When NIS America brought over the first Danganronpa game to western shores, the game accrued critical acclaim for its excellent mix of visual novel inspired narrative elements with gameplay involving investigation and courtroom elements. This was furthered when the publisher brought over the sequel the next year, taking the original's gameplay and expanding upon it. The latest title brought over to western shores, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, explores what took place between the first two games but with a new third-person shooting gameplay mechanic. Does this new direction still provide what fans want out of the series?
Another Episode starts out with protagonist Komaru Naegi (who fans of the first game will recognize as the younger sister of that game's protagonist) locked inside an apartment building during the time the events of the first game took place. One day, she hears a loud knock at the front door and is met with a near-death encounter with a claw from a robot that looks strikingly like the infamous evil Monokuma. As she escapes from the building, she finds out that a group of kids called the Warriors of Hope are bent on killing all of the adults in Towa City to create their own utopia using robots that resemble Monokuma.
Changing from a confined location, like in the prior two games, to a city provides for some interesting differences in story dynamics. Because the locations were so self-contained in the first two games, they tended to favor plot development over one-to-one character interaction, the latter of which was generally relegated to optional side events. Another Episode differs greatly from this, with plot development building over longer spans of time with moment-to-moment character interaction taking place in-between. This newfound freedom comes with somewhat of a cost, as the game occasionally tends to drag on longer than it should in the gameplay sections, making the pacing between the excellently written plot-building events feel too stretched out.
That said, it should be noted that Another Episode manages to take the somewhat darker, unsettling moments mentioned about the tragedy mentioned in the first two games and amps it up to eleven. All of the adults in the game are rendered with colored silhouettes, similar to how pink blood was used in place of real-colored blood in the first two games, of which the game uses quite unsettlingly during some moments in the game. There's also an expanded look at some of the more mature, disturbing subjects briefly mentioned in the original games and some other moments you wouldn't expect from a game which for the majority focuses on child and teenager-age children. It's something I'd like to see in the next mainline title in the series.
Going back to the gameplay, like was mentioned earlier, Another Episode trades in the visual novel/exploration elements for third-person gameplay and narrative scenes. Instead of exploring the area for clues, you as Komaru Naegi has access to a "hacking gun" which, as it sounds, spits out programming code that can interact with mechanic objects --- most notably the Monokuma robots invading Towa City. The default bullets are Break Bullets, which as their name implies destroy whatever they're shot at. There's also other more situational ammo types available, like the Move Bullets which change the state of certain objects and Dance Bullets which cause the Monokumas to dance, allowing you to get some distance between them to line up a better shot.
How the developers implemented the shooting aspects leaves a bit to be desired, however. If you've played a zombie shooter before, you'll have a pretty good idea of how things work in Another Episode. The Monokumas are generally slow, accelerating as they notice you and get closer in distance. They generally take a couple shots to take down, unless you manage to hit them in their weak spots such as their red-colored left eye.
Likely due to the developers being new to this type of genre, the controls for these shooting portions of the game feel somewhat twitchy. You move Komaru using the left stick and use the right stick to aim the firing reticule when in shooting mode. There's no auto-aim for when you get close to a Monokuma's weak point and the aiming speed can be twitchy at times, so when a Monokuma notices you and starts increasing in speed, you tend to have to fire out shots in bursts instead of lining up one well-aimed shot.
The developers did include an option to switch out Komaru with Toko Fukawa in her "Genocide Jack" state, which lets you rip through the Monokumas like it's nothing when you get into a real bind. That said, this mode is limited by an energy gauge in all modes but the easy-level Genocider mode, so you can't use it willy-nilly whenever you want.
It should also be noted there's occasional spots in the game where you enter a puzzle room of sorts where you're given a top-down view of the area and the enemies patrolling it. These rooms are a nice change of pace from the normal shooting segments, as they let the player think ahead instead of reacting and let you use Truth Bullets you might not otherwise think of using.
The first two Danganronpa games had a much coherent feeling to them due to the environmental restrictions. Another Episode trades its more open nature for a decently implemented, but less coherent package. It pushes forward the series narratively in a way I'd love to see improved on in the future, but the gameplay elements need some work if we're to see another entry in this vein. Hardcore fans will be in regardless for the narrative, but newcomers who come through this game might be wondering what all the excitement around the series is about.
|The narrative fans have come to expect is here in full force, with even more despair in tow.|
|It's nice to see the developers mixing things up with Another Episode's new gameplay approach.|
|Toko's fantasy scenes in the game are a real hoot.|
|The shooting controls could have used some more fine-tuning.|
|The game feels a couple hours longer than it should have been pacing-wise.|
|Newcomers might be wondering what the fuss was about due to the change in gameplay mechanics.|