Paradise Killer Review
Odds are, you have never played a game like Paradise Killer. It is truly a genre-bender: both an open-world platforming collectathon and visual novel detective game. You play as Lady Love Dies (nicknamed LD, which I kept reading as Larry David as he shares that nickname in Curb Your Enthusiasm), an investigator who has been punished for mistakes made on one of the previous iterations of Paradise Island. It isn’t exactly simple to summarise the lore-heavy setting of the game, but it’s an island ruled by immortal, religious elites who are collectively called the Syndicate, who use lowly humans as sacrifices at the end of each island cycle to power the rebirth of the next island. You’re investigating a murder that happened as the 24th island was about to collapse and become the 25th island. The game is filled with convoluted backstory, which can feel intimidating at first until you adjust to its rhythm. You also have a handy computer organiser that conveniently lists evidence and information about the game’s rich history that you can consult at any time.
As an investigator, you hop around Paradise Island hunting for clues and currency — which can be spent on more clues, collectibles, and to fast travel — and then consulting the game’s rogue’s gallery of suspects on their motives, alibis, opinions on the murder and of other characters, and other miscellenea. The game starts off slow and perplexing, as it truly is open-world and doesn’t require you to do anything to progress — you can go to trial right off the bat if you so desire, though you will get a bad ending — but once you get your bearings and go through the entirety of the island once or twice you’ll figure out how to direct the investigation. Each section of the island is distinct and has its own suspect or big structure to explore. I did not expect the platforming to feel as great as it does, and once you upgrade your jump into a double jump you’ll really be blitzing around the island. There’s also a terrific sense of verticality in the game, and you can really be creative in how to get around, and even jump over some obstacles and puzzles if you find the right angle. You can’t die or lose, even if you fall into deep water you’re transported to the closest save point. The game is like Breath of the Wild where anything that looks interesting or like it holds a secret does have some sort of reward, and you’ll rarely feel gipped for exploring every little nook and cranny of the game.
The fast travel system could have been improved, however. You have to pay a blood crystal — the unit of currency and most consistent collectible — to travel between a restrictive set of telephone save points that you must have spent a blood crystal on to unlock. The fast travel map also doesn’t really list suspects or points of interest so you have to guess from memory how close you think a location is to the thing or person you were actually looking for. This feels needlessly time consuming and like artificial padding, especially near the “end” of the game where you’re really having to go from suspect to suspect to get those last bits of information.
Paradise Killer is clearly inspired by the Phoenix Wright series — and Suda51’s games — with its characters and conversations. Each suspect has their own quirky personality and style of quips, and you go down a list of conversation topics with each one to find more information. You can ask them more questions when you have more evidence. There’s also the option to “Hang out” with them, and if you do that enough times they might tell you a juicy bit of gossip or give you a collectible. There’s absolutely no downside to just hitting every dialogue option the game throws at you, and even in the hangout portions your relationship will increase no matter what you respond. You can be incredibly mean, or even accuse them directly of being a murderer, and they’ll still continue to talk to you and your relationship will increase. The dialogue options you have are typically vague, and often you’ll pick one and then LD will make a logical leap or say something that you absolutely did not intend. Another issue I had — which reveals some cracks in the open-world design of the game — is that LD may have already learned a crucial bit of information or have evidence of something from one suspect and then have a conversation with a different suspect where they go over the same information. It’s jarring as LD acts shocked like she heard it from the first time. I wish the conversations were updated as you progressed through the game. Another issue with the laid-back structure of PK is that it can feel listless and low-stakes. The characters themselves are funny and memorable, sometimes silly and vulgar, and each also has a few ridiculous, voice-acted lines. However, everyone is too cool to take the plot of the game very seriously. After all, they’re immortal. As such it never really felt impressed upon me why I was working so hard to solve this particular crime.
All of your investigation work in the game is building up to a trial where you prove your theories on who the culprit is and cast aspersions on the suspects. It’s disappointing, then, that the mechanics of the actual trial are rather thin and have you spending your time repeating information you’re most likely already aware of to a judge more than happy to take your side on everything. There isn’t much in terms of animated meltdowns, cutthroat back-and-forth dialogue, betrayal, or learning new information about the crimes. This is starkly different from the aforementioned Phoenix Wright games, where the trials proceed in meticulously dramatic and explosive ways, culminating in the most memorable scenes of the games. The trial in Paradise Killer, by contrast, feels like the videogame equivalent of a tacked-on essay conclusion to meet a word count. Hilariously — or perhaps embarrassingly — there is a minor character that I didn’t discover during my playthrough that just so happened to be the real perpetrator of one of the crimes on trial. I accused the wrong suspect, and when the judge determined that I was full of shit, an image flashed on the screen with the name and face of someone I had not met declaring them guilty. While it was obvious from context who they were in the grander scheme of the story, it would have been nice for the game to respond to this major screw-up on my part in a more dynamic way. In the game’s world, nobody should have known who this secret person was, and yet everyone just accepted that this person was guilty of a crime.
Screenshots may not perfectly indicate how much Paradise Killer works on a visual level. While it’s blocky and can sometimes look like an old Starsiege: Tribes level if you’re standing still, there’s a smoothness and fluidity to everything that makes it look great in motion. The design is outstanding, and each area of Paradise Island has its own vibe and iconography. During the first few hours of the game, it can feel awe-inspiring to find new heights and look off in the distance to where you want to go next. Almost every important site in the game can be seen from far away. Stylistically, the game cribs from ancient Egyptian designs, art deco, Miami Vice, anime, and 80’s sci-fi. Characters are drawn in a 2D, cartoony style, and stand flat against their environments like Paper Mario characters. They’re very expressive during conversations, but I was disappointed that there weren’t more specific meltdown or argumentative animations during the trial. There is some heavy pop-in, but the game otherwise runs like a dream.
The soundtrack is filled with absolute bangers, ranging from synth-heavy more ambient tracks, to more jazz-funk Steely Dan knockoffs, to Italo-disco and more. You can also switch tracks on the D-Pad at any point of the game. The game does take a rather odd route where it forces you to collect the second half of the soundtrack in-game by discovering these towers that broadcast music. I spent the first few hours of the game exploring areas that had relatively few towers, and I would have preferred having more music from the outset, I felt like I was kind of forced to listen to the same tracks over and over, and that there was no reason having access to more tracks should be an unlockable. In any case, I had many of the game’s songs stuck in my head when I wasn’t playing, and even at one point cooked food while having the game’s shimmering, soothing menu music playing in the background. I’d be surprised if this soundtrack didn’t go down as a classic.
Even with some significant flaws, I was enraptured by the world of Paradise Killer and found myself enjoying almost every moment of the game. I played from beginning to end excited to see where it would go next, interested in the different facets and workings of this alternate dimension island, and curious where my relationships with these silly people would go. I wanted to see more when I was finished, and I will play whatever the team that made this comes out with in the future. It’s a game that’s at turns ridiculous and ambitious — perhaps overly so — and is an absolute blast to play. I can’t recommend this sinister island vacation enough.
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