There is a Legend. Long ago. Gamers were honed machines of excellence. They worshiped a Cathode God and in turn were promised a world only bound by their imaginations. These unassailable figures of virtue would build upon these games a great tower. Soon enough, what once was a hallowed ground meant for storytelling was only the first floor to a Mega-Mall where conglomerated snakes slope down from the rafters to pick the pockets of a distracted population unaware of the hell they built atop Paradise.
Paradise Killer is a 2020 Visual Novel created by Kaizen Game Works and published by Fellow Traveler. It uses Open world exploration to paint the picture of not only "the crime to end all crimes" but the complicated history of a fictional world based on a bizarre lunar pantheon of gods and demons.
You play Lady Love Dies, an insanely charismatic investigator with the least obtuse name out of her fellow members of The Syndicate an organization that traps thousands of civilians in an alternate dimension in order to resurrect dead gods. When the entire Council of this easy to understand organization is murdered 6 ways from Sunday, you, a one time victim of demonic seduction are brought back from the Idle Lands to find your truth and execute justice.
The glory of this game is not just in the beautiful art, the amazing story, or the gameplay. Those are all as beautiful as L.D herself. The thing that makes this GOTY material is quite simple: It fulfills its promise without lying to you once. The second a character tells you that you are supposed to "find your truth", this is a full explanation of how to play the game. If you want to skip to the ending and accuse everyone, you can. That's YOUR version of Paradise Killer. The strength of the game is in the freedom of interpreting the fiction at your own pace and how that leads to a unique end game that delivers on that freedom.
I can evangelize for this game all day, but there are people who I want to preach to who are NOT in the choir: people who do not read. There are a lot of them. Need proof? Twitter. If there could be a website that defined "wanting to talk about something without actually knowing anything about it", that would be Twitter. I know this, not because I am the sure of how smart I am. Quite the opposite. I am pretty dumb about anything I cannot contextualize into my hobbies. I am very familiar with wanting to appear smart while never wanting to touch a book, for fear I may miss the best video game experience of my life.
So, when I use two paragraphs to show you I am not attempting to judge you, or anyone, by not "liking a bunch of reading", I am for the most part being genuine. If any of what I said hits home, know I was once this way to some degree, and I got better when I just read a book.
The common response to games that lack combat/competition gameplay is to call it a Walking Simulator: all dialogue and no gameplay. However, I make this easy-to-debunk point because it allows me to highlight why reading and walking ARE gameplay. It's because the GAME is about listening to a story and interpreting YOUR truth. There is no feather to weigh your "soul" against. No meter to remind you that you are choosing to be Bad or Good. The gameplay is the interpreting of the story. If the idea of learning about a fictional island and the people on it isn't game enough for you, you did not survive paragraph 4 of this article anyway.
Characters in Paradise Killer don't just just tell you who probably put a knife here, or cut something off there, they show you how the world of Island Sequence 24 works. With each interaction, they betray themselves, tell lies, and tattle on others. Unlike most games, there is no mechanic that allows you to judge the "Real Truth". There is no "True" ending.
While staying spoiler-free, the culmination of this amazing visual novel is a section that manages to truly allow your interpretation to color the ending, without resorting to railroading you down a path based on "X" metric or "Y" amount of truth-McGuffins. The arcs of each individual relationship are so well-written that no matter the choices you make, the ending does not suffer in quality or depth. To compare to another narrative game, Telltale's Walking Dead allows simple binary choices to endear one to certain characters. The Characters in Paradise Killer are so endearing as to make the choices complex.
As you explore the crime more thoroughly, the most profound moments come when certain characters ask your opinion about the ingrained social structures of this fictional island, and whether or not they are a good basis for justice. This isn't played for any trick either. More than one character will ask you if what you are upholding by doing your job as the Investigation Freak is valid. These moments don't grant you any items or clarity as to how to view "The Crime to End All Crimes". More importantly, they grant you context as to how the system you operate in works (or doesn't) from certain points of view.
Paradise Killer is a game that resonates with a confident tone and highlights a mix of spirituality and sexuality throughout. The narrative of duty to your peers v.s duty to what drives you is compelling and contributes to a lot of what makes the world and its inhabitants charming. Most of all, it posits that Justice is always subjective.
I'm a long time fan of games like Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk, Snatcher, 2064: Read Only Memories, Va-II Hall-A, ZOE: Fist of Mars, and Danganronpa. These games all use well-told stories and detailed worlds to elevate their mechanics. This is as valid a use of
story as any other in games. However, due to the nature of game design, freedom to let your interpretation of the story affect the outcome is usually an illusion used to convey a certain theme to the player. The true freedom is what you take away from it.
Danganronpa lets you reflect on the way trauma can change those we grow close to into someone we can't even recognize via as ystem that only values the best.
Phoenix Wright is about fighting for what is right in an institution that rigs things in favor of what presents as justice rather, than what IS just.
Every one of these games convey a unique narrative through a mix of gameplay and story. Paradise Killer uses bouts of science-fantasy-murder-mystery between beautiful strolls through a world unchained from our reality, yet living next door. Nowhere in this games runtime did I feel like there was narrative fat. Every character, through their art, voice work, and (obviously) writing is a well-Sculpted resident who helps the player on their journey to do exactly what it says on the tin:
"Explore an open world to uncover your truth about a supernatural murder mystery where, at the end of it all, your job is to EXECUTE JUSTICE."
Paradise Killer is a RFT90 2020 GOTY and scores 9/10.
Thank you Kaizen Game Works, Barry "Epoch" Topping and the rest of the Dev/Pd team.