Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
I'm finding it hard to rave about Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls in a way that doesn't sound like I'm also bashing the first two games in the series.
Don't get me wrong: I really, really liked both Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and its equally demented sequel. My appreciation of visual novels (and visual novel-like games) has generally been pretty tepid at best, but Danganronpa twisted the usual formula and added its own little homicidal flourishes just enough that I found its insane charms impossible to resist.
And yet, somehow, I liked Danganronpa Another Episode more than either of those other two games — and quite possibly more than both of them combined, if I'm being completely honest.
Much of this comes down to personal taste. Where those first two Danganronpa games were all about interacting with your classmates and weird show trials that eliminated said classmates one by one, Danganronpa Another Episode is a relatively straightforward third person shooter. The guns are a little different, in that they fire data rather than bullets, but the principle is more or less the same: you're under assault from enemies and you have to shoot your way out. When things get really hectic, you can switch characters and slice them up with scissor blades. Seeing as I'll take blasting my way through bad guys and hacking and slashing my way to freedom over courtroom and personal dramas any day, it should come as little surprise that this new direction speaks to me a lot more.
That said, I feel like the franchise benefits from this more streamlined approach. Those first two Danganronpa games had well over a dozen major characters, which meant that a) it took some effort to remember your interactions with all of them, and b) they often resorted to stereotypes in place of actual personalities. By having fewer characters, Danganronpa Another Episode is able to round them out a little more. We're still not talking about incredible depth, obviously, but it's a noticeable difference, and it makes the story more interesting in the process.
The same thing applies to the graphics. Most of the time, the improvement over previous Danganronpa games is fairly marginal — it looks a little better, sure, but not to an incredible extent. In the cutscenes, though, it's a different story. In those, the game takes on a weirdly shiny, semi-realistic look that doesn't look like anything else I've ever seen, and it really sets Another Episode apart.
Of course, pretty much everything sets Danganronpa Another Episode apart — that's what makes it so impressive. After the first two games in the series, it was clear that Danganronpa was worth checking out if you had the slightest interest in visual novels or adventure games. By branching out to a whole new genre, developer Spike Chunsoft is showing that it's a franchise that's just worth checking out, period.