Paradise Killer is one of the oddest games I’ve ever played. It’s as if Phoenix Wright was thrust into a Shin Megami Tensei game and forced to solve a demonic crime. Unfortunately, the overall bizarreness can’t keep things interesting during the game’s slower moments.
I’m not sure I can accurately sum up the game’s premise. There’s kind of this island (or planet?) that gets destroyed every few millennia and regenerated in an attempt to create a perfect world. It’s sort of like they’re figuring out what went wrong and then correcting it for the next attempt. Just before this is about to happen for the final time, the governing council overseeing this process is murdered. Violently.
This is where you come in. You play Lady Love Dies (pretty much everyone in the game has a name as wonderful as Lady Love Dies). She’s an investigator who has just been hanging out in opulent exile for three million years and hops back into the scene as if returning from a weekend spa trip. The demons below all know her. They’re happy to see her. They want to have the type of fun you normally only see in hard liquor commercials or those creepy Miley Cyrus music videos.
But she’s not there to garner the game’s M rating. She’s there to solve a crime, and it’s up to you to help her. This is done through exploration, conversation, and even a bit of platforming. Unlike the aforementioned Phoenix Wright games, Paradise Killer doesn’t guide you down a linear path. Instead, you’re mostly free to explore each location as you wish. You’re given a quick scenario and introduced to your “suspects,” then it’s up to you to find and talk to them.
It’s all overwhelming at first considering the size of the island and the player’s unfamiliarity with it. But Lady Love Dies has been there before, right? As such, I felt the game could’ve done a bit more to guide you around at the onset.
Thankfully, the interface at least allows you to pull up a HUD to tell the distance you are from characters of interest and the general direction to go to see them. And finding them does help you get your bearings.
Then there are these blood crystals scattered around the island. They’re everywhere, and that’s important because they can be used to purchase everything from warp points to foot baths to beverages that help the suspects open up a bit further than they otherwise would. Reaching them is occasionally a platforming chore, however, and they do distract you from the task at hand.
It helps that the island is a joy to explore. It’s bright but creepy; an island paradise with a lot of dark elements in the corners. There are historical artifacts to find that can lead to disturbing or comical revelations. Some areas seem perfect for an afternoon party, but you get the feeling that something terrible has surely happened there at some point. This creates a level of interest that’s especially important considering you spend so much time walking around. Apartment complexes, for example, are huge, so it takes a lot of time ascending to the top when there may be no payoff. And when you think you’ve found a small hidden area behind a building, it often ends up that this area is huge and is meant to be explored. Blood crystals, you know. Gotta find those blood crystals.
Getting back to the main task, investigating the crime involves pushing through dialogue prompts as you would in a visual novel. For the most part, you can ask anything without consequence. Increasing your relationship with the characters seemed to open up additional dialogue options, but having gone through the game only once it’s difficult to say if I would’ve eventually hit all options.
The thing about these conversations, however, is that they’re all fun. Everyone has a style, personality, and back-story that made me like them no matter how disturbing they appear to be (Sam Day Break—a skeleton whose bones have been burned red by love—could become my avatar for life). When these conversations starting pointing me towards suspects who I really wanted to be innocent, I started skewing my investigations away from them. Unethical, perhaps, but the truth of the matter is Paradise Killer doesn’t really give you an obvious culprit.
Key evidence and details are automatically recorded for you, so you don’t have to track everything on your own. It’s all buried under a somewhat muddy interface that tries to be as cool as the island, and that’s unfortunate. With a cleaner inventory, as it were, it would’ve been much easier to track the evidence and present your case once the trial actually begins. This is where the game falters a bit further, as lacking a cohesive narrative means the trail isn’t nearly as urgent or fun as in a Phoenix Wright game.
To be fair, however, that’s not what Paradise Killer wants to be. You’re the investigator here and the prosecutor, so it’s less about you making a clear case and more about you feeling that you’re right. You can actually begin the trial within the first 10 minutes of gameplay if you want to convict without evidence, and the game seems fine with that. I decided to find some, however. There were times in the trial when my evidence perfectly lined up, but there were times when I was missing something that would’ve really confirmed my theory. Did I just miss that in the game, or did I have the wrong demon? I’ll never find out, because the game doesn’t say. I made my accusation, and it’s up to me to live with it.
All this ended within about 20 hours. That’s short enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, but Paradise Killer won’t present a different experience on a second attempt. The characters and the evidence would remain the same, with only your discoveries changing things up. It would make more sense to spend additional time combing through the island, but when you’re pushing close to that trial, you just want to get to the next phase of gameplay.
It all boils down to a game that’s difficult to recommend. It’s aesthetic is its strong-point. Paradise Killer is just cool, filled with interesting and amazingly unique characters. Learning about them is a blast. Enjoying the investigation and trial elements, on the other hand, require dedication to the trade. Unlike in detective novels, you’re not working alongside your protagonist’s narrative; you’re working at your own speed in your own direction. If you can retain your focus, Paradise Killer will keep you guessing even after it’s done.
Review: Paradise Killer (Nintendo Switch)
Paradise Killer offers more style than substance, but that’s not necessarily a fault. It’s a choice. The game’s unique characters and story are open throughout gameplay and beyond completion, tasking you with solving a gory murder through low-pressure investigations and…well, hoping you were right.