What is fact? What is the truth? Are they the same? Can you tell the difference? The future of the island Paradise relies on your ability to discern the answers to these questions. You have to find out who killed Paradise and not everything is as it initially appears.
Paradise Killer is an unquestionably interesting game. It throws you into an alien world with a strong aesthetic and its own rich history and asks you to solve a murder that your character wasn’t even present for. Fresh out of exile, you have nothing but your AI assistant and a few scant leads indicating that a possessed citizen named Henry Division is the one who committed the murder—you can’t even get to the scene of the crime to investigate it. It’s a tall order for anyone, but you’re Lady Love Dies and you were “born to investigate.”
Investigation takes several forms. You will spend most of your time in Paradise wandering the island, looking for evidence and following up on leads. The rest of your time will be spent interrogating suspects, a list that includes nearly everyone left on the island. There are several puzzles to solve and several side-quests to engage with, but the majority of your game is spent on the aforementioned activities.
For the most part, exploring the island is a joy. There is tons upon tons of lore to find, as well as several unrelated secrets and interactions with a character who appears to be there as a combination of comic relief and a means of getting you to introspect throughout your investigation. Much of the lore will cost you blood crystals, the game’s currency, but, once I knew that I was financially stable, I found myself eagerly hunting down new items that would provide me with more information about the world. The deities of the Syndicate, the organization of immortals that run Paradise, exist in the physical world and many were killed long before the era that the game is set in, but they still communicate with those on the island. This provides a solid foundation for a rich world history and a wonderfully cynical take on religion.
The aforementioned character, Shinji, is also a more direct source of many of the philosophical questions the game asks you, all playing off of its core themes. Much of Paradise Killer’s narrative is based around the idea that you forge your own truths, that, regardless of the facts, what you decide is what happened may as well be what happened—granted you can provide enough evidence of it in court. At times, this narrative that you are told can feel repetitive and stilted, but Shinji presents some of the same questions—and more—in a way that is genuinely interesting and, at times, thought provoking. Many of these questions are unique to the game’s world, but more still ask you to examine the same events and motivations from a more realistic moral and ethical perspective. While your character is privy to the way that the game world works, Shinji opens your eyes, as the player, to the way that the world truly works and asks you whether you still think that many of the world’s accepted realities are just. It’s an interesting way to add context to a world you otherwise know nothing about and really gets you invested in a way that I’ve rarely seen in other narrative games.
There are, however, a few faults. Paradise Killer is not a platformer and does not have many of the features you would need for a comfortable platforming experience. One of the most notable examples of this is that, in order to properly land on many of the game’s urban ledges, you have to land on a tiny sliver of a railing that is too high for you to walk between it and the balcony above without crouching. Despite this, many of the game’s collectibles are hidden in places that require you to succeed at platforming challenges to obtain them. There are some upgrades that you can obtain that make this easier, but it’s never fun.
Furthermore, many of the game’s characters are simply spaced out too far. Fast travel exists, but it costs money and there is a finite amount of money hidden throughout the game world. By being incredibly stingy about fast traveling, only making use of it a few times at the end of the game, when I had spent my money on everything I could buy, I finished the game with more than 60 blood crystals. However, you’re going to be jumping between characters a lot and that adds up. I don’t have an exact count of the number of trips I took, but I could easily see jumping between nearly every one of the game’s scattered cast by fast traveling to them every time you need to talk to them bankrupting you.
This isn’t helped by the world design. While it’s an interesting world on a macro scale, on a micro scale, there are many small, twisting paths that you simply can’t maneuver your way around, pushing you back and forth as you attempt to reach your next stop. There are many ladders that slow your travel speed significantly. There are many characters placed in locations high up in the air or across long bridges, locations that only have one viable path to them. The first time or two you reach these locations, it’s an interesting experience. By the tenth time, attempting to be cautiously frugal, it’s nothing short of irritating.
The flip side of that is that you can’t just wait until the last moment to talk to someone either. Due to the nature of investigation, you may find yourself ping-ponging between them and some other character. Even if that’s not the case, you hit a point where there is a long, unwieldy list of topics to run through with that character and that the grand majority of the answers you get are going to be “how should I know?” It’s not a particularly satisfying gameplay loop and, later in the game, when you’ve begun to run through various investigation paths, it can be incredibly frustrating to question someone about four topics, only for each one to be answered with a similarly useless answer.
