Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jul 312023
 

So when I finished Danganronpa 2 back in May, I wasn’t sure which entry to move onto next.

In the end, I decided to go with Ultra Despair Girls first and from there proceed to 3 and then finally V3, so let’s talk about Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls.

(Note: It’s impossible to completely avoid spoilers for the first Danganronpa while discussing Ultra Despair Girls, so if you haven’t played the first game, you might want to stop reading here.)

Set in between Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2, Ultra Despair Girls puts you in the shoes of Komaru Naegi, Makoto’s younger sister. As part of the motives for the first game, she was kidnapped and imprisoned in a mysterious apartment. Things take a turn for the worse when the city comes under attack by hundreds of Monokumas, and Komaru ends up joining forces with Toko in order to escape.

Now, I was a little worried about what it would be like to spend an entire game with Toko as a companion… but it actually turned out to be great!

This is basically Toko Character Development: The Game, and she (both regular Toko and Genocide Jack) have some great scenes that are among the most standout moments of the game for me. While she and Komaru clash terribly at the start, their interactions are a definite highlight.

Unlike the main series, Ultra Despair Girls isn’t a visual novel or adventure game. It’s largely a third-person shooter, as Komaru gets a special gun that allows her to fight back against the Monokumas. Over the course of the game, you get different bullets that have different effects. You also have a special meter that allows you to switch to Toko, who (as Genocide Jack) uses powerful melee attacks and special moves. Defeating enemies rewards you with Monokuma Coins, which you can spend on enhancements for your bullets or upgrades for Genocide Jack.

Gameplay also has a decent puzzle component. While some of these are riddles, there are also a number of challenge rooms where you’re tasked with killing all the Monokumas in a specific way. Figuring out how to use different bullets and the way different Monokuma variants react to them to meet the challenge’s criteria was one of my favorite parts.

And although exploration isn’t a huge part of the game, it’s worth poking around optional paths for the numerous collectibles, including notes that shed light on the grim occurrences in the city.

Speaking of which, this is probably the darkest Danganronpa game, easily darker than the first two. While death is a constant focus in those games, it’s presented in such an over-the-top way that the games maintain a lighthearted tone, but Ultra Despair Girls shows events with a much bleaker mood despite still having humor and wacky Monokuma antics. Aside from the terrified survivors hiding from the rampaging Monokumas and vengeful children who will gleefully torture and kill them, the main antagonists are children whose backstories involve various types of child abuse, and the game doesn’t shy away from very heavy themes.

It also has one… questionable mini-game section that made me wonder how it got past the ESRB. (Or onto Steam… I feel like with the way Steam is nowadays, it would get banned if it came out today.)

But it’s still as bizarre and over-the-top as the other games in the series – maybe even more so. It’s weird even by Danganronpa standards, and however far you need to stretch your suspension of disbelief to accept the Tragedy in general, prepare to stretch it even further. The heavier themes just make its clash in tones a bit more jarring than usual.

There are plenty of little callbacks to the first game that I enjoyed, as well as a few connections to the second. Despite being set in between the two games, it does contain some spoilers for Danganronpa 2, although it takes a couple of steps possibly meant to mitigate how much it spoils.

Click for Ultra Despair Girls and implied Danganronpa 2 spoilers
For example, the scene with Izuru seems to go out of its way not to show his face, and Nagito wears a glove on his left hand for the entire game. While things like the Future Foundation are spoiled completely, little details like those made me think they wanted to obscure the biggest spoilers for anyone who played Ultra Despair Girls before Danganronpa 2.

Anyway, with as divisive as Ultra Despair Girls is among fans, I was pleasantly surprised by it. The gameplay was simple, but passable, and the story was interesting. It wasn’t included in the recent Danganronpa collection, so if you want to play Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, you’ll need to pick it up on Steam, PS4, or Vita. It’s pretty different from the others, but I’m happy I decided to play it after all.

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Jul 282023
 

Eiyuden Chronicle was one of my most-anticipated games of 2023, but it looks like I’ll have to push that to 2024.

Announced in 2020 with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Eiyuden Chronicle is a spiritual successor to the Suikoden series.

Everything about it looks great, so I’m pretty excited for it. While it was originally planned for 2022 and then moved to 2023, however, it’s now been delayed to Q2 2024.

I’m a little disappointed in the delay, but I’m so mired in my backlog right now that I don’t mind as much. Maybe by the time it comes out in 2024, I’ll be all caught up!

…All right, so that’s an unrealistic goal. Maybe I’ll at least have finished enough of my must-play titles to be ready to dive into Eiyuden on day one.

(The actual Suikoden series is supposed to see the HD remaster of Suikoden and Suikoden II released this year, too, but there haven’t been any updates in a while.)

Meanwhile, the new Final Fantasy XIV expansion was announced today! Titled Dawntrail, it’s set for summer 2024. That’s as much as I’ve seen about it, because I still need to avoid spoilers. The winner of our last contest tasked me with playing Stormblood, so at least I’m making progress! Maybe I’ll be completely caught up in time for this new expansion?

2024 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year for RPGs. Are you planning to play either of these? What other 2024 RPGs are you looking forward to?

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Jul 262023
 

Last October, I reached the end of Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971.

Despite falling off in its final plot arc, it was a wonderful experience I hold near to my heart.

But since I have the complete series, yet started from the arrival of Barnabas, I’ve spent the time since then steadily watching the previous 209 episodes.

(Since the individual Dark Shadows collections start with episode 210, the early episodes are sold separately as Dark Shadows: The Beginning. All episodes are included in the complete set.)

For as much as these episodes are often overlooked, I enjoyed them quite a bit. While it starts out with no overt supernatural elements, those early episodes carry their own drama, and the slower parts of the show lead into more exciting plot arcs later on.

It was strange to watch these early episodes knowing how things would end up. During a murder mystery plot, I suspected the true culprit based on him being gone from the show by episode 210 and implied to be a villain. The arrival of Laura made me gasp because I recognized her from a later plotline. Character relationships and dynamics early on had me invested in how they would change to become the way I remembered them. It was an experience very different than if I’d started the series with episode 1.

Click for Dark Shadows spoilers
I bet I would have suspected Sam Evans as the murderer if I’d started from episode 1. The evidence against Roger was too heavy, while subtler hints were being dropped about Sam. I think I would have jumped on that and missed the handful of clues hinting at Matthew.

Yet at the same time, many of the tense scenes were still tense even though I had a rough idea of how they would work out. There’s no reason to worry about the fate of a character I know will still be alive in later episodes… but I did. That’s a credit to the writing.

With the knowledge that Dark Shadows eventually becomes the supernatural show opera with Barnabas Collins as its lead character, it’s fascinating to watch the progression in these early episodes – from ghosts being referred to mainly metaphorically, to ambiguously supernatural elements, to the first on-screen appearance of a ghost in episode 70, to ghosts being used as part of the plot, to the Phoenix plotline and its explicitly supernatural antagonist, and finally to the build-up to Barnabas.

The Phoenix storyline is especially interesting, because it feels like Dark Shadows. Aside from the absence of Barnabas and other characters who would eventually become mainstays, the Phoenix story feels like it could have happened later in the show without feeling out of place. While the arrival of Barnabas would change the course of the series forever, it had already found its tone with the Phoenix.

Now I’ve come full circle and reached the arrival of Barnabas once again, with the full context of what is happening with the surrounding plot. It’s been such a long journey, but it’s worth it. I’m happy I have the Dark Shadows complete set, and I’m happy I went back and watched first 209 episodes after all. They’re often overlooked in favor of starting the show with Barnabas, but they’re definitely worth watching.

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