Have you ever played a video game that felt like it was made by an actual space alien? Because after my time with Paradise Killer, I feel like I’ve done just that. On paper, Paradise Killer is an open-ended detective game about tracking down evidence and clues that point toward the culprit of a mysterious locked-room murder. It’s a pretty safe description that evokes feelings of games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, and this indie detective delight definitely shares some DNA with those games.
Unlike either of those games, Paradise Killer happens to take place in a cosmically horrifying pocket dimension where secret syndicates build giant brutalist islands occupied by whiskey-serving skeletons and horny Scottish doctors in an attempt to gather enough spiritual energy to resurrect the Old Gods. Standard.
Plenty of people compare the aesthetic and style of Paradise Killer to that of legendary Japanese video game designer Suda 51 and the iconic worlds of No More Heroes and Killer 7. Within just a few minutes, it’s easy to see why that comparison crops up. Lo-fi sound effects and old-school computer visuals are sprinkled throughout a world where a protagonist named something as nuts as “Lady Love Dies” exists. It’s the kind of game world where a character can say, “A Nightmare Computer from the depths of space that uses a language born on a long dead world,” with an utterly serious tone and absolutely get away with it.
There’s a mountain of initially indecipherable lore and culture to the world of Paradise Killer, and part of the game is simply learning what makes this chaotic world tick and seeing the seemingly random aesthetic of the universe come together in a shockingly cohesive and well-written way. Lurking beneath the veneer of a surreal, brutalist, vaporwave island full of misfits and madness is an incredibly sophisticated story that is brought to light by one central mystery – a locked room murder.
Paradise Killer takes place on Paradise 24, the 24th iteration of the Syndicate designed island oasis. Like every iteration before it, this idyllic and timeless society eventually began to crumble and collapse. As the Syndicate gathered and put the finishing touches on Paradise 25 to move on over there and start the cycle again, however, someone mysteriously murdered the entire group. Now, Lady Love Dies, the only known Investigator around, has been brought out of her 3 million day exile to crack the case and figure out who pulled off the crime of the millennium.
In almost any other investigation-heavy murder mystery game, there would be one set culprit for you to catch, with the game gently or hamfistedly guiding you through a set path of investigations and interrogations. Paradise Killer does no such thing and instead drops you smack dab in the middle of Paradise 24 and gives you free rein to explore the entire island, interrogate every inhabitant, and piece together any amount of clues and evidence you deem necessary to come to what feels like a conclusion. It could be a natural one, a forced one, or an instinctive one. You’re allowed to begin the trial and choose your suspect at any point in time, leaving the final say on who goes down for the murder to you and you alone.
It’s a daunting task, especially in the very beginning of Paradise Killer. It can be overwhelming to have the whole confusingly mapped island to pan for clues, not to mention the entire cast of characters at your fingertips to converse with and investigate. As you start to land on a bread crumb trail of clues or information, though, you’ll soon find yourself naturally scouring the island for that next piece of info that you need to piece together your theory. Perhaps your theory is different than mine, or perhaps you come to a grim conclusion and decide to pin the blame on someone else in order to protect your favorite character.
Despite the weird and wild aura of the world, every character still talks and behaves like a real person. That leads to plenty of instances of doubt, deceit, and insecurity, but it also leads to you naturally growing to get attached to or despite certain cast members. The burden of the investigation is entirely on your shoulders, and it’s up to you to decide if you pursue to cold hard truth or protect the people you’ve grown fond of.
Alongside collecting evidence, testimonies, and records of the world of Paradise Killer, there are also an abundance of other collectibles strewn about the world. Most of these are a currency called Blood Crystals that you can use to activate fast travel points, unlock upgrades for your evidence-gathering laptop, or even bribe characters with. A lot of these items are hidden in awkward nooks and crannies of the 3D world, and you’ll often be forced to jump around and navigate precarious platforms to obtain them.
Despite being a game that surprisingly relies a lot on platforming, though, the jumping in Paradise Killer can often feel pretty clunky. Worse yet, as you get hours into the game, the items and clues available to you start to dwindle, and it can lead to a lot of aggrivating down-time as you fruitlessly teleport around the island in search of just one more hint. Whether you start the final trial out of frustration with your dead ends or a real sense of conviction in your answers, it’s the highlight of the entire experience by far as all of your hard work and investigation comes together stylishly.