Here’s the thing about Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: it’s a fantastic game with an awesome story and all of the quirks that franchise fans adore, but it’s largely the same game as its predecessor. Obviously, this is a result of the fact that it’s another visual novel about a high school murder mystery game, and while it’s a phenomenal title, it doesn’t push the needle enough to push Danganronpa into the mainstream. After all, those who like the first game will like the second game for exactly the same reasons (namely the wonderfully written twisted story). After playing through Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, which moves into an entirely new genre while still maintaining the narrative insanity that makes the franchise special, it’s clear that this is a franchise that is here to stay.
Before diving into what makes Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls special, it’s probably a good idea to explain what exactly it is, as its title does absolutely nothing to convey what you actually do while playing it. Instead of the first two title’s traditional take on the visual novel genre, Danganronpa Another Episode is, for all intents and purposes, a narrative-driven third-person shooter. Players take the role of Komaru Naegi, the younger sister of Trigger Happy Havoc‘s protagonist Makoto, who finds herself in a city overrun by evil children and murderous Monokuma robots. This is obviously another mystery story, being that every aspect of the first few hours of Ultra Despair Girls is flat out confusing and bizarre in the best way. Kids are running amok, killing adults and older teenagers in hopes of creating a perfect society for children. This last point isn’t necessarily a novel idea (after all, Peter Pan is most definitely a thing), but the heinously dark context that envelops every moment finds a way to hook players in from the very beginning. Oh, and it’s worth noting that one of the quirkiest characters from the original title, Toko Fukawa, is back in all her murderous glory as Komaru’s companion.
What makes Danganronpa a special series is that there’s always a sense that something much bigger is happening in each game, but there’s never any indication as to what that could be until the very end. This is a franchise that prides itself in its drama, humor and grand reveals, and it’s beyond obvious that there’s going to be some grand revelation in the final few hours of Another Episode. The thing is, it’s downright impossible to predict what the ending will entail (and at the time of this writing, I personally haven’t the foggiest clue), which is a testament to the talent of Spike Chunsoft’s writing staff. Finding a way to insert completely new gameplay mechanics into this universe, no matter how rudimentary they may be, shows that Danganronpa doesn’t necessary have to be a visual novel series. Granted, Danganronpa 3 is currently in development, and that will almost certainly be a traditional series entry, but the presence of Another Episode shows that Spike Chunsoft can create whatever type of game it pleases, so long as the general vibe of the Danganronpa world is maintained.
Sure, this isn’t a Gears of War level third-person shooter, but that literally doesn’t matter at all. So long as Danganronpa games are playable and not broken, they’ve reached a stage where any story within this universe will be entertaining. Spike Chunsoft can create a first-person shooter, isometric puzzle game or even a platformer with a canon story and there’s a fair chance that it’ll wind up being great. Danganronpa Another Episode firmly establishes the franchise as one that is here to stay, and one that is certainly much bigger than a mere visual novel series. What’s even more impressive is that it literally makes no difference that it’s a third-person shooter, though this does provide the opportunity for far more full-motion cutscenes, as the level of uniqueness to the writing is the real star of the show here. After all, if you’re coming for the strange robots, pink blood and crazy twists, does it really matter how you apply your truth bullets?
Danganronpa Another Episode is very much a Danganronpa game. So long as every core Danganronpa title feels like it belongs, it really doesn’t matter what you do in the moment-to-moment gameplay, which is definitely something special. There are loads of franchises out there that can only hope to become as dynamic and multi-faceted as this one is, and those select few who actually own a Vita have realized this. The hope is that Danganronpa continues to move away from the traditional high school murder game stories that it was founded upon in order to tell new stories. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with what’s successful, but in a world in which innovation can often appear to be waning, it’s great to see a franchise doing whatever the hell it wants to.