The following is the third part of a blog series going over the entirety of Danganronpa and how I came to experience it this fall.
Just as with the first two parts, this post is really meant to be a reaction for those who’ve already played Ultra Despair Girls. There will be a fair amount of spoilers.
Note: I only played through the base game and didn’t have the patience to explore anything unlocked after finishing the main story.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
Unlike its predecessors, UDG is not a visual novel. It’s a combination third-person shooter and character action game starring Komaru Naegi – Makoto Naegi’s younger sister – and Toko Fukawa of Trigger Happy Havoc.
Set between the first two games, UDG takes place in Towa City, one of few places in the world that was unaffected by The Tragedy. The player follows the story of Komaru, who shortly after The Tragedy occurred was kidnapped and imprisoned in an apartment in Towa as leverage in DR1‘s ‘Killing School Life’ game.
In UDG, Towa City falls to an army of Monokumas as a group of children dubbed the Warriors of Hope takes over and kills off every adult in the city. Armed with Future Foundation tech, Komaru teams with Toko in the goals of stopping the children, saving the captured Byakuya Togami, and escaping the city.
If UDG has a great strength, it’s the character development and relationship between Komaru and Toko. I found the perfectly average Komaru extremely likable and easy to root for and Toko transitioned from being an entertaining character in DR1 to an endearing one in UDG.
Sadly, other characters were sorely lacking. The children characters were a mixed bag of intriguing and grating. Jataro Kemuri in particular was insufferably boring without any redeeming qualities to his chapter. His bio says he likes being hated so I suppose he got what he wanted.
Other characters weren’t given enough screen time to truly make an impact, including a couple who were killed off almost instantly. The only exception being Haiji Towa whose air of arrogance and stubbornness made him off-putting long before he went off the deep end.
Rather than offer up a new mystery or case to solve with each chapter, UDG gives a specific theme to each Warrior of Hope. Each theme is derived from the abuse they suffered in the past which spurned them towards despair and killing the adults.
Jataro and Masaru Daimon’s chapters were underwhelming, but the game’s writing begins to open up at chapter 3. For better or worse, this begins with focusing on the themes of Kotoko Utsugi’s past.
It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable with what I’m playing. UDG achieves that by highlighting the sexual abuse Kotoko went through and how it’s projected on Komaru when Kotoko captures her.
It’s difficult to gauge whether or not UDG‘s themes are tactless or daring. On one hand, I think not shying away from the fact that sexual abuse is one of many ways children can be mistreated by adults was a wise decision. But using that theme as an opportunity to pack more tasteless fan service into the game was not welcome.
In many ways, I think Ultra Despair Girls can be argued as both the darkest and most ridiculous title in the series. Underneath its many layers of crude humor and fan service is also the most graphic violence the series has had as well as dark tones such as child abuse. To a certain extent, the game perfectly lives up to the series’ reputation of being horrifically absurd.
Gameplay is UDG‘s Achilles’ heel. The fact that Spike Chunsoft is not known for these types of games and that Danganropa is truly a visual novel series is made evident.
As far as third-person shooters go, UDG is bad and the character action portion experienced by playing as Toko’s alter ego, Genocide Jack (Syo in Japan), are average at best. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the game is built for the Vita and I wasn’t expecting stellar action gameplay out of a handheld game anyway. However, with the recent news that the game is being ported to PS4 and PC next year, I fear the new version will be hammered by negative user reviews because the gameplay simply doesn’t live up to the standards of what people expect on proper home consoles.
There are also small puzzle sections that really don’t do much to challenge anyone with the slightest experience with games. There are even arrows in the levels that point the player where to go despite the levels themselves being fairly linear. Much of UDG‘s design seems to be compromised on the premise that there may be Danganronpa fans playing it without much experience in games outside of visual novels.
Nowhere is this truer than the design of the boss fights. To be frank, they are laughably easy at times and only the final boss presented any semblance of a challenge. Again, I understand the game is designed with a visual novel audience in mind, but I was hoping the boss fights to more of a fight.
UDG‘s story is not great, to say the least. From beginning to end, things feel just as linear just as the levels themselves. The events and outcome are extremely predictable, thanks in large part due to the game being set before the events of Danganronpa 2.
Again, the one thing the story events excel at are progressing the character arcs of Komaru and Toko. Beyond that, the core game’s story lacks a lot of imagination. A threat arises, enemies are defeated, and ultimately, the heroines win. In every respect, someone could go through the series without paying Ultra Despair Girls any mind – or at least that was the case until the small tie-in with the Danganronpa 3 anime.
For fans of the series, the ending does provide a small nod to what leads into DR2‘s backstory, but honestly, I didn’t find it to be enough. All along I’ve had questions of just how the Remnants of Despair are captured and put into the Neo World Program and that’s never really been addressed in the games themselves. UDG could have touched on that with a couple of characters, but chose not to.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is what it is: a spin-off game. Its story is non-essential to the Danganronpa universe. To sell the game and its potentially unfamiliar play style to fans, UDG resorts to some cheap humor, fan service, and simplified game design.
If there are positives here, they are the character development of the heroines as well as the game’s overall production level. Moving up from the original two games, which were designed for PSP, to UDG for the Vita was a noticeable jump. The amount of animated scenes and overall design of the user-interface made me excited to see what Spike Chunsoft has in store for Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
Still, UDG added to the stress fractures in Danganronpa‘s foundation that I wrote about in the last piece. By the time this game was released, there should have been unquestionable signs of weakness to the series. Signs that would hopefully be addressed and fixed with the next major project: Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School.