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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

[Review] A Complex Murder Mystery, Cosmic Cults, and Naked Demons Make ‘Paradise Killer’ a Spellbinding Detective Game

Kaizen Game Works Paradise Killer is a game that lives by the old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Its sun-kissed retrowave-infused locale appears almost heavenly at first glance, but there’s something profoundly wrong with this world if you look just a little longer. Its residents include some bizarre-looking individuals, but talking to them uncovers familiar, relatable problems, and what looks like a stylish visual novel is actually an open-world detective game with a surprising amount of freedom.

It’s all quite fitting for a game that digs deep into a murder investigation, asking the player to question the island’s residents, probe them for crucial information, and discover the cracks in their alibi. Anyone can be the prime suspect if you can find enough concrete evidence to get a conviction, and it could be the last person you expect. Or perhaps it could be the last demon or deity you expect?

Adding some real flavor to this murder mystery is a reality-tearing backstory. The venue for this investigation is Paradise Island, a neon-hued, synthetically-created place floating in an ocean outside reality. It’s a place where the worship of alien gods sees the sacrifice of humans in an attempt to summon them. That has failed a whopping 24 times now, and each time, the island is left open for demons to wander in, and the council reset to try again. It’s a beautiful, endless summer in island form, but there’s plenty of unpleasant things lurking underneath the golden sands of Paradise. 

The player is put in the shoes of Lady Love Dies, an investigator who has long been exiled from Paradise. Her exile suddenly comes to an end, however, when she’s brought in to investigate the murder of members of the Syndicate’s Council, a group that runs the island’s annual sacrifice. The remaining folks in power want this all dealt with quickly so they can reset the island once more. As such, there’s an obvious suspect, a man possessed by a demon that just happened to escape from a lengthy containment the night of the murder, and was found covered in blood, and with knife in hand, but if that’s as simple as it sounds, why are you even here? Is there more to this case than it seems?

So begins a mystery that the player is allowed to tackle how they see fit. The open-world has relatively few restrictions in terms of where you can go and who you can meet, so there’s no set order to the evidence you find, and subsequently, it means how you perceive people and unravel their secrets in your playthrough is likely to be quite different to someone else’s. It’s the right kind of approach to an open world, a throwback to the era of sandbox ambition where freedom wasn’t just in how much landmass you could cover, but on how deeply your story was shaped by the exploration of it.

Paradise and its rituals have more than a little in common with the Satanic, but these practices are normal here, even if they’re unintentional to some degree. A local celebrity is a model with a goat’s head, the sacrifice of human life is dropped in casual conversation as if the talk was merely about the weather, and Lady Love Dies finds the constant reappearance of a goading, multi-limbed demon with a smiley face sticker over its genitals to be little more than a trivial annoyance. The only thing the remaining residents seem to find strange or shocking about the whole situation is that anyone dared to kill members of the council.

The conversations Lady Love Dies has with the residents are a fun mixture of everyday interactions, lines of questioning, and a dollop of the surreal. This mixture really helps sell Paradise as a unique place with its own history and dramas. You’ll hear so many smaller tales from the people, demons, and deities you speak to that connect to the larger ecosystem of Paradise. Work worries, unreasonable fear of the other, bitchy gossip, and whispered conspiracy. There’s vibrant life to these strange folk.

Beyond the main investigation, there’s several smaller cases to crack, and doing so ensures you’ll have that bit more evidence when the main case comes to trial at the end. It would be easy to get lost in reams of text, trying to figure out what is and isn’t relevant to the case you’ve built, but Paradise Killer sorts evidence into the correct places, linking the scraps you find to any thing or person they involve. Everything that is not useful to your final case is swept aside, allowing you to really focus on providing a clear cut argument for who you believe the killer is.

I mentioned how freeing the open world is in Paradise Killer because of how it impacts the story you’re told, and the best example of that is that while wandering the sun-drenched streets, beaches, and mountain pathways of Paradise, you can literally stumble upon a new plot thread, and/or a clue, that shines a whole new light on what you already know. Exploration that not only has the joy of discovering a new place, but new information as well. It’s genuinely exciting to find something that confirms a suspicion by chance, and then rush back to ‘a-ha!’ the person in question. There’s no wasted time in venturing off the beaten path in Paradise Killer

It also helps that Paradise is a visually interesting place to walk around in. Characters are represented as 2.5D drawings, chests are blood sacrifice machines, currency is lumps of crystal found around the island, and the architecture is a fascinating blend of Eastern European brutalism and neon-washed Miami beachfront. Its influences are clear (and given it’s a synthetic island in a space outside our reality, it’s logical to think it would be a mixing pot of places and styles), but it is also distinctly its own thing. The soundtrack is also a near-perfect accompaniment. It’s full of jazzy, retro-synth tunes that burrow into your eardrum and make a little neon nest in them.

When the game switches out of the open world, and into its visual novel conversations, it continues to hold an elegance and style befitting this mad world of detectives and demons. It could have been jarring to keep dropping out of the open 3D world to do some 2D questioning, but the overall aesthetic ensures one flows into the other. Even the door lock puzzles, a simple game of assembling images out of silhouette pieces, feels like a natural part of Paradise.

There is a minor downside. The voice acting is sparse, and it’s performed well, but its implementation is handled poorly. Phrases repeat ad nauseum, sometimes in completely the wrong context to the writing that accompanies it. You can turn it off thankfully, but it’s a glaring fault that does more to take you out of your sleuthing stroll through Paradise than anything else.

This is nothing in the grand scheme of things though. Paradise Killer filled me with the kind of excitement and wonder from video game exploration and NPC interaction I thought wasn’t possible anymore. A sense that anything can happen, that I was in charge of how this story was playing out, a game that seems both modern, and the kind of thing found in the quirkier, cooler corners of the PS2 or Dreamcast library.  If Persona 4, Zero Escape, or Danganronpa are games that appeal to you, then Paradise Killer is worth investigating.

There are plenty of stories out there that lead you by the hand and captivate you by simply watching what the characters do, but so few are like Paradise Killer, where everybody could be either your confidant and friend, or a stone-cold murderer with dark and sinister plans, perhaps even both at once. The only way you can possibly be sure is to slip on your sunglasses, turn on your sentient notepad, and get ready to do that delicious detective work.

Paradise Killer review code purchased by the author.

Paradise Killer is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3630767/review-complex-murder-mystery-cosmic-cults-naked-demons-make-paradise-killer-spellbinding-detective-game/

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