A good murder mystery has you guessing every step of the way. It's often far too easy to predict the killer nowadays, be it in TV shows, movies, or video games. I like mysteries that become far more than what they appear on the surface. For Paradise Killer, the murderer is already in custody. So why, then, does our protagonist Lady Love Dies get released from exile to investigate a murder that's already been solved? As one will soon come to realize, Paradise Killer's crime is anything but simple. I was constantly guessing new suspects every step of the way. For those tired of predictable murder cases, Paradise Killer is going to be a trip.
The Complex Lore and Mystery of Paradise Killer
Developer Kaizen Game Works should be commended for crafting a world that makes the super-stylized vaporwave aesthetic fit in the game's universe. For some basic background information regarding Paradise Killer's complicated story, a shady organization known as the Syndicate worship gods that descended from outer space. But, these gods were betrayed by humanity. The Syndicate took it upon themselves to create paradise islands in other dimensions for their followers to revive these dead or injured gods. There's been a total of 24 different islands, each one failing due to unfortunate circumstances like demon attacks or internal strife. Learning the story behind the islands, the nature and customs behind these gods, and the demons threatening the world is a wild ride that had me captivated every step of the way.
It should be clear by now that paradise isn't what it seems. At the beginning of Paradise Killer, the entire ruling class of the island, called the Council, is killed during a meeting. The suspect is Henry, a citizen possessed by an extremely strong demon. At least, that's what it seems. Confident that there's more to this mystery, a peculiar character known as the Judge tasks protagonist Lady Love Dies to investigate and gather clues by talking to witnesses on the island. The witnesses are a cast of colorful and unique characters. One thing I look for in heavy text-based games like Paradise Killer are characters that seem realistic and diverse. From the ex-assassin, now bartender Sam to the head of the island's security force, Akiko, you'll come to known, love, and possibly hate the cast.
The characters themselves have distinct personalities, so conversations are a joy to read. Before exile, Lady Love Dies had relationships with many of the suspects, and the developers did a fine job of exploring the connections between the protagonist and her comrades—some are even romantic. As an investigator, you'll select dialogue prompts that involve questioning suspects' alibis, confirming evidence, and asking for more information on the murder itself. As you ask more questions, you'll find that many of these characters are unpredictable and have hidden motives that aren't evident from the start. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised to find how deep some of these characters truly are. One moment, I'm thinking that one suspect is the killer, and a few minutes later I'm second-guessing myself. Due to the excellent dialogue, depth of the characters, and overall mystery surrounding this murder, I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through.
I spent the whole duration of Paradise Killer looking forward to the trial held at the end of your investigation. From the start, players are notified that there's going to be a trial to bring forth justice. The fascinating thing about the mystery is that there's definitely a real killer and solution, but players have the choice to create their own truth. If you find enough evidence to pin the crime on someone that might not actually be the killer, you can do that. Technically, you can hold the trial as soon as you want, but you might end up failing miserably. It's a concept that is ambitious and exciting, but perhaps a bit flawed.
In the end, I wasn't sure if I was right in my accusations. I thought I found all the evidence and facts I needed, but as the prosecutor, I ended up not being confident in my case. The whole schtick behind Paradise Killer is making your own truths, but in most instances, Paradise Killer doesn't make it clear what's right or wrong. The developers have said on record that there is a real solution to the murder, but even if I accurately guessed the outcome, there weren't enough cues during the trial for me feel like I solved everything correctly.
Trial aside, another complaint is that there were some errors within the text itself. Paradise Killer is practically a novel, so one would hope that the text reads well. That's not always the case. I noticed a plethora of run-on sentences and areas where commas are needed. The absence of this punctuation altered the meaning of sentences—it was clear that these lines just needed a comma to make sense. Some dialogue is a little cringe-worthy, too. The few romantic sequences I encountered felt rushed and inauthentic, and one character dropped the F-bomb so ridiculously often, that I couldn't help but wince.
Exploring Island 24 in Paradise Killer
Paradise Killer isn't just a visual novel. You'll get to explore the island on foot. Island 24 is a huge tropical paradise filled with beautiful beaches, monuments to gods, and apartment buildings for its citizens. The world itself feels very authentic to the vaporwave style. It's also densely packed with buildings, so it comes off as a place where many people could live and enjoy their lives. In the story, all of the citizens on the paradise were sacrificed, so the only characters you'll come across are the suspects (and a few others). While this paradise is essentially dead, the world itself is packed with enough scenery to feel alive.
Exploring the island allows players to investigate the scene of the crime, find clues, and solve puzzles. There's also a fair deal of objects to pick up and find, such as blood crystals, a currency used on the island. Pretty much every corner of this island is packed with something, and it feels almost overwhelming to explore. Being jam-packed with stuff plays into Paradise Killer's favor since you'll be exploring a lot. There's also some light Metroidvania-like progression. As you upgrade your handy laptop (which is used to compile and organize evidence, among other things), you can access new areas, opening up opportunities to find more clues and progress with the mystery.
Since you spend so much time exploring the island, one would hope that Paradise Killer controlled well. Unfortunately, movement in Paradise Killer feels incredibly stiff and slow. Platforming is something you'll do a lot of, but jumping and moving around is so rigid, especially at the start. When you jump, it's very hard to move in the air at the same time, making traversal cumbersome. As you play, you might happen across foot baths that upgrade your movement. Taking one of these baths allows you to unlock skills like a double jump and an air dash. My experience while platforming improved after unlocking these abilities, but Lady Love Dies still isn't a very agile individual. If Lady Love Dies felt a bit faster and could move easily in the air, my enjoyment would have improved dramatically. The controls outside of navigating dialogue really soured my experience.
Exploration is further stifled by the map and fast travel system. The in-game map is confusing and so unhelpful that I never used to it more than a few times. There's not a lot of detail in the map, so it's hard to gauge where you need to go by looking at it. You're better off just remembering the layout of the island. Another missed opportunity is the fast travel system, which requires blood crystals to use. First, you need to unlock one of many fast travel points by spending a crystal. Then, to travel from one point to another, that's another blood crystal. Sure, there's plenty of these blood crystals around the island, but you feel punished for using fast travel. It's such an inconvenience on top of the clunky movement.
Paradise Killer Review | Final Thoughts
While I already commended Paradise Killer's vaporwave art style, the soundtrack is also worth talking about. The score in Paradise Killer is one that anyone can enjoy. The groovy, chill music in Paradise Killer really lifts the mood and makes up for the clunky exploration. You can find and unlock more tracks as you explore the island, which is something I definitely encourage players to do. You'll be treated with wonderful music that captures vaporwave so well. In addition to the music, players should unlock some skins for their laptop computer. The backgrounds are funky and nostalgic, and even though these skins have no gameplay implications, it's easy to enjoy the art of them.
Paradise Killer offers a compelling and complex mystery combined with a memorable cast of characters. The strange lore and vaporwave theme create a wholly unique experience that will certainly stick with you for a while after completion. Were it not for the clunky, stiff movement and some hiccups in the text and trial, Paradise Killer would be a much stronger game. Still, for those who love a good murder mystery, Paradise Killer is an adventure that's hard to say no to.
TechRaptor reviewed Paradise Killer on Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on the Nintendo Switch.
- Fantastic Mystery and Creative Lore
- Vaporwave Style
- Bangin' Soundtrack
- Dense and Beautiful Island
- Platforming is Stiff
- Poor Map and Fast Travel Requires Currency
- Some Textual Mistakes
- Hard to Tell if Mystery is Solved