constant alert is, it’s still a game fans of the series should play. Just go with Genocide Mode, the easiest difficulty level, and you’ll be fine.