The first time I saw gameplay of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, I was puzzled. Going from a point-and-click visual novel to an action game full of shooting and explosions isn’t the kind of shift you see that often. However, I’m well aware that Dangarnonpa loves to play with expectations from my experiences with the first two games. Keeping that in mind, I plunged into Another Episode, and I was surprised by how much I found familiar just as much as by what I found unusual.
To preface this article, it’s difficult to talk about the premise of the game without getting into spoilers for the first Danganronpa game. If you’re interested in playing the original game, avoid this article (and Another Episode!) until you’ve finished it.
Having to give that notice leads me to one of the first things I was surprised about while playing Another Episode: it is a much more direct sequel to the original game than Danganronpa 2 was. While most of the characters in Danganronpa 2 are fairly independent and the game can potentially (although I wouldn’t recommend it) be enjoyed on its own, I’d say playing the first game is mandatory to enjoy Another Episode’s story.
The most obvious connections come from the game’s main protagonists: Komaru Naegi, sister of Makoto Naegi, the first game’s protagonist, and Toko Fukawa, one of the surviving members of the first game’s cast. Like Makoto, Komaru embodies the epitome of normalcy, but as soon as she takes her first steps into the world outside, what she finds is anything but normal. The town has been overrun with killer Monokuma robots, but the worst part is that they seem to be controlled by a group of children bent on adult genocide. Eventually Komaru gets saved by Toko’s alternate serial killer persona, Genocide Jack, and after some introductions the two girls decide to stick together to try to get out of town.
I really enjoy Komaru and Toko as a duo. I didn’t expect to, because Toko was by far my least favorite character in the original game. She always felt more one-dimensional to me than any of the other characters, despite the fact that she had two different personalities. Another Episode goes a long way in making Toko likeable, both in how it shows how her experience in the first game changed her, and by how much she grows by finding a friend in Komaru. While you might think Komaru would be the straight man to Toko’s bizarre personality, they both end up having their quirks and balance each other out in entertaining ways.
Beyond the two protagonists, other survivors occasionally cross paths with the main duo. While I don’t want to give any spoilers, it quickly becomes apparent that most characters have some kind of connection to the previous games. Figuring out how the new cast fits in with the old becomes just one of the mysteries for you to uncover, and I was consistently motivated by my curiosity to find out who I would run into next.
One of the biggest changes story-wise comes from the game’s setting. For the first time in the series, you can actually explore the world after the post-apocalyptic events of The Tragedy caused by the main villain of the series. Before this you’d only see a couple of still images or read descriptions of what the outside world is like, but now it all feels more real. Almost every environment in the game gives you a sense of dread as you see bodies piled up and blood smeared all around you. While the gory stuff is conveyed stylistically, that almost makes things more uncomfortable, as the true extent of the violence is left up to your imagination.
In addition to the visuals, you can also pick up survival horror-style notes on your path written by people around the city. Their accounts are often violent and disturbing. The most memorable ones to me were a set of multiple notes from the same person. In the first note the person is worried about not being able to work while the killer robots are on the loose, but the author’s mental state continues to devolve with each note you read. By the last note you simply read "not the bag," which you find right next to a bloodied corpse. It’s very reminiscent of the "4 Itchy Tasty" journal from the original Resident Evil.
The Resident Evil vibes don’t stop at the notes, though; Resident Evil is also what Another Episode resembles most closely in the gameplay department. The camera takes an over-the-shoulder view like Resident Evil 4, but the aiming is less accurate and you can’t turn around very fast, making an action-oriented approach significantly more difficult. There’s also some familiar survival horror concerns, as your ammo and health carry over between chapters, with little indication as to when you’ll get a refill. After my first boss fight, I was left with almost no health or ammo, which made the first couple of encounters with the rabid Monokumas in the second chapter pretty frantic. In some ways, Another Episode almost plays like the missing link between old and new survival horror.
While it’s a far cry from the point-and-click style of the other Danganronpa games, don’t expect Another Episode to be completely brain dead. Spread inbetween the combat sections are riddle challenges, where you’re usually given a vague riddle and need to find a solution to get a prize. To help with these tasks, you a variety of bullets that specialize in puzzles rather than combat. Using Detect bullets, you can scan the environment for clues and hidden messages, while Move bullets allow you to manipulate objects and activate machinery. For example, you might be given a bunch of symbols meant to correspond with numbers to enter in on a pass code. On your own the puzzle is impossible, so you’ll need to scan the environment for hidden messages in order to find out what the symbols correspond to. While none of the puzzles are super intense, they serve as a nice way to mix things up.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that while the style of game has completely changed, the visual novel elements remain almost completely intact. Another Episode has a lot of reading and lot of cutscenes. Sometimes I felt like there was almost too much, as story events are often paced within five steps of the last one. If you were worried that the story would be taking a backseat to the gameplay, know that there’s still plenty to experience.
When I saw the game initially, I was worried that Danganronpa was headed in the wrong direction. The new style of gameplay definitely takes some getting used to, but the more I played the more things started to make sense After playing through it, the connections to the previous games are now clear and I feel that Another Episode has just as many familiar elements as it does new. While noticeably different from the rest, overall Another Episode fits right into the series.