Paradise Killer, aka ‘More passive than Columbo’ [Early thoughts]
A warning in advance, I don’t have a terrible lot of nice things to say about Paradise Killer, and I feel bad about that since the game starts so strongly and with such good first impressions: It has a female protagonist front and center, a relaxing soundtrack that makes for easy listening, the visuals and character designs are wonderful — But then comes playing the game and investigation itself. Unenjoyable writing that’s frequently unpleasant to the player and paper-thin questioning leads to an experience that lost its magic for me in two hours.
The story already addresses one complaint of the game I have about how such a big, constructed island has so few people in it, but it still leaves this big, constructed island with very little interaction. It’s a great map in concept as there’s plenty of collectibles and blood crystals (the in-universe currency) to find with occasional side-investigations to do. Still, you’ll find nearly two dozen items to pick up before you have anyone to converse with. It’s so expansive, I have to wonder if there were plans to do more with it. Credit due, the island’s design is fantastic in how it balances realistic suburbs for citizen districts, lavish yet professional construction for Syndicate buildings, with places of worship/holy being expectedly ominous but not comical in respect to the game’s made-up gods. The island even has an infrastructure with a power plant, agricultural facility and docks, though there are reminders that your faction views its citizen workers as cattle for production, then eventual sacrifice. Further credit due, even with it feeling like I’m playing as a crow grabbing the next shiny thing in sight, meandering around the island is legitimately enjoyable. The visuals help, but the subtle environmental ambiance and easy-listening soundtrack only add to the eased experience.
Through my playing and research, Lady Love Dies (your player character) only gets two personal (excluding her Starlight computer) upgrades: Being able to see collectibles through the environment and a double jump. The latter isn’t game-changing, but it can shave a few seconds here and there, most beneficial when hunting collectibles. While your first few hours of the game will be taking in the sights, enjoying your hikes while occasionally finding new music tracks, I mention these upgrades because it’s disappointing that there aren’t any other means of movement, sans fast travel. A way to float, glide or fly would’ve been welcomed, not just to get around the island with, but be able to see more of the island with those relaxed beats gently thumping in your ears. The only way to take in the lovely vistas is by doing the climbs up yourself or by using fast travel (once unlocked), the latter of which uses blood crystals — Which is also used for Crimson Acid’s information brokering. I’ve avoided buying from Crimson yet because I’m unsure if it’s a way to ‘cheat’ getting confidential information, and also because I want to try and solve this thing with my intuition and evidence.
Part of Lady’s investigation has her exploring the environment for clues. She also does most of the thinking for you; picking up clues or discovering something has her monologue about it before logging that into Starlight. It took me a bit longer to figure out than I’d care to admit, but Starlight ends up being very handy in organizing the info into specific cases for specific people, or filing it under an unknown category if there’s no concept or person to link it with — Yet. It’s a great tool, though I do wish it allowed you to write in your own notes. Examining things like bodies or some indoor locations swaps to a still image with chunky question marks to click on, get a monologue dump, and then you’re done; no poking around and no thorough searching. These examination scenes are weak compared to how you can wander nearly everywhere on the island, but I suppose it gets the job done so you can get back outside. The other portion of the game is questioning people and where cracks in the game start showing for me.
Questioning is limited to initial topics at the game’s start and once uncovered, either through discussion or new evidence. Upon choosing a topic, there’s then a back and forth discussion, the occasional dialogue choice of your own, and then info being logged into Starlight if relevant to the investigation. This would be serviceable if the script also were that succinct. There’s a comical amount of fluff responses that, while it makes sense that not everyone would know about every subject, the writing likes to ridicule you for even asking it to begin with. My absolute favourite is that characters will do some variant of the joke ‘you’re the investigator, go investigate’ instead of answering the question. This hand waving dismissiveness is even worse when you have evidence that contradicts someone’s statement or testimony, and the result is simply a ‘yes, and?’ kind of response. Not being able to pursue contradictions is in itself a contradiction of the concept the game wants to hammer into you: Lady is the investigator, a powerful position on the island to solve the case and having jurisdiction to do so. However, the game limits her to being incredibly passive (seizing a phone and check-in records isn’t that active of actions) in this role, not leaping down someone’s throat when catching them in a lie or doing more when people act insufferably coy. She just begrudgingly takes the abuse, misdirections and refusals to answer at face value. While there is a narrative reason why some hold Lady in such disdain and poor regard, it gets uncomfortable. Lady doesn’t bat an eye at any of it, which is a testament to her professionalism or worrying amounts of apathy.
And I do mean insufferable; characters like Akiko, Yuri and Henry are the most egregious of this, going out of their way to be unpleasant to speak with their militant threats, asshole behaviour and edgelord with coincidental amnesia, respectively. There are relevant answers to get out of them, but just about everything else makes them cartoonish in how antagonistic they’re trying to be. Friendly or neutral characters become absolute rays of sunshine to visit, like Lydia, with her hopeful outlook and friendship with Lady, and Sam, a bartender who might be a bit too into his work but is still supportive. They still do the ‘go investigate, investigator’ joke, just with a friendlier tone. I’m arguing against myself, but you are told to build a case and find the facts upon meeting Judge. It’s likely characters hand-wave and dismiss you to the point of ire because of this, but it’s communicated in such a confrontational way that I’m beginning to think that the game’s true meat is at the trial itself. Or it ends with fingering one person to go to the gallows with a single mouse click — I haven’t gotten to that point yet since I really want to solve this thing properly. Still, I’m about ready to do everything in my power to label Yuri as guilty because, oh my word I hate him so much.
Excluding the characters written by someone having an awful day at the time, I’ve found it difficult to empathize with the Syndicate and Council members. While this is most likely personal views more than anything else, you are playing as and talking to people that are part of an evil organization. Trying to keep even more evil gods from doing horrendous things is understandable, but then abducting, forcing labour onto and sacrificing ordinary people to empower their gods/operations makes it hard to root for any of them. Spare me on ‘the ends justify the means’, as many of the Syndicate members seem keener on making and sustaining the perfect island sequence to call home versus stopping a cosmic terror apocalypse. Lady’s dialogue choices occasionally let you roleplay as either obedient to this cause or poking holes in their flawed system. Like the other dialogue choices, they don’t seem to influence the conversation or results; it’s a way of letting you act through Lady.
My last play session of Paradise Killer had me seemingly a few steps away from reaching the primary crime scene itself, a colossal objective in its own right as it’s not accessible from the start. Questioning people so far has left me with possible motives, broken alibis and lies without a terrible lot of evidence to go along with it, so hopefully reaching the crime scene will start letting things click into place. For as much criticism I have for the game, I can’t deny that it poses one hell of a case to solve while looking and sounding great. Leaves me wondering why the script isn’t fully voice-acted instead of occasional audible character quips, but having to listen to Yuri for longer than ten seconds would be a crime in itself.