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The absolute best thing you could do for me, right now, is click away from this page and immediately download Paradise Killer. Just go into it as blindly as you can. Read no further, right now. Instead, get it, play it, and then come back here, and we can chat. Because I desperately need to discuss this game with someone who's played it, who's been through Sequence 24 and seen judgment passed on any one - or some - of several immortals who may or may not have massacred the Council. I need to know if we chose to pin this most heinous of crimes on the same suspects; or whether our stories were as wildly different as this game is to pretty much anything else in 2020.
Can you do that? Great. See you in, let's say, between 10 and 16 hours of play, for either Steam or Nintendo Switch. In a bit, then.
Back with me? Brilliant. How about that, eh? Just the most wonderfully deep and rewarding, visually intoxicating and sonically joyous thing, isn't it? A physics-bending open-world murder-mystery game that lets you find your own truth right to the very end, and leaves you wondering, whatever the evidence collected and put before the Judge: was I right? Were they guilty? Ah damn, best play it again.
And what a treat it'd be to experience again, anytime, I reckon. The setting of Paradise Killer, Island Sequence 24, is just the most beguiling, appealingly-rough-around-the-edges but aesthetically consistent and geographically fascinating game world I've explored in an age, from its precipices only reached with a double-jump dash to the darkest corners of its underground, its secret places that you, that "Investigation Freak" Lady Love Dies, were never, ever supposed to wander into.
You know how Dark Souls has all these locations that are both completely disconnected from each other but believably tied by a traversable environment? You can map it - not so much on paper, but absolutely in your mind. That's Paradise Killer, only rather than everything looking like it's covered in blood and faeces, the game pops with retina-searing vividness.
You'll believe that a barracks full of mutiny-ready marshals can sit beside a whisky bar at the top of an extravagant mountain, and that a demons-trapping Dead Zone can cast a shadow over civilian apartments, because the game so confidently, so coherently, lays itself out as a place to poke around in. There's a (rough) map in the pause menu, sure; and Lady Love Dies' always-analysing, actually-alive computer, Starlight, can pinpoint suspect locations in an AR style. But there's such joy in simply finding your own way around Paradise Killer's bizarre locales by foot, by instinct.
But listen to me, gabbering on... How did you find that cast, huh? I know, pretty overwhelming at first, right? A constantly appearing and disappearing demon with its middle fingers up and its junk hanging out (presumably). Names like, well, Lady Love Dies, for one - you're unlikely to play as a more enigmatically named protagonist this year. Doctor Doom Jazz, Crimson Acid, Lydia Day Break, The Witness to the End - the personalities, the appearances, and the backstories to the characters, the suspects, that developer Kaizen Game Works has produced are just the most wild and compelling I've interacted with for - and apologies if there's an echo in here - ages.
Sure, they're two-dimensional of on-screen assets, but what incredible, fully realised people these individuals are. I mean, they're not all people, obviously. Are any of them? Henry, maybe. But his name is Henry.
I really loved how every encounter with these suspects was both a means to the end - to build a case, to tie loose ends together, and every so often completely shift direction of proceedings - and a delight in and of itself. The dialogue in Paradise Killer absolutely sparkles with wit, warmth, well-natured humour and just a little naughtiness. Okay so the very limited voice-over clips that play can seem a bit annoying at first, but you get used to them.
Well, I did. Your mileage might vary, I suppose. And yeah, I noted the stray apostrophes and odd typo in the text, too - Paradise Killer could have done with a final pass over its words before going gold, but y'know, it's a tiny gripe. I'm super anal about this stuff, just ask my colleagues.
But anyway, the murder and the mystery and the investigation, yeah? All those dead, um, immortals - which doesn't make sense until the game explains how it does, and how eternity can be rather shorter than you'd think for some of the residents of Paradise; which itself is merely a construct to appease alien gods. But we're going too deep, too soon. I love the freedom that Paradise Killer gives you, to find your own way from crime scene - or, scenes, plural, but let's keep the spoilers on the down-low, I reckon - to trial. It's simply so refreshing to be allowed to go your own way, in a game about, well, following procedures.
It's great that your way through the game was so different to my path to justice, but that we both had enriching experiences. And you're absolutely right that it's awesome that the game doesn't lock you into a completion percentage before taking your findings to the Judge; go anytime, if you like, and see what sticks. What's the worst that can happen, more exile? Ahahaha. Ha.
But really, giving the player all the agency in the world to reach their own conclusions, be they cast-iron or made of damp cardboard (and trust me, a few of my pointy-finger accusations were rather less believable than others) is terrifically satisfying. And that the game never seems to buckle or break under the strain of the individual carving their own route through its nefarious no-gooders and surreal sights is testament to the great stress-testing Paradise Killer must have gone through, and the multifaceted plotline planning that is presumably drawn out across several ring-bound notepads.
I can't actually believe this is the debut game from some key creators who, by their admission, didn't totally know what they were doing before they started. It's too good. They're lying, surely. This game is as much a facade as Paradise itself, a ready-made Sequence 25 that's hiding some deeply devilish secrets.
Ah, you've got to go? No worries, me too - and besides, over-discussing this wholly unexpected gem would no doubt diminish its brilliance. Paradise Killer works as a surprise, where it can shock you with its twists of both narrative and knife, and impress you on a level where you feel as if you're the one discovering it, rather than ticking through boxes from a review you read on the internet.
So we'll leave a thousand or so things about it left unsaid - the music, yes, it's wonderful, sorry we didn't spend more time celebrating its City Pop-riffing breeziness and loose funk swagger; and those character poses really are straight out of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I mean, we didn't even touch on the influence of Suda51 and the Danganronpa series - but seriously, I think this is one where the less you know, the even more amazing it is. Oh, and that it makes you pay for things in blood? Really. What a game.
Pros: confidently allows the player to find their own way through the mysteries of Paradise, killer soundtrack, incredible depth and detail throughout
Cons: can seem overwhelming at first with little obvious hand-holding; a few text errors will grate for some
For fans of: Phoenix Wright, Danganronpa, Midsommar Murders (pun intended)
Paradise Killer is available now for Steam and Nintendo Switch. Nintendo Switch code for this coverage was provided by the publisher, Fellow Traveller. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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