So, imagine if Spike Chunsoft and Suda51 had sex during the Met Gala. Paradise Killer would be the bastard offspring.
That’s not a knock, believe it or not. The game is designed to drip pants-on-head insanity from ever crevice of its code. From the world’s overall presentation to the introduction of the plot, the audience is invited to hold on to their asses and just accept that this game is, as I noted to a friend, ‘bonkers’. However, ‘insanity’ is rarely the platform where games succeeded here. Does the rest of the game hold up beyond its flashy start?
Here is the annotated plot of Paradise Killer. A cult has created a island outside of reality that they are trying to perfect to worship their alien gods. For various reasons, this doesn’t always work out so the cultist elite, here dubbed ‘The Syndicate’, regularly has to wipe the slate clean by killing everyone and creating a new island that will hopefully be perfect. We are currently on the twenty-fifth cycle of island creation, so they haven’t exactly gotten it down to a science just yet.
In all of this is Lady Love Dies. She banged an Eldritch Abomination a few cycles back and it led to that cycle’s doom. So, as punishment, she was exiled from the island cycle. For three million days (approximately 8,220 years), she has been out of the loop…until now. Someone has slaughtered the leadership of the cult and LD, as she is referred to, is summoned back to the island to investigate the assassination so that a new island can be brought into existence.
And this, finally, is where things get weird. Yeah.
After literally falling out of the sky and returning to the island, you find out that they already have a suspect in custody. For fans of murder mystery titles, this feels like an obvious red herring. And I too played the demo and immediately began looking for evidence to show that something more is going on here. There is certainly evidence that provides the potential alternate theories of the crime and the island is full of self-described lunatics who are, after all, members of an alien-worshiping goat cult. I enjoyed running around, laughing at the latest bit of insanity and digging for clues. It was only when I hit the time limit (the demo is time-limited) and stepped away from the game did I start to question whether or not there even a point. It felt like there was a point. But looking at the demo on the whole, most of the evidence and testimony I found didn’t shed any new light on an overarching plot.
Some research was required. In doing so, I immediately landed on an interview the developers did with Kotaku in 2019. Let’s take a look at this quote, shall we?
“Our idea for the player is that they can get things wrong, they can mess up, they can take shortcuts, but they can also take all the time in the world, and that’s their call,” says Crabtree. “We want to give the player the chance to say ‘I believe this crime happened in this way.’ They may be right, they may be wrong, but as long as they believe it and feel they’ve made the right decisions, that’s what’s important. You can finish the game thinking you’ve done a really good job, or maybe thinking you’ve done a really bad job too. We support letting the game play out however it plays out.”
Look, I can see the meta narrative on this one coming from a mile away. And even putting that aside, the fact that a bunch of self-professed psychos have clearly perverted the laws of justice as well as the law of nature aren’t lost on me from a plot aspect. However, the fundamental question here is ‘Why are we investigating this?’ Playing the demo and listening to the developers, the PG answer to that question is, ‘Because that is what the main character likes to do.’ The goal isn’t to find the truth or, really, even to find the guilty. The goal is just to investigate and when you feel the evidence is strong enough against the suspect, ANY suspect, you’re good to go.
It’s a gamble, I won’t sugar-coat it. Without a central antagonist or definitive version of events, an open-world investigation game, even one with this bizarre setup, can feel…empty. The full weight of the game will depend on the cast. The audience has to enjoy their time with these characters so much that it will supersede the desire to find the center of ‘the maze’. Even if it isn’t meant to be a maze, any mystery game is inherently a maze that the mind will demand the audience solves. And if you think that’s easy road to hoe, I invite you to look at the atypical audience reactions to any writer or developer who try to ‘subvert expectations’.
To put it simply, there isn’t enough time given to the cast to help them leave an impression. Voice Acting will help in that regard, as this script demands a level of ham usually reserved for a Nicholas Cage vehicle. However, more time is required to move past how they look. Their designs catch your attention to be sure, but that won’t be enough. We’ll have to see if the full game and if the writing can do the work necessary to create a fun experience.
Overall, I felt the demo was interesting. Once you get over the initial stupor dealt by the game’s setup, you are left with a lot of questions on execution more than the narrative itself. I’ll be interested to see how this one fleshes out, but we’ll file it under ‘cautious optimism’ for now. Like with Suzerain, you only have few more days to check out the demo so if you’re interested in Paradise Killer, you can play the demo on Steam here. JP3: OUT.