Sunday, September 20, 2015

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita) Review

It's safe to say I like the Danganronpa universe.  Over the previous two games, I've gotten sucked into the world and characters.  So when a new game in the series is coming out, I want to check it out.  Unlike the first two, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter (TPS for short) instead of the usual SAW meets Phoenix Wright story-driven awesomeness.

First off, the world and style is very fitting for the franchise.  The backstory is crazy and violent, as it a lot of the scenery.  Joining the abundant trademark pink blood are the new nondescript colored bodies.  The new characters and situations fit right in with the other games, expand that universe, but are still contained enough to be understood by people that haven't played the other two games.  (If you haven't, you really should.)  The game definitely lives up to its "M" rating.

However, one of the drawbacks to me is how much story there is.  While I do enjoy story-driven games, it feels like there is just too much for this genre (TPS).  It breaks up the action numerous times, and tends to just be a lot of dialogue that feels unnecessary.  I like the amount of dialogue in the other Danganronpas, but it fit there.  It just doesn't mesh well with a more action-driven game, as Ultra Despair Girls is.  It does make it more unique, but I feel the world and characters already do that, and having lengthy dialogue every other screen just feels overbearing.  I'm not complaining that there is a story, just that there seems to be too much unnecessary dialogue for the type of game it is.  This does get a bit better as you get further in the game.

That could be excused if the gameplay itself was great.  To me, it's average at best.  It also feels a bit off to me.  Aiming at an enemy's weakpoint felt more frustrating than just shooting them.  Normally in shooters, the head is the go-to weak spot.  Here, it is the red eye of the Monokuma bots.  It's much smaller and harder to hit, but sometimes it would just work, even if I thought it wouldn't hit it.  The slow and not very smooth aiming make it even harder to take advantage of such a necessary mechanic.  The enemies themselves seem to move in slightly odd and unpredictable patterns, making even basic aiming problematic at times.  Plus, when you stop aiming, there is a second where you can't move very quickly, which gets me hit.  It was the biggest problem on some of the game's bosses, since they can cheaply hit you anyway, which just exacerbates the problem.  I did try the game on the Playstation TV in hopes that the Dualshock 3 would be an improvement, but it was a marginal one at best.

Why do I think it is necessary to take advantage of the eye shot?  Well, the ammo you get tends to be low, and you can very easily run out while fighting large groups, which happens a few times per stage.  Ammo rarely drops in the middle of fights, so you are stuck with what you have when it starts.  There are machines you can shoot to get an item, but the items aren't really tailored to your current situation.  I've gotten hearts and batteries when they were full, but I needed ammo.  Or they give you ammo for the next section, not what you need to fill up.

There is one more main gameplay mechanic, namely your second character.  While you mostly play as Komaru, Toko (from the first game) follows you around and helps out.  During battle, you can press the Triangle button and she will taser herself, unleashing her alter ego, Genocide Jack.  She will use her trademark scissors to cut up the enemies, making the game a hack and slash for a few brief moments.  She's fun to use and really helpful because of her invincibility.  It makes sense from a gameplay stance, so I used her for trouble spots (annoying enemies or bosses).  She also gets some impressive super moves, but I rarely needed them.

There are definitely aspects of the game I enjoy.  Several times during the game you come across a Monoku-man arcade machine, that shows you an overhead view of the next section.  These rooms are more puzzle-based, and have a solution that will eliminate all of the enemies at once.  They aren't hard to figure out, as I didn't run across one that took me more than two tries to get perfect.  There are pretty fun, since you wipe out a bunch of Monokumas and get some drops from them.  Also, the different enemy types tend to have weaknesses to either a certain shot or even used themselves as a weapon.  There are bombing Monokumas that can be used to kill others nearby and Ball Monokumas that can be sent rolling back into their friends.  Once you learn them, they tend to be life (and ammo) savers.

Each chapter is longer than I would have thought.  There are five total, and each takes about 3 to 5 hours.  It's a good length for the main story, especially for a third-person shooter, but doesn't have much replay after that.  Most of the replay will come from trying to get the collectibles or trophy hunting.  I only ran across one bug during my playtime, and it only caused me to have to retry a section.  This does count against you at the end of the stage, but only one retry won't make you miss the highest grade, so it wasn't too bad.  Annoying, though.

While it's not a bad game, I was a bit disappointed in Danganronpa Another Episode.  The shooter elements don't feel right and the large chunks of story break up the action too frequently.  I appreciate that they tried something different with the universe, but they should have taken the genre into account and played to its strengths.  While I don't think making a generic third person shooter and slapping a Danganronpa skin over it would be a masterful game, it would be an improvement here.  Overall the game is ok, and fans of the Danganronpa universe will likely play it, but those are the only people I would recommend trying out Ultra Despair Girls.  If you want to get into the series to see what it is all about, I would heartily recommend starting at the beginning with the first game.

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