Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS VITA)

NISA's Danganronpa series continues it's twisted, and often times morbid tale with one hell of a plot deviation that most gamers will not see coming. This 'Spike Chunsoft' re-imagining of the traditional Danganronpa formula not only impresses with it's visual aesthetics, deep seeded storytelling, and action RPG inspired gameplay mechanics, but goes well beyond all of that to provide likely the best entry in the series to date. It touches base on some real world problems while continuing to be it's own beast of burden. We find some returning characters of interest as well as a character or two that was briefly shown in the previous two game entries. All of which are showcased through amazing in-game visuals as well as through decent length anime sequences, and CG cutscenes that will no doubt keep the gamer closely following what the hell is going on. Content wise this sequel is more robust in nature, and more hefty with everything that it offers. While the developer could have easily made it a more linear experience they added extra mini-games, secret items to discover, and a grade system among other things that will have you spending plenty of time outside of merely advancing the plot. As usual the game is chapter based, and will incorporate some of the elements of the previous Danganronpa experiences while doing it's own things with them.

In "Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (gonna refer to it as "Ultra Despair Girls" from hence forth)" we find the unlikely protagonist Komaru Naegi (sister of Makoto Naegi) imprisoned by unknown assailants in a place she does not readily recognize. When the story begins through a badass English dubbed anime Komaru explains her predicament in full, and through her actions begins to reveal what's going on in the world around her. Much like the morally declining real world of today violence had become such a normal, and completely overwhelming thing that it eventually turned the world Komaru once knew into a vast apocalyptic wasteland filled with rubble, blood, and dead bodies. Unlike our world though Komaru finds out through Byakuya, a "Future Federation" agent that her world had reached that point of calamity through the despair that had bled through the confines of "Hopes Peak Academy". Monokuma had seemingly done what he sought out to do, and the the world paid for his many transgressions. After the chance meeting with Byakuya, and the narrow escape from hordes of rioting Monokuma units Komaru finds out that she is on an island that was seperated, and spared for the longest time from the evils of the world. Her one year absence didn't help her comprehension of her situation though, but it at least let her know what needed to be done in the dire circumstance.

Unfortunately for the common citizen, and Komaru herself even this island paradise known as, "Towa City" was not impervious to the incoming assault. In Komaru's timeline of events the Monokuma army infiltrated the island city, and murdered all of the adults found therein without mercy. In the midst of this maniacal mayhem Komaru attempts to escape through the means of an awaiting chopper, and the provided weapon that Byakuya had gifted her during her early encounter with him, but ultimately finds herself trapped without a way out while at the mercy of those who call themselves, "The Heroes of Hope". Eventually being set free in sort of sick cat, and mouse game Komura makes an odd friend in the former Hope's Peak Academy resident, and renowned serial killer "Toko Fukawa (aka, Genocide Jack). Together the two work together using their wits, their bravery, their weapons, and their skills to attempt to escape from the insanity they currently find themselves to be a part of. Perhaps they both do have there own agendas, but together their goal is mutual.

Ultra Despair Girls, at it's core is a game that does good to ease the player into the 3rd Person stealth, puzzle, and combat oriented experience that it is. After the initial story elements play out in full you'll slowly be introduced to the mechanics as you guide Komaru Naegi through the Monokuma infested locales of Towa City. At your disposal you have a weapon known as a "Hacking Gun" that shoots electro-magnetic truth bullets in the direction that you are facing/aiming. These "Truth Bullets", which come in a select variety gift Komaru the ability to do various things to both the Monokuma units, and the surrounding environmental objects. At first Komaru will have access to all truth bullet types (Break, Move, Burn, Dance ...) for experimental purposes, but will later be stripped of all but two after confronting the supposedly guilty characters who are behind the mass murders of the adult population. All truth bullets will later become available as needed though throughout your continued playthrough, and will each be introduced through proper tutorials that come complete with visual demonstrations, and accompanying text.

