Waking up, as we all do at some point in our lives, in a train station storage room with an unfortunate spell of amnesia, our hero Yuma Kokohead rushes to catch a train he was invited to board. Without time to work out who he is, why he would have been invited, or basically any other details, he quickly establishes that he and the others on the train are Master Detectives with the World Detective Organization and are they have all received the same summons. There’s one problem with this: there are six Master Detectives on the train and there should only be five…
This thoroughly Danganronpa-style twist kicks off a series of events that will see the player, through Yuma of course, solve a variety of different mysterious and often complex murders. He isn’t alone though, and is joined by Shinigami, a God of Death which whom he forged a pact at the price of the memories he lost. This relationship forms one of the core mysteries, but there are others that are revealed through the game, punctuating its mysteries.
One important point to keep in mind is that all of the Master Detectives in the game possess a power called a Forensic Forte. These powers are unique to each individual and give a specialised skill for investigative work, such as the ability to sense all lifeforms within a set radius or create a perfect disguise, right down to changing height and voice. These Fortes then affect the gameplay, narrative and even the aesthetic of the game in some instances.
At its core, Rain Code is a visual novel, with all of the suggestive writing, fan service, and bizarre events you would expect from the genre, but the core gameplay that lies beneath these trappings shine through. Master Detective Archives just does not stop, constantly moving you from one thing to another without hesitation, and with all of its mechanics contributing to the whole. I’ll admit it does take a moment to fall into the rhythm, but once it does, it’s fantastic.
With each case, you’ll start off investigating crime scenes, collecting evidence about the events and interrogating witnesses. Key bits of evidence about the case in question will manifest as a Solution Key, which will come into play in later gameplay sections, but are important here to understand what exactly has happened.
Then comes the fun bit. After a magical girl transformation, Shinigami takes you into the Mystery Labyrinth, an alternate reality where the details of the real world mystery manifest as a dungeon to be conquered. The prize for victory? The truth of the case. How you go about that is by using the Solution Keys to answer the questions the Labyrinth poses (in your blood no less), eliminating possibilities and reaching the only logical conclusions about the case, like it’s an anime manifestation of Occam’s razor.
Two deviations from this simple question and answer set up spring up from time to time, namely the Reasoning Death Match and Shinigami Quiz. The first of these sees you take on a Mystery Phantom, a rainbow palette version of a real world person obstructing your investigation. In these Death Matches you need to avoid statements made by the Phantom through swift dodging and slice down the contradictions using your Solution Blade while it is loaded with the correct Solution Key.
Exposing these issues with their statements using the evidence will bring you closer to the truth and also defeat the Phantom. If this is sounding a lot like Ace Attorney to you, that’s because it’s essentially a flashy version of objecting to testimonies. You’ll often have multiple of these per labyrinth, and you have to carefully pick from the selection of Keys given to succeed each time, but they are tremendously satisfying when you get that elusive victory in the trickier battles.
Less satisfying and definitely more unusual are the Shinigami Quiz mini-game. These see Shinigami, wearing a swimsuit in a rotating barrel with letters around the outside, because of course it would. The letters correspond to the answer to a key question about the case that is missing a word in the style of a game of hangman. You have to work out the answer and throw swords at the barrel to break the letters in order, at the end of which Shinigami will be fired into the sky like Pop-up Pirate.
There are other mini-games sprinkled in to shake things up, but as wild as they can often be, they all serve the purpose of bringing you to the discovery of the real culprit in each case. When the time comes, you put all of your evidence in order and name the culprit, putting the cherry on a multi-layered investigative cake.
In the downtime between cases you can explore Kanai Ward. These free exploration segments mean you can complete quests for people, talk to passersby, and investigate elements about the world. Doing any of these earns you Detective Points, which will then grant you Detective Ranks granting you skill points that can be spent on increasing your health in Mystery Labyrinths or even on making particular mini-games easier by removing possible answers or making correct answers clearer.
The only problem, similar to Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, is that you will occasionally work out the final solution before the characters do. This then leaves you trying to work out the specific route the game wants you to take to the solution. I’m not too bright, so there were occasions for me in which I only worked out the culprit right at the end of a case, but even I worked out the culprit early in some cases, which is saying something.
One thing that can’t be denied is that Rain Code is absolutely gorgeous, especially in its world design. The hub of the Kanai Ward is a cyberpunk paradise within a dreary and glum cityscape, the neon lights shining through the haze of constant rain. The characters are as typically over-designed as this genre usually leans towards, but they are all so charming and have great voice work, so it’s easy to forgive this. Also, the design of the Mystery Labyrinths themselves are absolutely bizarre, fitting in with the overall aesthetic perfectly.
The music too, fits with the world, opting for equal parts lo-fi and industrial electronica to match the cyberpunk world design. There’s some proper earwigs in the soundtrack, especially the song that plays during the Shinigami Quiz segments – this might also be because I’m bad at hangman so have spent a lot of time wracking my brain with this on loop.