"Whether you're the Ultimate Fan of Ultimate Despair or a complete newbie, it's worth your time to delve into Monokuma's crazy world."
Monokuma is a jerk. That much is certain. The two-toned torturer takes great glee in torturing the characters of the Danganronpa series, spouting crazy one-liners all the while. Fans know that he makes an appearance in both Danganronpa 1 and 2, but what was Monokuma up to in the thus-far unexplained time gap between those two titles? That's exactly what Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls sets out to answer, although the gameplay premise is quite a bit different this time around.
Being a spin-off, Ultra Despair Girls is fairly accessible to newcomers, but you'll definitely benefit from knowledge of the story thus far. The game stars Danganronpa 1 protagonist Makoto Naegi's little sister, Komaru, who has been trapped in a strange apartment for more than a year. A familiar face from the Future Foundation shows up to rescue her, but she is suddenly attacked by an army of Monokumas. Roaming the city, which has turned into a post-apocalyptic battleground, Komaru teams up with fan-favorite character Genocide Jack, and the two work together to prevent yet another tragedy from tearing their world asunder.
While still very story-heavy, Ultra Despair Girls features action sequences that break up its visual novel segments. Players control Komaru in third person, a la Resident Evil 4, and use a hacking gun to shoot enemies and objects alike. Using a variety of truth bullets, Komaru can stun her enemies, force them to dance, or destroy them outright. She can even briefly trade places with the powerful serial killer Genocide Jack, although her ability to do so is limited by special batteries, so the player must carefully manage this resource. The hacking gun is also used to manipulate electronic equipment, a concept taken even further in tricky Golden Rooms, which require Komaru to solve puzzles with severely limited resources. Large-scale bosses at the end of each chapter pose the biggest threat of all, and they promise Zelda-esque showdowns with a flair only Danganronpa can pull off.
Ultra Despair Girls is visually crisp and utilizes its trademark neon-pink bloodsplatter to bring color to an otherwise dreary world. The same team who produced the Danganronpa anime is in charge of the game's plentiful animated cutscenes, making them stylistically consistent and high-caliber as always. The game features English dubbing by default, but NIS America will be releasing a Japanese audio pack as free DLC on the day the game launches. (They couldn't fit the audio on the game card due to file size, so this seems like a completely reasonable compromise to me.) And the story doesn't end when the credits roll — beating the game unlocks a spin-off novella accessible from the title screen, just like in Danganronpa 2. How's that for meta?
Whether you're the Ultimate Fan of Ultimate Despair or a complete newbie, it's worth your time to delve into Monokuma's crazy world. Despite its departure from the series' traditional structure, Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls promises to deliver even more twisted mysteries when it releases on PS Vita this September.