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Monday, 9 October 2017

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Danganronpa Another Episode:
Ultra Despair Girls

Here's another review of a game I've been Let's Playing, so go check that out if you're so inclined.

So, it's not a secret by now that despite initial trepidation, the Danganronpa franchise did a pretty good job of winning me over: It's colourful, fun, has its fair share of well-crafted mysteries, and the majority of its vast cast are pretty engaging and interesting -- and the element that ties together Danganronpa, more than anything, is Monokuma, in his role as a simultaneously funny and sinister villain.

It's interesting, then, that Danganronpa Another Episode not only departs from the usual gameplay form of Danganronpa games, instead being a survival horror-y shooter, but also doesn't have Monokuma in it (at least, not the character -- Monokuma shaped robots comprise almost all of the enemies in the game). It's a slightly odd but not uninteresting departure from the norm for the series, so it was worth checking out.

Set between the first and second games, Danganronpa Another Episode follows Komaeru Naegi, the younger sister of Trigger Happy Havoc protagonist Makoto Naegi, and Toko Fukawa (and her split personality, Jack), as they are trapped in an island city under siege by an army of robotic Monokumas. With escape impossible, Komaeru must face down the Warriors of Hope, five young children who control the Monokumas -- but complicating matters is the agenda of Haiji Towa, the leader of a resistance group of adults, and the ulterior motive of one of the Warriors of Hope, Monaca, whose plan may bring the Remnants of Despair down on Towa City.

Our villains.

It's a shorter game than most Danganronpa games, coming in at about twelve to fifteen hours in length, but any longer and it would certainly start wearing out its welcome -- the gameplay, a kind of puzzle-shooter revolving around using the right ammunition in the right way to take out enemies, interspersed with various 'puzzle rooms' where certain conditions have to be fulfilled, is a lot of fun but does lack some variety, meaning that by about the thirteenth hour of it, you'll be getting pretty weary of it.

The puzzle element is usually well-executed, but every now and then you'll encounter a boss for which it is just not done well. The most glaring example of this is Fighter Robot Highlander the Great, a surprisingly agile, floating robot that you fight in a room full of water. You have to electrocute it, but this can only be done by electrocuting another Monokuma robot that's standing in water while Highlander's axe is in contact with the water.

What this means is that you have to keep track of four different things: Whether Highlander's axe has hit the water, where there's a Monokuma in the water, whether you're about to be attacked by other Monokumas, and whether you're on one of the islands (since being in the water will electrocute you). It's a thorny, awkward juggling act, especially since if you're on an island, that's where Highlander is going to attack, rendering it ineligible for electrocution.

Another boss requires you to knock bombs back at it, but since it's constantly moving, actually landing a hit is often more trouble than it's worth.

The gameplay interface is a little awkward even on a good day, especially if you
want to aim at a specific target.

Luckily, the game has a balm for that particular issue (and trouble with the game in general): By pressing a button, you can switch for a limited amount of time with Jack, changing the game into a hack and slash and making you both invincible and absurdly powerful, able to tear down bosses in record time and cut a swathe through hordes of Monokumas. It is, essentially, a mode that allows you to substitute thinking with sheer, brute force, and it makes sure you aren't stuck trying to do the same boss over and over again.


The story, meanwhile, is actually surprisingly solid. The lack of Monokuma doesn't seem to have had that huge of an impact on it (not least because he's substituted with Monaca, who is delightfully evil in a way that Monokuma never quite managed), and the core of the story -- the burgeoning relationship between Komaeru and Toko -- is pretty well put-together. Much like the gameplay, it's a story you couldn't really stretch out over any more time, but it makes for an enjoyable and pretty compelling ride, and the game's ending, which rejects the hope/despair dichotomy that is the bread and butter of the rest of the series, makes it stand out some.

All in all, this isn't the best game in the series, nor is it the best shooter or survival horror, but it is a markedly good game, and short enough that it's well worth your time to check out. One interesting thought experiment would be playing all the games in chronological order and seeing how that influences your experience of Danganronpa 2. 

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