Developer – Spike Chunsoft
Publisher – NIS America
Platforms – PSVita
[This review assumes you have some knowledge of the Danganronpa series. Reviews for the first and second games can be found here and here (links!).]
The Danganronpa series is one of my current favorites with two very strong first entries to the franchise now available with official English translations on the PS Vita. They feature twisted and entertaining storylines with battle-of-wits-type detective gameplay and are two of the most novel games I’ve ever played. So how does Another Episode, being a spin-off title, hold up? About as well as any other shooter available on a handheld console, I suppose. And that is most definitely not a compliment.
Naegi Komaru has been trapped inside the same apartment room for over a year now. When she is finally freed, however, she comes face to face with one of countless lethal robot bears attacking Towa City: Monokuma. Armed with a Future Foundation Hacking Gun and guarded by the antisocial but dangerous Fukawa Toko, Komaru’s desperate attempts to escape the city are constantly thwarted by the instigators of the incident: The Warriors of Hope; five children hell-bent on killing every adult in their path to create the ultimate paradise. Forget making it out of the city, how could a normal girl like Komaru even hope to survive?!
I praised the first two Danganronpa games for their entertaining storylines that made good use of twists, turns and strong character personalities in the context of logic puzzles that were great fun to pick apart. Unfortunately, Another Episode throws a great deal of those features away, instead presenting a mostly linear tale (with the exception of the last ten minutes of the game, perhaps) framed by average third-person shooter gameplay. While Danganronpa as a whole could certainly be described as “over-the-top”, this instalment takes things to the level of “unbelievable” and completely fails to capture the essence of the franchise. The children do not make for interesting antagonists, no matter what shiny toys or depressing backgrounds they might have been given, and the idea of endless streams of Monokumas entirely misses the point of why he was intimidating in the first place. In fact, it’s even difficult to understand the motivations and actions of a number of characters (especially the adults being hunted) which is a new issue for the series and makes it that much harder for the game to maintain any suspension of disbelief.
As mentioned earlier Another Episode is a third-person shooter, though instead of bullets your weapon fires hacking commands that will cause a variety of Monokuma robots and other machines to do things like break, move or dance. Given the portable nature of the only console the game is available on the controls are awkward to use and not particularly fun. You can also control Fukawa for a short period of time and kill enemies by button-mashing. While Chunsoft has attempted to spice things up with some puzzles involving different bullet and enemy types there’s nothing that makes the experience truly special or memorable and, aside from some admittedly nice character development for Fukawa (who, to be honest, I still don’t like) the only important story information comes at the very end of the game. You can also collect hidden journal entries and books that will initiate conversations between the two main characters, but they probably weren’t worth the time I spent looking for them.
There are three fascinating locales to explore in Another Episode: A ruined city and the buildings within it, a dilapidated subway/sewer and a mysteriously well preserved boardwalk shopping area. They’re about as interesting as they sound. Each new place feels the same as the last and suffers from the too-open 3D environment feeling seen in a lot of similar titles, where the areas you travel through are just a little too square and don’t quite have enough props to seem realistic. The soft 3D character models work really well at times but fail to convey emotion and facial expressions reliably, often appearing significantly different to their 2D sprite counterparts. The Japanese audio is available as a large separate download, which I’d recommend grabbing because my brief encounter with the dub wasn’t particularly enjoyable (I mean, did they even try to get the names right?).
Summary – Another Episode does the Danganronpa franchise a major disservice. The only reason I continued playing was because I had been told it featured important plot information, though simply looking up a Let’s Play would have saved me a significant amount of time and boredom. While the game isn’t without merit, featuring some decent interaction between the two main characters, the lack of interesting story or gameplay means it probably isn’t worth picking up even if you’re a fan.
Score: 5/10 – Average