Developer/Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Fanservice Board Game Visual Novel Spinoff
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS, Android
Danganronpa is probably one of the most popular and well-known Japanese visual novel series in the west, but for those unfamiliar here is a quick rundown: Each mainline entry in the series takes a different cast of fifteen to sixteen eccentric high school students – each of whom is exceptionally talented in a particular field – and locks them all up together in an isolated locale with the only way to escape being to commit murder and not get caught. Each one is a buck-wild murder mystery story that successfully blends individual murder cases with greater overarching mysteries including but not limited to discovering the mastermind of the killing games, series-spanning plot points which tie the seemingly unrelated stories together, and colorful interpersonal drama between a bunch of charming weirdos.
Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp throws about 90% of that out the window to focus entirely on the wacky antics of all the casts interacting together in a decidedly non-canonical virtual summer camp with no risk of death, dismemberment, or depressing vibes of any sort. Ironically enough, this near-total abandonment of the series formula is massively appealing to I and many other long-time fans of the franchise, even if some of the mechanical particulars end up being a bit tedious.
I should say before I get any further into this review that, while this is a spin-off title with a completely different tone from other entries into the series, it is not free of spoilers for those games. In fact, any enjoyment that can be derived from this game requires foreknowledge of the characters featured – this game is, first and foremost, meant to pander to the fans, which is appropriate for a standalone version of what was originally a bonus game mode in the Nintendo Switch collection of the series. Suffice to say, non-fans need read no further; this game doesn’t really have anything for you.
For those who are familiar with Danganronpa it’s a different story, although once again this is very different from the mainline games. While Danganronpa S still has extensive visual novel components, all visual novel segments are fairly short and very light-hearted – for the most part, closer to skits between two or three characters from across the series. Much more prevalent in its design are the “Development” and “Battle” modes, which involve training the various characters in order to fight “Monobeasts” and gain coins that can then be used to acquire more characters. Acquiring and developing more characters makes it easier to develop others further and to acquire even more coins, making the structure of the game cyclical.
Development mode is a sort of virtual board game where the player controls one of the sixty-two characters with the goal of raising their level and stats and acquiring skills for that character’s use in the battle mode. To this end, they battle mobs, watch events with other characters, and gather “talent fragments” as they work their way across the board over the course of fifty turns. At first, the player only has access to five characters: Makoto Naegi, Hajime Hinata, Komaru Naegi, Shuichi Saihara, and Kaede Akamatsu – in other words, the protagonists of the other titles. In addition to this pool being limited, the starter characters are the “normal” rarity versions of themselves, which do not grow as quickly or efficiently as rarer versions. At regular intervals, the player is given access to special episodes of the game’s excuse plot for why everyone is in the virtual summer camp and completing these increases the experience gain rate for all future development mode playthroughs.
After developing characters, the player can jump to battle mode, which pits a party of four characters against three waves of monobeasts at a time as they climb a tower of 200 progressively more challenging floors. The battles are simplistic yet surprisingly challenging, at least at first – once you start figuring out better strategies and, more importantly, growing your roster using the monocoins gained in battle mode, progress comes more and more easily. This does unfortunately mean that the loop the game is based around starts off very slow, with only incremental progress at first that picks up more and more the as the player completes more of the game. The original version of Danganronpa S bundled with the switch collection of the other games included microtransactions allowing players to simply use real world money to buy gacha rolls, but this feature does not seem to be present in the standalone versions (the option for it is still there, but it does not take the player to any actual digital storefront when selected), which is mostly for the best I think. That said, I would have appreciated some rebalancing with that change in mind.
In any case, the cycle which comprises Ultimate Summer Camp is very grindy, and all but the most die-hard fans of the series will likely find their patience tested while trying to see everything. There’s plenty of joy to be found in seeing the combine casts of four Danganronpa games cross-socialize, to be certain; I was tickled pink by a number of the interactions, and even the way the game opens got a laugh out of me for the sheer cheek of it. There’s even an attempt to re-approach Chihiro’s whole situation with more… thoughtfulness? sensitivity? and while I appreciate that an effort was obviously made I’m still not sure how I feel about it, especially in a time after Bridget’s re-introduction to the Guilty Gear franchise. If you’re still on the fence after my explanation of the game’s mechanical design I definitely recommend looking into that for yourself, as it could very well sway you one way or the other depending on your disposition.
Either way, if watching your blorbos get up to hijinx is the only thing here you’re interested in I cannot recommend this game. Unless the grind and trying to get full completion yourself genuinely sounds appealing – which, hey, I know I need something to do while I listen to podcasts – you’re better off watching let’s plays or something. While I personally find seeing all my favorite characters again after so many years a delight, the fact remains that the aperture by which that is delivered is deeply flawed and puts a bit of a damper on the renewal of my Danganronpa brainrot.
Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp
- A treat for series fans who want to see their faves get up to shenanigans.
- The grind can be oddly relaxing thanks to how it flows into itself
- The grind can also be quite tedious, especially at first.
- Is a rather serious time commitment to see everything.