Danganronpa quickly became one of my favourite series’ when I belatedly got my hands on Trigger Happy Havoc, and I’ve been waiting for Ultra Despair Girls since it was announced. Is it worth the wait, or did it send me into the depths of despair?
If for some reason you’ve played the other two games, loved them, but you’re on the fence about Ultra Despair Girls due to it being a third-person shooter with visual novel elements, then let me say right now that this isn’t a problem. At all. It’s packed with plenty of well-written dialogue and manages to hit a similar length in playtime – clocking in with just over 17 hours in my first playthrough – and the shooting mechanics are far better than I expected that they would be. If you’re on the fence, go and buy it. If you need convincing then read on.
What shocked me most about Ultra Despair Girls is how unsettling, gutwrenching and dark it is. The series as a whole is incredibly dark but I feel as if this installment managed to take the despair up a notch, especially now that it features the youngest characters in the series – a group of five kids who act as the antagonists and call themselves the Warriors of Hope – all of who have terrifying backstories and cause you to empathise with them, and wish to help them, despite the fact that they’re murdering adults who they class as demons. You play as Komaru Naegi, sister of the first Danganronpa’s game protagonist, and returning survivor Toko Fukawa who has a split personality, with her other side being a serial killer called Genocide Jack.
Ultra Despair Girls deviates from what you’re used to by being a third-person shooter and obviously removing all the class trials. The game is set in Towa City which has been taken over by the Warriors of Hope and robot Monokuma’s, and so whilst you’ll meet several new characters, some of who are related to characters you should already be familiar with, there’s no ‘free time’ or class trials. You’re armed with a Future Foundation megaphone, created by their lab as a weapon to combat this new threat, and fight your way through in the hopes that you can remove the wristband attached to you that’ll blow up if you leave the city. There’s plenty of violence, coloured pink as is tradition for the series, death, action and both and implied horrors that plague the city. It really is unsettling, and I loved every minute of it.
The third-person controls are tight and you can unlock skills that allow you to aim faster or slower, depending on which you find easier to play with. I was worried that it wouldn’t play as well as it does, but it seems Spike Chunsoft are more than capable of making a visual novel/shooter hybrid, something that’s rarely been tackled before. You use your ‘Hacking Gun’ – the microphone – as a gun which is equipped with a variety of bullets that can paralyse, destroy, hack, set on fire and much more. Battles can get pretty hectic so you’ll be switching between bullets often to defeat the enemy most efficiently, whilst keeping an eye on your ammo as any offensive bullet requires ammo. When playing as Toko, you’ll hack and slash your way through enemies without worrying about receiving damage as she’s invulnerable, but you can only play as Genocide Jack if you have enough batteries as she’s summoned with a stun gun – changing into Jack saved me a fair few times with her invulnerability!
Every so often you’ll come across an arcade machine that you can use, allowing you to see what enemies are ahead and you’ll be tasked with a mission which is usually to defeat them all in one go. These act as pretty neat puzzles although I did find that they start throwing them in in abundance towards the end of the game when I really just wanted to get on with the story. It’s clear Spike Chunsoft have thought about the puzzle part of the series though and implemented cool, new ways to bring that across in this new game and you’ll be given challenges by the children and whilst the riddles aren’t usually that tricky, there are a few that I was thankful to Toko for when she started dropping hints as to how to proceed.
This is the first game to implement 3D models (something of which is pointed out when it’s noted that this is Monokuma’s first time in 3D!) and they look fantastic. The portraits are in 2D and are as detailed as you’d expect them to be, with the true Danganronpa art style being retained and the static images being able to pack a real emotional punch, and the 3D models compliment them, especially in cutscenes. They move smoothly and there’s very little slowdown despite the large amount of action that can happen on-screen, and the new Monokuma designs are frightening and make the bear more creepier and sadistic than before. There are plenty of cutscenes to enjoy, both 2D and 3D, and you can rewatch them once you’ve purchased them in-game – some of the cutscenes felt as if they lasted 5 or so minutes which was enjoyable, especially in a story-driven game.
As is standard of NIS America, the English Dub is fantastic. The Japanese voiceover will be DLC, presumably free, and wasn’t available for me to have a go with it but regardless, I’ve have picked English anyway. Erin Fitzgerald returns to voice Toko and Cherami Leigh joins the cast as Komaru, with Bryce Papenbrook returning to reprise his role of Nagito Komaeda. A few of my favourite voice-actresses join the cast too including Michelle Ruff, Erica Lindbeck and Cristina Vee, and you’ll be sure to notice many of the voices in what’s easily described as an outstanding dub where I enjoyed listening to the lines even though I’d been able to read them quicker. If I accidentally skipped a line, I’d usually pull up the chatlog to listen to it, although sometimes the pull of the story got the better of me!
The OST features both new and returning tracks, with one of the class trial tunes from the other titles being used during a boss fight which pumped me up greatly. I’m unsure of the names, but there’s a track made specifically for the Warriors of Hope which has a circus-like tone to it and I adored it – this will be another OST I’m sure I’ll be revisiting. The atmosphere is only enhanced by the music and dialogue, and all these aspects come together to create one of the strongest, thrilling and engrossing titles of the year.
As you can tell, I’m a massive Danganronpa fan and Spike Chunsoft have managed to exceed my expectations with Ultra Despair Girls, a game I was already sure would be amazing. When the third game inevitably (well, hopefully!) releases, I’d like to replay through the current three games in chronological order, meaning Ultra Despair Girls comes second as it’s set after the first title. There are a few extras too, the main one being the novella Ultra Despair Hagakure which features Yasuhiro Hagakure, a survivor from the first game, and his mother Hiroko who appears in this game. You can read it on your Vita and it’s a really cool bonus for completing the game.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls has been one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played this year and it’ll definitely be among my top ten of 2015 when the year comes to an end. I’m excited to see what Spike Chunsoft have planned for the series and hope that we get to see more of the Naegi’s, Toko, Byakuya and the other survivors in future titles. A series with such well-written stories and characters deserves no less.