Fried Take - "Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls" (2015)
Resident Evil 4 is a title that helped define modern gaming. It practically created the "over-the-shoulder" view that's taken for granted these days, among many, many other things. But the thing is that, despite it still being a fun game to go back to, it hasn't aged super well. Sure, the art direction, narrative, and overall atmosphere are all top-notch, but the mechanics introduced have been improved upon several times over in the decade-plus since its initial release.
I bring this title up because, despite those mechanics not particularly holding up, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls sees fit to ape them wholesale and throw them, clumsily, into a franchise that really ought to never be a shooter.
We've seen this "make it a shooter" done with some franchises before, and, generally speaking, it tends to not work out. The first example that comes to mind is Yakuza: Dead Souls, in which Sega decided to take a beat-em-up franchise and morph it into a lackluster shooter. And now, we see Spike-Chunsoft taking their excellent series of visual novel/rhythm/??? games and crash it into shooting mechanics straight out of 2004. The result is exactly what it sounds like: mediocre and uncalled for.
At least the narrative is up to snuff. Players take the role of the first Danganronpa's protagonist's little sister, Komaru, as she's kidnapped and thrown into a city run by murderous children. Their goal? Kill every adult in order to create a perfect kids-only utopia. They accomplish this by wielding an army of robotic MonoKuma (the series' "antagonist,") which they use to murder, loot and destroy everything they can find. Komaru ends up catching afoul of these kids and is forced to fight for her life as each kid systemically hunts her down as part of a twisted "game." Can Komaru escape alive, even with the help of fan favorite serial killer/smut writer Toko? Will the kids ever realize that their plan is really stupid? Who knows?
In all seriousness, this narrative is pretty tight. It's absurd, wrong, funny and scary in all the right amounts, which is pretty much par for the course for the franchise at this point. Making light of horrible things, making benign things seems terrifying... all that is here in spades. Despite an overabundance of cutscenes and weird, conflicting art styles, the story is told in a compelling, interesting way. In fact, the narrative is the main reason I keep coming back to the game, even knowing the slog I'm in for.
I say "slog" because that's exactly what Another Episode is: a slog. The narrative is pretty much the only saving grace here, and it's precisely because of how good it is that I'm not more critical of the whole thing. Simply put, the gameplay is a hot mess. No, actually, that's being really nice. It's a straight-up mess. The shooting mechanics are lifted wholesale from the original Resident Evil 4, before it was improved upon with subsequent releases, and the result is a clunky, unfun, simplistic series of bright corridors devoid of any variety and (most importantly) lacking any real sense of fun.
Sure, you can point and shoot, but it's slow, and the hitboxes for the enemies are ridiculously unclear. The game tells you a shot in a certain area will instantly kill a MonoKuma, but then several shots don't do anything... only for one shot in a totally different region to TKO one of them. This doesn't help when the enemies are often less than body length away from you. You frantically try to hit a certain area, watching the reticle slowly drag across your OLED (or LED if you have that new Vita,) only for that area to not do jack and you take a hit. Only not, because the enemy AI is offensively stupid. Sometimes they'll hit you, sometimes they'll just chase you and bumble around. The only times I've actually died are from cheap shots and lack of control of my character. All of this, coupled with some absolutely garbage level design, makes for a clunky, dated, unfun shooter that actually makes me want to play a Gears of War clone. Yeah, that bad.
At least the other stuff is nice. The visuals are quite impressive for the Vita, with no jagged edges to speak of, and aided by a colorful art direction. Sometimes, there are jarring drops in frame rate, but that's pretty rare, and even then, it doesn't really disrupt the gameplay. Despite aforementioned art direction clashes, everything in the cutscene department is uniformly pretty and does the series' signature aesthetics absolute justice. Rounded off by a really great soundtrack (despite some blatant music recycling from past games,) the A/V department of Another Episode makes it feel just like another Danganronpa game.
Which I wish it was, because what we have instead is part fun Danganronpa romp (Danganrompa...?), part abhorrent bargain-bin shooter with a stupid gimmick. Oh, wow, you have one gun that does different things! And it looks like a megaphone! How novel! But no, it's horrid. The shooting is unacceptable for a game released in 2015, especially when the Vita has been used to make some really good shooters before. "But it's a twist on shooters," you say. "It's unfair to compare it to other ones!" Nope. You point and shoot. It's a shooter. And a super, super bad one. One that actually plunges me into despair.