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Paradise Killer is a boldly-stylized mystery investigation that hooked me from the start

With its Vaporwave-meets-Vice-City aesthetic and Dreamcast-era art style, Paradise Killer is a tough game to categorize. It’s one part exploration and collection, one part visual novel, and one part mystery adventure, all infused with a generous layer of “weird” — and I absolutely loved it!

The game takes only a few short moments to give you the setup — the entire ruling council has been murdered in the night, and there’s only a handful of people left on the island as suspects — then you are given free-reign to start exploring the island paradise, talking to the suspects, finding clues, and gathering collectibles. It’s Phoenix Wright meets something like Outer Wilds or Return of the Obra Dinn, where the story organically unfolds through your exploration and the discoveries you piece together along the way.

I’m not usually one to connect with games that require you to learn a lot of proper nouns, lore, and in-universe jargon, but Paradise Killer’s commitment to its style and quality writing manage to make its exposition and lore dumps intriguing and inviting. The writing is snappy and quick, never giving you more than you need at a time, while cleverly (and non-linearly) dropping the breadcrumbs of the story.

A major highlight for me were the characters. They’re all incredibly distinct, from their visual appearance to their personalities, to the voice the writing gives their dialogue. The bold approach to character design that Paradise Killer takes makes every suspect immediately memorable and identifiable — a god-send for a game that asks you to put so many pieces together — and with names like “Crimson Acid”, “Lydia Daybreak”, and “Doctor Doom Jazz”, they’re hard to forget!

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But ultimately the game is about solving a crime, and in that regard I think it delivers. While every suspect has at least some evidence pointing against them, exploration and thoroughness are rewarded with surprising twists and turns, painting a detailed portrait of what actually happened while still leaving enough gaps and red herrings that you’re never really sure until you’ve presented your case at the game’s closing trial — a wonderful culmination of your work to that point, and an event that you can technically begin at any time; starting the trial could be the first and only thing you do in Paradise Killer, if you really wanted to!

The main criticism I hear about Paradise Killer is with the collectibles side of things. There are hundreds of little tokens scattered all over the place, some of which you need as currency to get certain unlocks or information. I personally got super into the collecting. I found it really peaceful to just kind of zen out and vibe with the

while poking around in all the nooks and crannies for the telltale audio glitches that signalled a pickup. That being said, I totally understand how this part would rub people the wrong way. There are some areas that are pretty confusing to navigate, and it took me a while to form my mental map of the island (the in-game map is pretty bad). Just know that you don’t have to collect all that much to actually see everything the game has to offer!

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All in all, Paradise Killer was exactly my shit, and despite sharing almost nothing in common with them, it still somehow sits at the weird cross-section of whatever it is that games like Outer Wilds, Return of the Obra Dinn, and Disco Elysium share, in a spiritual sense. The free-form approach of interacting with a story at your own pace, chasing the leads that interest you in the moment as you fill in the gaps and form a mental picture of events is extremely satisfying, and I’m happy to count Paradise Killer as one of my personal favourites from this past year of intensive pandemic gaming!


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