It's very difficult to pull off "weird" in a story convincingly. Too much weird can risk alienating an audience, but too little can come across as desperate. To see it being done right, look no further than the golden age of offbeat Japanese auteur Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. Anarchic games like Killer7, Flower, Sun, and Rain and No More Heroes demonstrate how to do weird correctly: couch your more out-there ideas in a familiar framework. That's exactly the approach taken by Kaizen Game Works' Paradise Killer, a very strange neon-noir murder mystery set in a world outside the bounds of reality. Can it stand alongside the greats of strangeness or will it buckle under the weight of its ambition?
There's been a murder. Such is the setup for a thousand stories, but this one is different. Paradise is a magically regenerating island inhabited by alien-worshippers. Every few millennia, Paradise regenerates, and the energy generated by this regeneration is intended to resurrect the worshippers' alien gods. Unfortunately, the energy also attracts demons, who always find a way to ruin each iteration of Paradise. The next version, Paradise 25, should have been perfect, but on the eve of its resurrection, the entire governing Council is murdered. Lady Love Dies, the "investigation freak" of the island, must return from exile to discover who killed the Council and why.
The setup isn't too far from some of Suda51's weirder trips, but it requires dedication and commitment to pull off. Thankfully, the hour or so I played of Paradise Killer was more than happy to devote itself to its off-kilter atmosphere. There's no sense of undue self-awareness here; this is a world the characters inhabit, and it never feels like they're trying to explain its weirdness or mock it in a metatextual sense. Instead, you're simply invited to accept Paradise for what it is, and that's immensely refreshing when every other game seems to be ashamed of its creativity.
Rather uniquely for its genre, Paradise Killer is a first-person open-world exploration game. You've got the whole island of Paradise to explore, and you'll find clues and characters scattered throughout. In this way, Paradise Killer impressively mirrors a real-life investigation; you can talk to anyone you like in any order and discover things about other characters along the way. Of course, there are certain story flags that must happen before some characters will open up or you'll be let into certain areas. Still, the freedom you're granted here is extremely refreshing.
That's not to say Paradise Killer doesn't offer a nice conventional murder mystery structure. Kaizen's game couches its oddness in an investigative framework, so you'll still need to talk to the island's inhabitants, gather clues, and understand the bigger picture. Thankfully, Paradise Killer sidesteps the problems of drier investigative games by peppering its island with an armada of bizarre inhabitants to talk to. Did Shinji the weird naked demon commit the murder? How about Crimson Acid, the tech genius with a goat's head? Maybe it was Judge, the multi-faceted arbiter who has literally fused with the island in order to administer its justice.
The dialogue in Paradise Killer is what needs to carry the experience, and it's very strong. Characters speak with distinct voices, but there's an overall quality to the writing that feels woozy and psychedelic. Paradise Killer's cast is imaginative and compelling, and protagonist Lady Love Dies can approach them in any way you choose. If you're done with their nonsense and want to accuse them, you can do so shockingly early on and without any evidence whatsoever to speak of. You'll likely find that the mystery is immensely unsatisfying if you don't at least attempt to interrogate the characters properly, but if you want, you can simply call one of them out.
Only a small portion of the island was accessible in the demo I played, but it looks to be a sizeable and impressive locale. There's plenty to find, and your laptop Starlight is capable of showing you where key inhabitants and locations are within the island. Exploring feels fine. There's nothing to write home about in the actual moment-to-moment gameplay mechanics of Paradise Killer, but moving around the island does occasionally require some jumping or movement finesse. Paradise itself is a fascinating location filled with unseen secrets, as Lady Love Dies herself observes at one stage.
Paradise Killer Preview | Final Thoughts
Paradise Killer is shaping up to be a wonderfully weird, impressively sprawling open-world murder mystery game. There's genuinely nothing else like this out there right now, which makes it worth a look alone. At the time of writing, you can get a free demo for Paradise Killer on Steam. I'd heartily recommend you check it out if you've ever had any affection for the works of Suda51 or D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die designer SWERI. If the finished product is anywhere near as unique, well-written, and ingeniously-structured as the demo, this is going to be something special indeed.
TechRaptor previewed Paradise Killer on PC via Steam using a freely-downloaded demo.