Paradise Killer Review
Paradise Killer review
For as long as videogames have existed, they’ve asked me to kill things. It’s no secret that interactive media has made an absolute butcher out of me, a slaughterer in lamb’s clothing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly convenient that the best game I’ve played this year somehow has “killer” in the name, yet I don’t hurt a single soul. Developed by Kaizen game works and released for steam and the Nintendo switch, Paradise Killer is not a title to be slept on.
Paradise Killer is a strange game to attempt to describe, but the best comparison I can make is that it’s like the visual-novel deducing of Ace Attorney or Danganronpa was infused in the open-world structure of the Witness. You play as Lady Love Dies, a member of the nefarious god-resurrecting cult known as the syndicate. After the great betrayal during the demon wars on earth, a small group of believers evacuated to a pocket dimension where they could worship their dying gods in peace. They abduct citizens from earth and set them to forced worship and ritual slaughter in order to build enough psychic power to create virtual paradise islands for the syndicate to live on. Despite living for eternity, they can never quite keep the islands safe from demonic infection, and inevitably a new island must be built. But on the eve of the creation of the 25th island, a supposedly flawless paradise, tragedy strikes when the high council is mysteriously murdered during meditation in their secret chambers. A confused and terrified syndicate summons the investigation freak herself, Lady Love Dies, out of exile in order to discover the truth behind the mass murder. The protagonist’s status as an outsider means that they can straddle the line between understanding the lore of the while while still being somewhat of a blank slate. Love Dies has been in exile for several thousand years- plenty time for conspiracies to fester amongst the colorful cast.
There are only a handful of characters in the game, and they’re required to represent the entire scope of a massive and strange organization. Therefore, each suspect is endlessly fascinating and charismatic, replete with deeply eccentric identities on both an aesthetic and emotional level. The charming and sad Doctor Doom Jazz is instantly distinct from the zealous Witness to the End, or the short-tempered Grand Marshall Akiko. The anime-inspired character sprites are gorgeous, and each helps to greatly extend the character’s sense of self. Each suspect has known each other for millennia, and they’re absolutely ripe with plots, secrets, and conspiracies to root out. It’s only a minor hindrance, then, that the short vocal barks assigned to each conversation are so obnoxious. They’re meant to fill the void left by a lack of voice acting, but only serve to break up the conversational flow.
The gameplay of Paradise Killer is what all other detective games should aspire to be — smooth, satisfying, and open, with no distractions from the twisting narrative. After being pulled from exile by the Judge, the player is just sent out to explore the island and solve the case on their own terms. There’s no time limit, no fail states, and no frustrating mini-games — just pure detective work. Each character is scattered across the map, easily discoverable by a visual filter than can be toggled on or off, and each one remains planted in the same place for easy return visits. You’re free to talk to them in any order at any time, asking questions, gathering intel, challenging alibis, or even just hanging out. Any evidence gained is added to a database in “starlight”, your mobile computer. Starlight also contains a helpful timeline, map, and suspect screen that keeps everything nice and organized. There are no prescribed win conditions for the game, no evidence that the player has to discover or conversation that they just can’t miss. You simply gather information until you feel like you know the full picture, and whenever you’re ready, you can return to judge and begin the final trials that will end the game. It’s an extremely satisfying feeling, to be directly in charge of the game’s pace, and it means that the investigation never lags or becomes uninteresting. The plot is so thick, with such a variety of moving parts and inner-conspiracies, that there was always something more to learn. In many ways, it feels like Breath of the Wild, but for detective games.
This is made even better by the easy-going exploration. Occasionally, simply having a conversation just won’t cut it, and more evidence needs to be uncovered via thorough exploration of the island. It’s good then that Island 24 is a lovely place to be. Every vista is reminiscent of an old windows screensaver come to life, and the day-night cycle ensures that there is always a gorgeous blushing sunset on the horizon. The island itself is incredibly surreal and strange, with impossible ambitious works of marble and jade that make the place feel like a dream (which it essentially is). The player walks quickly and is properly agile, with a double jump and air dash that can be unlocked almost immediately. There’s no fall damage, sinking in deep water has no penalties, and the player can quickly respawn at any point should they get stuck. Platforming prowess is in no way necessary, but it sure feels nice to bounce across rooftops in an attempt to reach the opposite end of the island quicker. It’s helpful that there are collectibles scattered across every inch of the map — some are helpful, others are simply for the joy of collecting. But it always encouraged me to explore far and wide, and try various alternate routes to locations. Even though a map is provided, I found that it wasn’t necessary after the first hour or so, because each region of the island is so distinct and visually unique that I couldn’t possibly get lost. But even if I did, the excellent soundtrack would keep me entertained until I found my desired destination.. Consisting of a catchy mix of synth, jazz, and city pop, the original soundtrack is truly a joy to hear. Every track manages to be a unique work of art, while also contributing to the overall atmosphere of the game. And it manages to worm itself into the gameplay as well, as the only way to get more songs on your virtual Walkman is to find radio towers broadcasting tunes across the island.
Playing thoroughly and sincerely trying to find as much evidence as possible (although surely missing things), it took me roughly twelve hours to compile a complete story of the events that occurred the night the syndicate was murdered. It’s a proper mystery, with plenty of twists and turns and red-herrings to keep things interesting to the end, but I’m most impressed by the fact that the story could have been excellent even without the goofy cosmic angle. It’s a genuinely well-written and character-focused tale of political intrigue, made ten times more engaging because the writers were willing to get weird with it. Paradise Killer challenged my moral values in a way that nothing has since Disco Elysium last year, and I was overjoyed to find that accusing close friends and good characters was causing me honest distress. It’s a credit to the quality of the writing that I was able to sympathize with people who, for all intents and purposes, and evil bastards.
From the moment I began the game to the moment I watched the credits roll, Paradise Killer was the only thing inhabiting my mind. It utterly compelled me to explore it’s depths and find a truth, any truth, and the only person I had to prove it to was myself. Paradise Killer is fascinating, gorgeous, heartbreaking, and deeply weird in a way that only videogames can be, and I can think of little else more deserving of your time.