On one hand, I get it. It’s a realistic process. The problem is that the game is so exacting in the way that it guides you. Starlight logs evidence and tracks threads that you haven’t followed just yet. Starlight’s AR mode lets you quickly view who you still need to talk to at any given moment and what computers you haven’t cracked yet. No matter the nature of the evidence you’ve discovered, Starlight instantly deduces where you should go to learn more about it and you must go there if you want to learn more about it. There’s this illusion that you can conduct your investigation however you want, but the reality is that you’re stuck on the developers’ path and the only choices you have in the matter are how far you want to follow that path and what conclusions you draw from what you find along the way.
There are two key pieces of evidence that back this up. First is the fact that there is no way to present evidence to a witness. The few times that it happens, it is done as a result of a dialogue choice. Second is the fact that the topics that you can question a character about are chosen by the game. You would think that this would indicate relevance, but the prevalence of answers mentioned above would speak to the contrary. Because of these two things, you’re essentially railroaded on a path towards a more universal truth. There are several external factors related to whether or not you find key evidence, but they simply unlock more of the path, rather than giving you new paths.
The most damning evidence that the game needed to be slightly more open to alternate lines of inquiry is the fact that many pieces of evidence are simply deemed “good enough,” subsequently ending their respective threads permanently. Starlight can break into a computer and check the logs to see who accessed the gate that the computer is attached to, but, when they inevitably deny that that access means what you think it means, you can’t pursue any other line of inquiry. A particularly frustrating instance of this is when the game asks you to determine how one character got a hold of a particular item. When you begin to figure out that perhaps someone gave them that item, you’re not even given a chance to ask the character whether they remember that someone giving it to them, despite having to sit through multiple useless “how should I know?”-esque answers for other threads.
That’s not to say that addressing any of these complaints would improve the experience, though. Unfortunately, vain and scheming as they are, even in genuine “gotcha” moments, the characters will lie to your face, exclaiming that they have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s not really a natural point during the investigation where they give up the act and tell you the truth. The few times that someone does actually let their guard down and tell you something, often as a result of hanging out with them—an interesting mechanic that rarely seems to be worth much, even with the added dialogue—enough, it’s likely that what they tell you is about someone else. It would be far more interesting if they more regularly claimed knowledge of something that would incriminate them and then tried to explain it away. Instead, many of the responses feel repetitive, almost inevitable.
This would be okay if not for the fact that I personally didn’t find trials to be particularly satisfying. Once you’ve finally collected your evidence and drawn your conclusions about what happened, you’re put into an all-at-once set of trials for each of the crimes committed. This entire process is a matter of selecting who it is that you think committed each crime—or whether multiple people were guilty of a crime, in the case that someone’s other crime implicated them in the crime that is currently on trial—and then you simply run down a list of evidence, presenting it all to Judge one item at a time. If you’ve collected enough evidence, they’re guilty. If not, they’re not. That is the extent of it. While they deny their crimes as you are presenting evidence, there’s no real back and forth. You simply read through their denials and then move onto the next line item.
However, it’s the game’s obsession with you deciding on your own truth that really got to me in the end. There is a canonical perpetrator of each of the crimes committed; the further you make it down the game’s long and winding path, the more obvious it becomes. But the game is so intent on making sure that you’ve picked your own path, that you’ve decided on your own truths, that it never really gives you a satisfying conclusion to your story, lest it give away that you made the wrong choices. It ends practically as it began, with characters telling you that they hope you made the right choices and little else. There’s very little closure. What’s done is done, as if it’s simply another day in Paradise.
There’s actually an exact moment when pursuit of open-endedness began to sour the experience for me. In attempting to muddy the waters and leave things open to interpretation, granted you decide that you simply end your investigation there and not pursue the matter further, the previously believable story takes a hard turn into the unbelievable. The Crime to End All Crimes occurred within a ten-minute window and, within a moment, the number of moving pieces simply hits an unrealistic high. The developers wanted you to believe that there were multiple solutions so badly that they turned the crime into nothing short of a convoluted mess.
Paradise Killer was an odd experience for me. I went into it with the utmost positivity, having been utterly enamored with its demo, in no small part due to its striking aesthetic. I eagerly snapped up all of its lore items and uncovered all but two of the world’s secrets. But, the more I played, the less satisfied I was with the overall narrative surrounding the Crime to End All Crimes. I wanted more of the world, more of the alien gods and demons. Instead, I was given the increasingly unbelievable story of one particularly heinous crime in the game’s world that was made increasingly unsatisfying by an unending deluge of non-answers. Despite that, you shouldn’t miss out on this one. It is one of the most unique games I’ve played in a while, allowing you to “vacation” in a genuinely interesting world, and it gives you a vast playground to explore for clues, some of which are genuinely challenging to find. It’s unfortunate that the detective side of the game fails to live up to its initial promise, but I cannot deny that I largely enjoyed my time in Paradise.