After meeting with the "Heroes of Hope", and being sent into their Towa City playground for their "Demon Hunt", or "Cat & Mouse" game as I referred to it Komaru will gain an unlikely ally in, 'Toko Fukawa (aka, Genocide Jack)'. Once together the gamer controlling the duo will be able to switch between the pair to use their accompanying skills, but sparingly so. Komaru's truth bullets are not infinite (at least not all of them), and finding them through Monokuma kids' gifts, or through the MonoMono capsule vending machines will be your only source for refilling the necessary ammunition. Toko, on the other hand can be summoned via (TRIANGLE), and give herself a taser shocking turning her into the homicidal "Genocide Jack" for so long as she has battery meter to use. The Genocide Jack transformation affords the player a more frenzied set of slasher based attacks in which Genocide Jack will use her signature scissors weapon as a means to damage enemies, and clear hordes of them out quickly without taking damage herself. This transformation will also allow for a few different special attacks that become usable after Genocide Jack has attacked enough to build up her "Fever" meter. While Genocide Jack might seem like the easy way out using her sparingly is a must as it will affect her attitude towards Komaru in the end. The more you use Genocide Jack the less she'll think of you.

As far as upgrades go you will find randomly placed shops later on into the game which will in turn allow you to upgrade Komaru's truth bullets through "Bullet Bling", and Genocide Jack's scissors through purchased performance/damage upgrades. As with the previous two Danganronpas you will find coins in the game which are this time dropped randomly from destroyed Monokuma units. These coins which come in various values, and forms will allow you to purchase the shop upgrades via the shop vendor. In the case of the "Bullet Bling" they are items that will enhance the damage output, or effectiveness of the truth bullets they are equipped to. The "Bullet Blings" are basically adjectives that in a way describe there added effects, but which also double as a sort of truth bullet add-on. By pairing up different types of "Bullet Bling" into the limited truth bullet slots via the "START" menu you can change the effect of said truth bullet. Different combinations will have different results, so experimentation is important. As far as Genocide Jack's upgrade goes it enhances things such as the combo count that ties in with the (SQUARE) button as well as the duration of her special attacks, and her energy meter. Upgrading opportunities come few, and far between, so taking advantage of the shop sales when you can is a must.

As you traverse the various locations of Towa City in a labyrinthine path you will face Monokuma units of varying types that will require different means to destroy. In some situations simply shooting "Break" truth bullets will do the job while in other situations, namely the arcade stealth sequences you will need to devise a plan to get Komaru, and Toko from "Point A" to "Point B" while destroying all Monokuma units within said room before they can attack you. In these instances, with the proper strategy you can usually defeat all Monokuma units in one go using the designate Komaru, or Genocide Jack. You simply have to pay attention to things like movement patterns, and interactive objects to decide the best course of action. Using the "Move" bullet will activate the arcade cabinets before said rooms' entry points, and will allow you a sneak peak through it's in-room cameras cluing you in as to what layout you'll be dealing with, and what types of Monokuma units await you. Normally dealing with Monokuma units is a straight forward effort in Komaru's case in that she can score one hit kills via a shot to the red eye, or through a few shots to the body. Assuming Komura lands an eye shot the next truth bullet she shoots will be more powerful, and will instantly kill the next monokuma no matter where she shoots it.

Other Monokuma units will of course require different methods, and different truth bullet types to kill/deal with, but thankfully there is a tutorial with each new Monokuma enemy that is introduced explaining all that you need to know. The only exceptions being the bosses which will require that you form your own strategies for dealing with the problem at hand. Using the tag team of Komaru, and Toko intelligently will definitely mean the difference between living, or succumbing to death at the hands of the "Heroes of Hope".

