Friday 25 September 2015

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

This is a game where you fight bears. More specifically, it's a game where you fight robot bears. Impossible as it may seem given this information, however, it's not a game for everyone. There are two ways to review this. The easy way is to say to people who already love the Danganronpa series “Yes, this is totally worth it, buy it immediately”. The other way is to reluctantly acknowledge that most people won't know their Makoto from their Junko. So here we go; wish me luck.

Developed by Spike Chunsoft and out now for PS Vita comes Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. This is a Vita exclusive game, which is – ironically – sort of like saying 'this is a Latin exclusive book'. Not even Sony cares about the Vita anymore; if you have one, that's likely only because (a) you've forgotten that you own one and it's gathering dust somewhere, or (b) you were waiting for the next Danganronpa game. The first two were also Vita exclusives in English speaking countries, you see, and they've built up a ferociously devoted cult following. Whereas Danganronpa 1 & 2 belong to the interactive novel genre (where almost all your time is spent reading and/or listening to dialogue), Ultra Despair Girls is (theoretically) a third person shooter. 

The Danganronpa universe is one where the world has been thrown into chaos by 'The Tragedy', with the ruinous state of the world having been kicked off and perpetuated by a highly dangerous organisation concerned only with spreading despair across the planet (like the Tories). The first two games saw talented students forced to kill one another; Ultra Despair Girls is based in the world outside, but in a city isolated from the rest of the planet. Corpses are scattered throughout each level, sometimes literally piled up. All the adults are being slaughtered – and a group of children are behind it. But why...?

The eponymous girls are Komaru and Toko. Komaru is the character you'll be controlling the most, handed as she is a special gun at the beginning of the game to defend herself against the robots known as 'Monokumas'. Holding down the aim button gives you an over-the-shoulder view to unleash the variety of ammo you unlock throughout your adventure. Unfortunately, the deadzones and aiming sensitivity are pretty crap, which I'm happy to (mostly) blame on the Vita. I don't know what the Vita's analogue sticks were designed for, but it wasn't playing videogames. Toko doesn't suffer these problems, as she's a melee fighter. Her weapons are, er, scissors, and you only get to use her for limited periods of time because you need to collect batteries to power the stun gun that, ah, she has to shoot herself with in order to switch personalities and – look, it's not as stupid as it sounds. Not quite.

Despite crappy controls for the main character, the game manages to redeem itself in other areas. There are bloody loads of collectables to find if you're one of those OCD gamers, and the various challenge rooms make a nice change of pace and engage your brain a little. There's no getting away from the fact that the script still dominates the experience; it's no exaggeration to say there's more talking than action. In Danganronpa tradition it's by turns horrifying, intelligent, daft, and witty. That said, the most memorable line for me is the distinctly unwitty “Fuck off, four-eyes!” (and I'm a proud four-eyes myself).

Best appreciated by Danganronpa nuts, it's more story than game – but what a wonderful, fucked up story. If you like anime flavoured games but not interactive novels, why not give this a try anyway? It's not like you're doing anything else with your Vita.

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is flawed, awkward, creepy, and unforgettable. 4/5.


Luke Kemp

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