I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game before that was so, so difficult to describe. Paradise Killer is the debut game from new studio Kaizen Game Works and boy, did they come out swinging. Paradise Killer could perhaps be described as a 1st person exploration detective game mixed with a visual novel; the aesthetics and vibes are clearly influenced by the works of Suda51 (No More Heroes) while the gameplay is most closely tied to the Danganronpa series.
Paradise Killer is fascinating in concept and was not executed as well as it probably could have been. I can only describe the aesthetic of this game as “Andy Warhol was possessed by an Eldritch abomination and ate a vaporwave album and threw it up all over 1970s Miami.” That may sound like a negative, but I always appreciate committing to the bit, even if that bit wears out its welcome quite quickly. Everything from the colors to the music to the character designs screams “Vaporwave LSD Trip.” If that doesn’t vibe with you, here’s your exit ramp.
You are a world-class detective named Lady Love Dies (LD for short) in an alternate dimension called Paradise. You are part of the syndicate, a class of nobility that rules over paradise islands that are created and destroyed and invaded by demons in an endless cycle. Above you is the Council, a mysterious group of elder beings that dictate the laws of the universe from their ivory tower. Below you are the Citizens, regular humans that are pulled from our dimension to live out their days on this island as playthings for these deities, much in the way that you might do with your Sims.
One night, the Council is mysteriously murdered, and you are called back in from exile to solve the mystery and execute the killer to create a true paradise. The current island is the 24th Paradise. No matter how beautiful, peaceful or relaxing an island is, it is inevitably invaded by demons that are destined to end it. The Council then resets the island, destroying everything and everyone on it and birthing them anew onto the next island. It is the last day of Paradise, and with the Council murdered no one is quite sure what will happen when the sun sets the next day. A suspect is in custody, but something about the official story just doesn’t add up.
The most fascinating aspect of Paradise Killer is that the facts and the truth are not the same. They’re going to keep repeating that mantra at you until you’re sick of it, but Paradise Killer delivers on that promise. There are a dozen or so character across the island that serve as potential suspects. You explore the stylized, vaporwave version of Universal Citywalk Orlando with the first-person camera, finding strange, meaningless collectibles, blood crystals, death shrines, drugs and side quests along the way.
LD’s main objective is to figure out who killed the Council and why. You’ll need to establish time frames, alibis, relationships and motives with all of the suspects, which change depending on which order you receive that information in. The facts and the truth are not the same. As the “investigation freak”, you will speak to each of the suspects across the island in whatever order you choose and with whatever previous information you might have found. Paradise Killer is like Schrodinger’s Detective Game; everyone is guilty at the beginning, and as you find more evidence implicating one character the truth slowly begins to shift. The truth is what you find. There is no fact in Paradise Killer.
LD can initiate the trial at any time during the game, but she’ll have to be able to provide evidence to get a clean conviction. If you finally open the trial (I did at around 6 hours in, but it takes about 9 hours to collect all the evidence there is to be found) and accuse somebody of being the murderer, and you have the evidence to back it up, that is the truth. Because I personally found evidence to accuse X person of being the murderer, they are the murderer. There are many other smaller side quest cases that you can also solve along the way, but the only win condition for Paradise Killer is to find out who really killed the Council. Paradise Killer is truly a unique experience, and I don’t believe you could find anything quite like it elsewhere.
All that being said, I still had quite a few issues with Paradise Killer. The setting and premise are intentionally confusing and unexplained; this is one of the few games where I would very much have encouraged an info dump at the beginning. The only way I was able to understand the structure of the world, the setting and the people in it was to read an explanation someone had typed out. It is also very much not clear what you’re supposed to be doing at any given time – luckily, you can hold down the ZL button and look around the island to see you exactly where your suspects are. I am not exaggerating: without that feature, this game would be completely unplayable.
The map is functionally useless, telling you nothing about where anything or anyone is or even where you are. The island seems to have been designed in a way that makes it harder to navigate, rather than to encourage movement. There are also a lot of accessibility options which is nice, but I found myself still getting motion sick from the camera. The low quality polygonal visuals paired with a first-person camera moving at such a quick pace is a recipe for motion sickness. There are also occasional bouts of first-person platforming that do not work well at all. Lastly, I didn’t really find any of the characters endearing. I was kind of sick of them all by the end.
Paradise Killer feels to me like an experiment of an idea based around a weird aesthetic, but I think it was mostly successful in providing entertainment. If you are somebody who doesn’t have a lot of patience for weird experimental games this is probably not for you, especially if you dislike games like Control where dialogue is intentionally unintelligible. If, however, you’re looking for a good detective story, you’ll feel pretty great walking into that trial knowing exactly who the killer is and watching them get convicted when you present compelling evidence. After all, your facts are the truth. So long as you believe what you know, you’ll get that conviction and save Paradise.
This review was based off a code provided by the publisher.