Aside from the methods of combat, and stealth action you'll also be spending time searching for clues, and items that will give you a behind the scenes look at the chaotic scene around you, among other things. Some items are needed for advancing through various parts of Towa City while others are meant to forward the story more instantaneously. Some special items will even gift a leveled up Komaru, and Toko/Genocide Jack additional "Skills" that can be equipped in the main menu "Skills" listing. Skills, in essence are added perks that change things in either characters' favor. Some alter damage output, or meter effectiveness while others increases said meters. One thing I forgot to mention earlier on is that Komaru does have a life/heart meter that will deplete as she's attacked. This meter can be increased through the book items, or reference guides that you'll find in the form of shining dots. These skills can only be equipped when the character has been leveled up though. Leveling up basically takes the killing of Monokuma units, and bosses. Other than those items you'll also find yourself using certain truth bullets to find hidden graffiti depicting the "Heroes of Hopes" characters. Through the "Detect" truth bullet you'll be able to reveal the hidden character art on walls that have sparkles. There are five character portraits to be found in each area of the game following the point where you learn about them.

Beyond the previously mentioned mechanics, and features you'll find that puzzle solving also plays a huge role in beating the game. Most of the puzzles you'll encounter come in the form of the stealth arcade camera missions, or in code deciphering sequences that will have you solving riddles provided by certain Monokuma kids. These don't take too much genius to solve, but will require some thought before proceeding. A huge detail I forgot to mention at the beginning of this article is that you'll find three difficulty settings to choose from at the very start of the game. Initially only the, "Genocide Jack (Easy)", or "Komaru (Normal)" difficulty setting is available, but assuming you can beat the game on normal difficulty you'll be given access to "Despair". Each difficulty setting effects how easy, or difficult the game is in their own respective ways, so choosing which one you want to go with will greatly depend on how glutton for punishment you really are.

As far as the ultimate goal goes you will be fighting various types of Monokumas, and the "Heroes of Hope" as you try to discover what the hell is going on. You'll be picking up clues, and items to advance the plot, and will be taking your team of characters through the streets of Towa City as well as into the buildings that reside there. You'll encounter puzzles, stealth action sequences, and boss battles as you guide Komaru, and Toko out of their current prison state. Between the action you'll get to enjoy various types of animated sequences involving the characters involved. At the end of it all your actions, or lack thereof will decide the protagonists' fate. The added alphabetical grading system that takes in account various aspects of your playthrough will also dictate what you get in the way of endings. It's a chapter by chapter tale that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning until end.

In the way of extras you will find that the main menu not only houses the skills, bullet bling, and game tweaking options that are made available to you but that it also contains collected dialogue transcripts, and unlockable character bios as well as a retry option that you can use in order to restart an area. The dialogue transcripts show text spoken between characters while the unlockable character bios give you in-depth details about characters you encounter in-game. The "Retry" option on the other hand is a feature you'll want to use sparingly as well though as it will also affect a certain character's attitude towards Komaru/Toko.

The Verdict ...

This game got it right on some many levels. It's not the tedious, and overwhelming judicial clue finding experience that the previous Danganronpas were (not that I minded), but instead gives the gamer a more hands-on action adventure to deal with. Everything from the anime sequences to the CG cutscenes, and even the gameplay design were created in such a way that it was wholly complimentary. I loved the character design, and animations as well. I particularly loved the fact that Genocide Jack was a playable character this time. She adds a lot of character to the game that Komaru does not. The story itself was brilliant with it's plot twists, and kept me hooked throughout which is hard to do these days. Despite being so absurdly out of tune with real life "Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls" still managed to mirror the society we live in today as humans, to some extent. It was so eerily in tune with today's worldly violence that it could easily be mistaken as a forecasting of actual future events had not the Monokuma story elements been a part of it. It's definitely a mature game in more ways than one, so don't be surprised at the sexual innuendos, scattered among the plot dialogue as well as the gory violence found within.

At the end of the day, with everything weighed this latest Danganronpa sequel gets my highest rating of approval! It is a "Must Have!!!" for any PS Vita owner, especially those who have played through the first two installments!

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