Platforms: PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
It’s really risky to take a series that has been a specific genre and then create a new entry in an entirely different genre. It’s oftentimes a recipe for disaster, since the narrative of a franchise is based around a specific gameplay theme, and adapting that narrative to fit a different type of gameplay can be extremely challenging. Ultra Despair Girls takes a visual novel/adventure game series and tries to turn it into a third-person shooter, of sorts. Spike Chunsoft managed to pull it off quite well.
Before anything else, it’s important to note that this is a port of a PS Vita game. No matter how much it is improved on, at the core the game will be governed by the limitations of the Vita. With it being a Vita game originally, the first thing I noticed when starting up the game was that it looked pretty good. The environments are a little blocky and it’s clear that there is a bit of a lack of detail due to its origins and the animations are a little wonky, but overall it looked quite fantastic. All the models are clear and well-defined. All the environments are artistically great. To go along with the great visuals, as is the case with the franchise, is a great set of voice actors which really helps to give all the characters life. This package is rounded out by a solid soundtrack. It’s not quite as fantastic as the main games, but it’s still good.
In the world of Ultra Despair Girls, you play as Komaru Naegi, a high school girl who has been imprisoned in an apartment for a few years. She finally escapes to discover that riots and murders have turned Towa City into a warzone, where children are controlling robots to kill off adults. The game is designed to tie up a lot of loose ends from Danganronpa 1 and 2, so even though it stands on its own quite well, it can be a difficult to fully relate to what’s happening without that past experience. It’s a mixed bag, where anybody can enjoy the story, but people who have played the franchise will get the most enjoyment out of the experience.
Using the simplest descriptor possible, Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter. You move from room to room attacking Monokuma robots with a special gun, progressing the story in the process. You are allowed control of a second character as you charge up a battery meter, who is invulnerable and only has melee attacks, but only lasts for a few seconds. This would be really generic, but things are shaken up by having various challenges all throughout the game. As you progress and unlock new abilities, you are tested in various situations which will force you to be creative with your abilities. Doing these things without being detected and following the rules laid out by the challenge will raise your overall ranking for the chapter. It’s a really fun and creative way to break the monotony of an otherwise cookie-cutter and bare-bones shooter.
If you’re looking for a good shooter, this isn’t the place to go. Its roots as a Danganronpa game show in the storytelling. Between many sections of the game there are relatively long dialogue sections. The story is really mysterious, and throws a ton of clues at you throughout for you to put together, before ending in a climax that puts everything together in some really jarring revelations. It has an exceptional story that will have you asking a ton of questions until you reach the end, hitting you like a truck with plot twists. When it really boils down to it, if you’re playing a Danganronpa game you’re playing for the story. Ultra Despair Girls delivers on this with flying colors. The motley cast and the dire situation are what fuels the really great story. Many themes are explored which will make you feel uncomfortable, and that’s one of the biggest joys of the game.
Exploration is rewarded with items that will further expand on the story, giving you many points of reference and detailing people and events surrounding the disaster your characters are being faced with. Each character has his or her own deep mystery that needs to be solved, and will be explored as you forge a path forward.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though. There are some issues that prevent the game from being as good as it should be. First and foremost, we go back to it being a Vita game. Rather than being a remaster in the proper form, it’s simply a port. No additional features (that I could find), no improved visuals beyond upping the base resolution to make things crisper, just a plain old port of a portable game. This translates to some slightly clunky controls (both combat and world navigation are affected by this), somewhat awkward animations (especially when it comes to facial animations) and a level of pacing that feels off in comparison to what console games usually feel like. To counter some of these flaws, the game only costs $30, which is a reasonable asking price.
That price feels justified to me, with the game taking me about 20 hours to beat, and 25 hours to finish with 100% completion. I played the game on the hardest difficulty, and still didn’t find the game too challenging, which helps to make the slightly clunky controls easy to stomach. The length felt just right, giving me just the right amount of satisfaction.
Ultra Despair Girls isn’t a perfect game. There are the aforementioned problems, in addition to various minor things that would take too long to list. The final product is enjoyable though, with a very enticing story and some interesting gameplay that makes it worth buying for people who are into dark mysteries that explore difficult to swallow situations (such as children murdering adults). For fans of the franchise, this game is a must buy that ties up loose ends in the other games quite elegantly. For people who aren’t fans, a recommendation is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a good entry point that stands alone. On the other hand, if you enjoy it and want more, the other two games in the franchise don’t play like Ultra Despair Girls at all. I had a great time, and would recommend anybody seeking a strong story to give it a try. You’ll be in for a treat.
NOTE: The entirety of this review is based on the PS4 version. The PC and PS4 versions have slightly improved visuals, but are otherwise identical to the PS Vita version. Choose whichever version you prefer, but the best versions are definitely the PC and PS4 versions.
©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd ©Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
DISCLAIMER: This game was provided to us via the publisher for the purpose of review.