The ear-catching premise for Paradise Killer serves as a great litmus test for whether you’re ready to embrace its very particular and relentlessly zany charm.
Developed by Kaizen Game Works, the first person investigation game that casts you as Lady Love Dies: an effortlessly-stylish and innately-talented detective who is summoned after several million days in exile to solve a massacre that’s pitched as the crime to end all crimes.
To be clear, that’s neither a moniker nor an honorific. Her name really is Lady Love Dies and the rest of the rogue’s gallery here are no less low-key. Still, if you’re already at the point where the premise seems a little off-kilter, let me assure you that the name of the protagonist here is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the myriad eccentricities of Paradise Killer.
Though doubtlessly inspired by fare like Danganronpa and the Phoenix Wright games, Paradise Killer eschews a conventional visual novel structure and instead opts for an open world approach. However, concealed beneath the game's esoteric aesthetic and arcane cosmology beats the heart of a classic ‘locked room’ mystery, set more or less entirely on a single island.
Now, this is where that relatively-simple setup gets complicated and the explanations only beget more questions. That island I mentioned? It’s not on Earth. Though the imagery of the game is cloaked by lackadaisical modernity, the setup and setting in Paradise Killer is as high-concept as these things get.
Set in a pocket dimension ruled by a group of semi-immortal beings called the Syndicate, the status quo here centers on a power hungry cult conspiring to free forgotten gods trapped from Earth, but is constantly besieged by interdimensional and demonic assailants. Akin to something like the “33” episode of Battlestar Galactica, each new island resets the clock.
Sooner or later, demons show up again and the Syndicate has to relocate to a new island. At least, that’s been the case until Perfect 25: the Syndicate’s twenty-fifth attempt to craft an idyllic paradise from which they can operate and enact their sinister agenda promises to be 100% demon-proof.
It’s on the eve of this paradigm shift that Lady Love Dies is called back into service. The entire ruling council of the Syndicate has vanished and are presumed dead. It’s up to you to find out what happened to them and pull together the pieces to discover who is responsible.
Moment to moment, Paradise Killer envisions this endeavor in one of two different modes. There's walking - AKA physically trawling the island for evidence - and then there's talking.
When you’re chatting with one of the many NPCs in the game, you’re looking at a fairly by-the-book visual novel interface. You can throw evidence at suspects, challenge them on their alibi and try to milk them for clues that might help the investigation. The game also gives you the option to just ‘hang out’ with each member of the cast and get to them a little better.
All of the above lives and dies on the quality of the writing involved and I’m happy to report that Paradise Killer has a solid hit-rate here. There’s a delightful tempo and verve to dialogue and, over the course of play, the script does a really effective job at filling out the narrative cracks.
As outlandish as the setup of Paradise Killer is, the writing does a stellar job of grounding the otherworldly in recognizably human emotions and motivations. More than that, it helps elevate the game’s phenomenal vibe set by the striking sense of visual style and psy-pop soundtrack.
Investigating a brutal homicide has never sounded so cheery and upbeat. I mean, just listen to that saxophone on the main theme.
The vaporwave-tinted score in Paradise Killer delivers banger after banger and it's one of the rare games where unlocking new music felt genuinely really rewarding.
As an investigation game, Paradise Killer is also loaded with smart user interface touches.
For example, holding down the shoulder button will allow an augmented reality-style interface to fade in and show you exactly where each NPC on the island is at any given moment, plus whether or not they have any new dialogue options.
This cuts down on tedious guesswork and generally helps make the time spent trawling the island feel much closer to time well spent. I did get stuck on a few details but, for the most part, you get the sense that the folks who made this thing really understand their audience and genre of choice.
If you’re a newcomer to this style of adventure game, you’re in for a treat. As someone who is constantly trying to wean my friends onto this style of game, Paradise Killer feels a lot more easier to recommend than some of its contemporaries and inspirations. Kaizen Game Works have managed to make the arc of the investigation feel approachable without diluting much or any of the core appeal.
What’s more, as opposed to more linear crime solvers like Phoenix Wright, you’re more or less free to take things to the courtroom whenever you feel like you’re ready for it.
Finding every little bit of evidence is necessary to fully unravel the entire mystery and unlock the best possible ending. Nevertheless, it's neat to have an out if you get tired of things before then and a little bit of room to maneuver when it comes to shaping the kind of ending you get.
The Bottom Line
The structure of the game doesn’t lend itself to the sort of big jaw-dropping reveals that you might find in other more linear investigatory adventures, but the open world works wonders when it comes to making Paradise itself feel like a destination worth spending time in. The writing is delightfully oddball, the soundtrack rips and it’s a whip smart evolution on the formula for what this kind of game like can look like.
Paradise Killer is an intensely-unique and effortlessly-charming investigation game that exemplifies everything that's great about the genre.
Paradise Killer is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch