Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review #330: Danganronpa Another Episode - Ultra Despair Girls

 Because just one Monokuma wasn't enough,
 After two Phoenix Wright-like visual novels, there was only one direction in which Spike Chunsoft could take the franchise: Third person shooter. The genre shift makes sense, considering you can't really move the story forwards through 'killing games', but the end result is a bit mixed.

 The game takes place before Danganronpa 2, but after the first one, and while it'd make sense to play it before DR 2, it kinda gives away the answer to one of its mysteries. Regardless, the game sees you as Komaru Naegi, Makoto Naegi's sister, as she allies herself with Danganronpa 1's survivor Toko Fukawa. Both girl must survive Towa City's children's rule of terror. At the outset, this feels like a much more brutal take on  'Children of the Corn', with children massacring adults in gruesome ways, one of them even turns them into puppets by nailing their corpses to wood planks. The physical violence is dealt with simplified, undetailed monochromatic 3D models for the adults, so most of the violence is implied. But it doesn't stop there, this might be the darkest Danganronpa yet, dealing with themes of child abuse, mental and physical, spliced with the usual Danganronpa humor. It's a mixed result. Some of the scenes are fantastic, having the kids relieve their traumas can be heartwrenching, but this, being a Japanese game, couldn't contain themselves from gratuitous panty shots, particularly on the rape victim. On the child rape victim. Like, seriously, Japan? Seriously? This game actually suffers due to the unnecessary fanservice, bordering into the unsavory at times. As for the rest of the plot, watching Komaru and Toko become friends can be endearing, finding collectibles, in the form of Manga and Books, initiates conversations between both of them and their different tastes. It's a great idea, on paper, and helps fleshing them out. Overall, the story is really good, and I love how it delves into darker themes that few games would dare, but they took a few missteps with a few of the characters.
 You'll be controlling Komaru and her trusty hack-gun-megaphone weapon, which is operated by shouting 'word bullets' through it. There's 8 different bullets, 2 of them(Move/Detect) used to solve puzzles or activate certain interactive elements, and the other 6 used for combat. There's plenty of variety, 'Burn' works like a machine gun, 'Knockback' works like a Shotgun, that deals no damage, but can deflect certain projectiles and destroy shields, 'Paralyze' which works as advertised and can be used on water for added effect, 'Link', that lets you control an enemy, and 'Dance' which makes an enemy dance. But your main means of offence will be 'Break', the 'peagun' so to speak, but it has a nifty little perk: Landing a hit on a weakpoint, the different Monokumas' red eyes, you'll deal extra damage, and your next 'Break' shot will be stronger as well. Bullets can also be enhanced with 'Bling Bullets', bought at different vendors spread throughout Towa city, in order to enhance them in various ways. Komaru herself levels up, and you can equip a ton of different skills on her, from extra hit points, to letting you run while aiming.

 But Komaru isn't alone, pressing triangle will have Toko use a stungun to her temples(Seriously) and switch into Genocider Jack. Toko doesn't take damage, but she runs on an energy meter, so you could consider her Komaru's 'super powered mode'. She fights with her scissors in close combat, and she can be enhanced as well, although instead of equipping skills on her, you buy the enhancements at the same vendors that sell bling bullets.
 The way the game plays out is a bit weird. For instance, while it is a third person shooter, this is more of an adventure game. Initially, Komaru can only take three hits(Up to five through skills), but it's not much of a liability since most enemies are really slow. Not to say that the game is a cakewalk, since I played in normal and I died a couple of times, but a high octane action game this is not. There's also a ton of 'puzzle rooms'(About 6 per chapter, for a total of 30) that require skillful use of your Bullets to solve. Another thing to keep in mind is that the is very story heavy. So much so that there's a lot of reading and cutscenes. I'm talking about Metal Gear Solid-like ratios of cutscene-to-gameplay, you might get 4 minutes of gameplay before the next cutscene or event starts, to the point of annoyance at times, since you don't really need cutscenes to tell you that yes, effectively you are on the right track. As a matter of fact, and as I mentioned previously, some of the collectibles initiate conversations, bringing yet another stop to the gameplay. What I mean to say with all this long diatribe is that this game will, more likely than not, not appeal to fans of traditional third person shooters.

 Not that the gameplay itself is brilliant either. I felt like the behind-the-back camera was a bit too close to Komaru and Toko, and, maybe it was just me, but I felt aiming was a bit tough. And I'm talking about aiming at slow moving enemies! There's a few skills that tighten the reticule's speed, which helps a bit, but still. And then there's the framerate which isn't very smooth. Heck, the game's easy mode grants you regenerating battery gauge, for Toko, so that you can just tear your way through the game, in case the story is everything that you are interested in. And the huge amount of cutscenes will get in the way of replaying the game, since skipping them is a bit of a hassle. Firstly, you have to wait 1-2 seconds before the start button becomes responsive during a cutscene, secondly, pressing start gives you the option to skip the cutscene, instead of directly skipping it, and thirdly you might get 3-5 cutscenes straight, which translates into a lot of waiting before you can finally play the game. Being someone that got the Platinum Trophies on both previous Danganronpas, I was gonna do the same for this one, but after spending about 10 seconds skipping cutscenes on Chapter 1 I gave up on it. Too boring.
 I've a bit of mixed feelings with Ultra Despair Girls. As a third person shooter, it's not very competent, but I had fun with the game. And while, eventually, I was grumbling every time I grabbed a collectible that triggered a conversation, I still read them, since they were endearing. It's as if you really want to play the game, but the game doesn't want you to play it, it wants you to read it. And don't get me wrong, the story is good, the gameplay, despite its technical flaws, is fun, but the frequent stops and halts throughout the game can be fairly annoying.

 I guess you could say that Danganronpa Another Episode is not good at what it is, a third person shooter, but is good at what it wants to be: A third-person shooter that Danganronpa fans can enjoy. If you are into the franchise, by all means indulge in Another Episode, otherwise abstain.
6.5 out of 10

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