I can’t help seeing Paradise Killer, Kaizen Game Works’ debut title, as one of the most confident games I’ve ever played. It’s loud and exuberant, relentless in its eccentricity and style — so much that it was initially off-putting. The contrast between its complicated, shrouded mystery and its glamour and glitz was disorienting during my first few hours. It’s a game that executes little in half-measures, unafraid to overwhelm you with its UI and level of freedom. But once I bought into Paradise Killer’s meticulously crafted world and let it sweep me away to paradise, I fell in love.
Paradise Killer is hard to describe concisely. Its world is so dense and well-realized. You play as Lady Love Dies, an “investigation freak” who emerges from exile into Paradise. Three million days after she was persecuted for trusting a demon, she’s brought in to solve “the crime to end all crimes.” The Council, an elite theocratic body that governs Paradise, has been murdered. And it happened just as they finished preparing Perfect 25: the latest in a string of cyclical, synthetic heavens that make up Paradise. Everyone suspects Henry Division, a demonically possessed mortal, as the perpetrator.
You quickly realize there’s much more to the crime than meets the eye. Henry is part of Paradise’s Citizen population: human beings kidnapped from the real world and forced to pray to genocidal (sometimes dead) gods. They’re perpetually oppressed under a discriminatory and abusive system. Then they’re used as sacrifices in the gods’ pursuit of eternal perfection. The Syndicate — or what remains of it with the Council dead — is all too happy to sacrifice Henry for the killings. As Lady Love Dies, it’s up to you to bring justice by convicting whoever among the Syndicate is responsible for the destruction of Paradise’s corrupted order.
Paradise Killer is neither subtle nor gentle; there’s no easing you into all this. From its first moments, it’s unrestrained in its complex world-building. It cares little for how overwhelmed you may feel. It’s both confident enough in itself, and in you, that it never treads into exposition dumps.
That confidence extends to just about every facet of the investigation process. It gives you the freedom to explore the island however you want (via some light, first-person platforming) to the extent that you want. You’re trusted with finding out all you’ll need to know to bring the truth out of the shadows and into the bright open-world that is Paradise.
Or maybe you won’t achieve this goal. You’re free to decide when the trial commences the 24th attempt at a perfect Paradise ends. The truth is what you decide based on your findings, lines of questioning, and exploration.
For what is the truth? Is there such a thing as an objective reality? Who decides what the facts are? There’s little reason why you should start the trial before combing through all there is to discover in the underground depths and highest mountains of this stunning location. But you can if you’d like. You could’ve done what I almost did on my third day playing — and almost begin the trial without exploring an entire section of the map. I was stunned when I found out just how little I actually knew. Often, that’s what finding the truth feels like.
Paradise Killer didn’t warn me I hadn’t traversed every important area; it simply trusted that my curiosity as a detective would lead me to find them. It’s content with accepting whatever your truth — both in regards to the mystery at large and how you see the game itself — turns out to be. It doesn’t hold your hand and present everything you need to know in a desperate effort to keep you enticed. It does, however, give you the tools to do so. It also rewards you for facing a presented truth and demanding more in ways few detective games ever accomplish.
Exploring the world is essential to uncovering the heart of what transpired in Paradise. Yet there’s an even greater focus on the cast of characters with whom you spend your disturbing and dazzling time. Every member in the Syndicate, whom you get to know through constant conversation and interrogation, is a spectacle. The character designs are exquisite. Names like Doctor Doom Jazz and Crimson Acid draw the eye. But what hides underneath the surface of each NPC is just as captivating as the vaporwave aesthetic.
You corroborate information and exchange gossip in a visual novel format that frequently lets you set your own tone with dialogue choices. These decisions don’t have much gameplay impact. You gain the information you need if you seek it — especially since some of the Syndicate members are nothing if not eager to throw each other to the wolves. But the exchanges contextualize Lady Love Dies and her estrangement with the Syndicate.
Cold, hard facts are meanwhile logged into your computer. It’s your job to use them to weave the truth. In refreshing contrast to similar games, the biggest revelations in Paradise Killer come during these conversations, rather than in the grand final act. As such, every check-in with every character has weight and the potential to flip the narrative you previously formed in your head. There are a few grammar errors in the writing, but they don’t distract from how spectacularly the plot unfolds or the brilliance of every messy character and pastel religious theme.
The dialogue, especially for characters like the obscene demon Shinji, is unbelievably witty and quirky with an ease that’s bound to make many writers envious. It has no difficulty transitioning between humor and philosophical musings about class oppression, justice, and our yearning for mysteries and easy answers.
Paradise Killer‘s few flaws almost always manage to contribute to its charms. For example, the game has you running around a lot. On one hand, meandering the 3D space isn’t the most compelling. You have to collect plenty of Blood Crystals (Paradise’s main currency) and do a fair amount of basic platforming. It really only becomes fun when you gain access to new abilities like double jumping and dashing from the various footbaths scattered across the island.
One of those abilities, meditation, is meant to guide you to things you’ve yet to uncover. However, it doesn’t differentiate between Blood Crystals, Relics (collectible items that provide tidbits of lore), and the next thing you need to proceed with a lead. On the other hand, going back and forth across Paradise will eventually transform it from dizzying and awing to familiar and endearing.
The puzzles, on the other hand, are so easy that I wonder why they’re in the game at all. Yet I enjoy that Paradise Killer doesn’t force me to struggle with arbitrary gameplay. It’s a little tiring to see a screen pop up every time you pick up a collectible, but each one drives home the game’s vaporwave flair. Eventually, I started imitating the Frank Welker Soundwave voice that mutters “Blood Crystal obtained” each time I find one. While the repetitive voice quips each character has can get a little irksome, they add distinct voices to characters who are already colorful and charming.
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This is where I feel obligated to dedicate some of this review to the absolutely phenomenal Paradise Killer soundtrack. It’s one I’m incapable of getting out of my head. It’s also one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve ever listened to, rivaling the quality of beats from NieR: Automata, Persona 5, Undertale, and Final Fantasy XIV — sublime masterpieces (and personal favorites) that incorporate a wide range of genres, yet are consistent in quality from beginning to end.
The songs are often punctuated by beautiful power vocals, blaring saxophones, reverberating drums, or a combination of all three. Its relaxing tracks are wistful and romantic, making you feel like you’re in paradise no matter where you are (or who’s died there). It’s all deeply married to the Paradise Killer aesthetic and heart: undeniably girly and almost seductive despite its universal appeal. It’s the funky, jazzy, and playful city pop album of my dreams.
Paradise Killer as a whole feels like something straight out of a dream. It’s such an eccentric and disarming game; there’s nothing quite like it. I can’t stop thinking about it. Not because the answers to its mysteries left me wanting more, but because it sets out to do everything with a palpable degree of self-assurance. It’s impossible to fit into a single box. You could try saying it’s similar to a game like Danganronpa, but it’s nowhere near as restrictive or linear. Its tone is radically different. It’s influenced by many kinds of games before it yet in a league of its own.
I hope that, like the gods of Paradise, Kaizen Game Works creates new experiences that will only inch closer to perfection. While Paradise Killer isn’t perfect, it comes close enough to make me deeply excited for whatever lies in this developer’s future.