Paradise Island, an island outside of reality, was created to worship dead alien gods. Using the psychic energy transmitted from enslaved citizens, The Syndicate aims to resurrect them. The problem is that this energy also attracts demonic entities from across space, which ends up corrupting Paradise causing it to fail. As such, a new island is created with the hope of eventually achieving their goal. On the eve of the 25th incarnation, the island council are murdered within a room guarded by four locks: each more impenetrable than the last. It seems almost certain that it was perpetrated by a demonically possessed citizen, but this theory doesn’t seem to quite add up.
This is where you come in: Lady Love Dies, who was shunned from the 13th Paradise, is an investigator who has been summoned from her exile in order to work out exactly what has happened. After reobtaining your trusty laptop Starlight, the judge orders you to investigate the incident and return with a solution in order for justice to be properly carried out.
This brief exposition, along with an equally short tutorial, is all you get before you leap into the world below. From now until the trial, how you proceed from here is completely down to you. Do you go straight to the crime scene to start investigating the bodies? Do you start conversing with the Syndicate members scattered throughout the island? Or do you simply just start wandering to see what you uncover?
There’s certainly plenty to do in Paradise 24 as the island is overwhelmingly huge. It really sells the idea that this world was designed as a paradise for the members of The Syndicate along with the Gods that they plan to resurrect. The island has a very tropical feel to it, with gorgeous beaches and enormous monoliths; all accompanied by a relaxing vaporwave soundtrack, which can be expanded by finding music tracks within the world. Even initial conversations with the [inexplicably flat] inhabitants make it seem like all is well, with many barely even caring about the horrific massacre that happened only the night before. The more you dig into the workings of the island, however, the more the façade starts to peel away and reveal the insidious nature of everything: everyone is hiding secrets, and nobody is happy.
ALL KILLER, NO FILLER
The crux of the gameplay generally consists of two main elements: exploration and conversation. Exploration involves exploring the island looking for clues, or finding currency that has been scattered around by your demonic ‘sidekick’ Shinji (more on him later). Clues are generally found scattered around, with some being hinted at in conversations with NPCs – although others are found either by luck or intuition. Certain scenes can be investigated further too, should you find them, and there are even computers which you can hack to either gain information or to activate something – assuming you have the necessary Starlight upgrades to be able to hack them, of course. Hacking consists of a basic matching game, where you need to assemble a picture using various hieroglyphics. It’s quite a simple affair and does outstay its welcome by the end, since they never get particularly complicated. I honestly expected pictures to require a combination of hieroglyphics from different sets eventually, but they remain very basic throughout the game. The same can be said of the other environmental puzzles scattered throughout the island; whilst there aren’t many, most can be solved with extremely little effort. Don’t let that put you off though, since the main draw of the exploration revolves around exploring every nook and cranny and taking in just how well designed everything is; from citizen apartments to supermarkets, farms to pyramids – it feels like a real world, and that alone helps to keep you invested.
The other half of the game focuses on conversations with the delightful inhabitants of Paradise 24, and all are uniquely bizarre in their own ways; with such ludicrous names as ‘Crimson Acid’, a voluptuous black market trader with a goat’s head, and ‘The Witness to the End’, a flamboyant zealot who wears a golden skull mask. Chatting with the residents will reveal further clues for Starlight to log, such as alibies and hints about suspicious behaviour that others may be exhibiting; these clues can then be used in conversations with other people to find out more information and hopefully piece everything together. Thankfully the writing in the game is top notch, with Love Dies asking tactful questions to glean important information. There’s no voice acting in the game, but the occasional voiced phrase helps stop it from becoming a constant wall of silent text.
The standout character though is Shinji, a weak demon who appears throughout the island to chat to you. Occasionally he provides the occasional insight that can prove useful, but most of the time he just likes “shooting the shit” for a bit before disappearing with a bang. Whilst he isn’t a suspect that you can interact with fully, he appears so often that he ends up feeling like a foul mouthed companion throughout your journey. His nihilistic conversations are an absolute delight, despite only lasting seconds.
JUDGE, JURY, AND EXE-CUTE-IONER
Throughout your ten hour (or so) long investigation, you will encounter numerous twists and turns that will have you questioning each and every character within the game. Thankfully Starlight does an excellent job of logging everything in a very coherent way: you can look at the list of suspects and note anything suspicious, along with alibies and counter alibies; but you can also look at the individual parts of the case to see how each person connects with it. It makes the game very easy to manage, and easy to pick up again if you have a long break between sessions, although I would recommend that you don’t!
After you have all the information that you think you need, you are able to initiate trial proceedings with the Judge where you can accuse people and present your evidence. Again, there’s no real puzzling involved to counteract the claims that people make, but the dialogue is so well written that it never becomes much of an issue. The game also bends around your choices too, making most accusations feasibly possible. There is a right answer though, which the game hints at in the dialogue, but you won’t be punished for making a mess of it. Whilst this may make the game seem like it’s too easy due to not having a fail state, the enjoyment definitely lies in piecing everything together yourself and logically thinking about how everything played out. In my playthrough I got almost everything perfect, but not everything – although I realised my mistake after the trial had concluded.
I didn’t expect Paradise Killer to be such a fantastic narrative experience. I tend to be one of those people that skips through dialogue boxes to get to the meat of the gameplay, but I didn’t do it once in this game. It’s a testament to just how compelling the world and its mystery is … to me.
And that is where the real issue with the game lies. Being such a behemoth game that lacks any real sense of guidance, you really have to have an interest in this world and its inhabitants for you to get any mileage. With conversation and exploration being the core gameplay, those who have no investment in the story are likely to find the whole experience tedious. Add to that a fast travel system that requires using currency, and the game can really test the patience of those who aren’t fully engrossed. It doesn’t help either that a couple of areas are easily missable for those who aren’t adept at exploration. I didn’t find a way into the barracks until almost the end of the game, since the method of entry isn’t clear and requires movement upgrades to access. Whilst there are minor issues for people engrossed within the mystery, they will no doubt be infuriating for everybody else.
Here are a few areas you will encounter during your investigation:
Paradise Killer is definitely not for everyone, and you will likely either love it or hate it. The game offers a huge world and offers extremely little handholding throughout your investigation, with the story and lore slowly becoming comprehensible as you go. That being said, if you can click with this bizarre world, you will find a deeply compelling mystery that twists and turns, making you question everyone and everything. I very much hope that we can rejoin Lady Love Dies on Paradise 25 in the not too distant future.