Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
System: PS Vita
Those who have played the Danganronpa visual novels know their quirks well. These are dark, funny, and well-written murder mysteries, and spin-off Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls attempts to boil its essence down and inject it into a third-person shooter. Or is that the other way around? Either way, while the action aspects are lacking at times, the whole package serves up a story worth digging into, even if it does knowingly fall into the over-worded traps of the visual novels that inspired it.
Set between the first and second game, Danganronpa Another Episode follows Komaru Naegi, little sister to Danganronpa protagonist Makoto Naegi. When we first meet Komaru she’s locked up in a strange apartment while the world crumbles around her. Children run amok along with a legion of too-cute-to-destroy Monokuma robots, paving the way for a paradise with no adults. Since this isn’t Silent Hill 4: The Room, Komaru is eventually freed from her prison, and while her safety in the hands of the Future Foundation is short-lived, she finds an unlikely partner in the form of the scissors-wielding Toko Fukawa, AKA Genocide Jill.
Connections to the main Danganronpa series abound as Komaru and Toko make their way through the wreckage of Towa City. Unable to escape, they’ll have to learn to work well together to take down the Warriors of Hope, the group of children behind the game’s sinister plot. As Another Episode unfolds, it deals with plenty of sensitive subject matter with humor regularly interspersed throughout, making for an especially black comedy about abuse, abandonment, and pretty much anything else that might make a kid want to kill every adult in sight.
When the plot isn’t advancing through a mix of anime and cutout-style cinematics, it’s crawling forward, or sometimes just standing still, as Komaru and Toko chat. In true visual novel fashion there is no cutting room floor here, so be prepared to read and listen to every single thought that passes through the minds of our heroines. Thankfully the writing is still sharp and frequently funny, and the English voice acting fits the tone well. There are a ton of in-jokes for both fans of the series and fans of other otaku delights like manga and light novels, and there were enough moments that made me want to take a screencap that I stopped bothering just a few hours into the lengthy story.
As for the action, it’s serviceable enough for what it is. Danganronpa Another Episode doesn’t inject anything new into the third-person shooter genre, and in many ways it’s dated right out the gate, but Komaru’s handy Hacking Gun has a variety of Truth Bullets that help stave off the monotony of blasting Monokuma after Monokuma. They’re all pretty self-explanatory: Dance makes a Monokuma dance, Paralyze sends out electric shocks, Link lets you control any Monokuma you hit, and so on. They’re often put to use in short, mild puzzle sections that challenge you with clearing a room of enemies in one blast, or getting out without being detected. Sometimes a boss will require a specific combination of Truth Bullets, but those showdowns are mostly straightforward.
Komaru can level up along the way, though it’s something that comes naturally with defeating enemies and isn’t customizable. The customization comes in the form of Skills you’ll find scattered around the environment. These Skills can be fitted in a limited number of slots, but picking and choosing between them isn’t ever really an issue. As Komaru levels up the slots increase, and only once did I ever find myself having to remove a Skill to make room for a new one. There are also modifiers for Truth Bullets, but I more or less robotically followed the suggested combinations and didn’t find it to be a very notable or interesting addition to the menu.
Toko’s Genocide Jill powers can be upgraded too, as it’s something Komaru can call upon for a limited time when the going gets too tough for the Hacking Gun alone. When Jill’s in action it’s truly in easy mode, so players who rely on her slice-and-dice melee style too much will see that reflected in their overall performance. Most players shouldn’t have too much trouble with Another Episode, though, and the only sections I really disliked running through involved protecting otherwise insignificant characters from dying.
There are also a few standard puzzles sprinkled about. These are as simple as they get, and typically involve figuring out a password based on clues left in the room. While they’re not a roadblock in terms of difficulty, they don’t really add too much to the game and only further bog down the pacing of something that’s already creeping toward 20 or so hours.
Still, with that minor complaint aside, it’s hard to fault Danganronpa Another Episode for being long-winded, especially when it regularly issues out gems like Toko’s disgusted rants about what she sees as puerile entertainment: “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with this. Light novels are the worst waste of paper ever.” Even when the shooting gets old, you’ll still delight at the way a Bomber Monokuma goes “SHIIING!” right before it explodes. Danganronpa fans familiar with the series and the events at Hope’s Peak Academy will get the most out of Another Episode, but it’s still a viable entry point for newcomers. Grab your Hacking Gun, put on your reading glasses, and get ready for a fun, colorful journey to the depths of a childhood wasteland. Recommended.