Disclosure: This game was provided to us for free by Kaizen Game Works for the purpose of review. This article was supplied for us by Ian Mallard and Caitlyn Bowers
Paradise Killer is an unabashedly weird game developed by Kaizen Game Works. In it, you play as Lady Love Dies, an investigator brought to Island 24 after centuries of exile to investigate the slaughter of your old bosses and thus ‘breathe life back into paradise.’
It’s a lot to take in. With its out worldly lore, clashing visuals, and unique combination of game mechanics, Paradise Killer truly sets itself apart from other games in the genre, for better and for worse. It’s a game with highs and lows that can best be described as ‘experimental.’
Starting Paradise Killer, the first thing you will notice is that the character art is gorgeous. The artists did amazing jobs jam-packing each sprite with character and charm, and that is evident as soon as the protagonist Lady Love Dies graces the screen.
The second you move is when the visuals take a nosedive; the 3D models look cheap compared to the hand-drawn art. Add on motion blur and what look like pre-bought assets, the graphics become reminiscent of free to play horror games. While the graphics can be gotten used to, they simply don’t live up to the game’s art. Despite these shortcomings, the game is able to create engaging environments, combining aesthetics of ancient Egypt, space, modern technology, and eldritch horror.
Sound design is also a mixed bag. All the non-verbal sounds (music, UI, world) are great, the music is fantastic, and every jazzy track made traversing the open world feel less empty. The sounds built into the UI are nice and crisp, and lo-fi ringtones are always welcome. Aside from minor hitches like slightly mistimed rain audio and the save points playing a notification sound every time the player goes near one, non-verbal sound design is spot-on.
Verbal audio on the other hand has numerous issues. While the recording quality for voice lines isn’t perfect, it’s serviceable; it’s the usage of the voice lines that cause problems. Characters often speak out loud while their text appears, but their spoken lines only rarely match their actual text. Even worse, their spoken lines don’t even match the mood that the text is going for, which results in contradictory messaging to the player. This is a confusing oversight given that the game comes with a wide array of accessibility features, but the voice lines are more likely to mislead someone who relies on audio more than text. Obviously, it would have been taxing to record every single line in the game, so the next best step would have been to implement mood appropriate interjections as is typical in visual novels.
Similar investigation games (see Ace Attorney, Dangan Ronpa) are built episodically with each episode having an investigation phase and a trial phase. Meanwhile, Paradise Killer has an elongated investigation phase and a trial that covers several cases in rapid-fire succession.
Unfortunately, the investigation phase gets largely blindsided by the collect-a-thon of Blood Stones and soda cans. Due to both fast-travel and key pieces of evidence being locked behind these collectables, it ends up being more practical to find them all before really digging into the story. It took me roughly 7 hours to start the game and collect everything on the island which took up more than half of the 13 total hours. Those last 6 hours consisted of the investigation – talking to characters to get their testimony, increasing their friendship, and unlocking further dialogue options to bring up with other characters – and the trial itself where the player uses the evidence they’ve collected to prove whodunnit.
In terms of game mechanics, Paradise Killer throws in a variety of mechanics that don’t necessarily mesh well, including platforming, hacking minigames, and multi-button puzzles. Platforming can be frustrating at times due to the first-person view, lack of ledge grab or climb mechanics, and non-cancellable momentum, but it eventually gets easier with a double-jump and an air-dash – the last mechanics I would have imagined in an investigation game.
Hacking minigames are easy and often reuse the same solutions; adding more solutions or even simply adding a timer would have given these minigames more weight. The multi-button puzzles are actually fairly difficult but easily conquered by brute force. The previously mentioned fast-travel system not only costs the player one of the finite bloodstones per unlock and use, but it also cannot be accessed from the map menu, meaning the player must walk to a fast-travel station or hold ‘R’ to respawn at the local station.
Meanwhile, the 2D portions of the game are simply fantastic. While speaking to suspects, the game keeps a text log for easy rereading and any accidental clicking-too-fast and even highlights key information that is then stored in the case menu, a menu that every investigation game should aspire to have. Each case and suspect has a folder that automatically updates evidence, testimony, alibis, motives, and ‘alibi breakers.’ Next to the case menu is an incredibly handy timeline that sorts testimony by timestamp. The only misstep with the menu is that the map does not show other characters’ locations (despite the player being able to see how far away they are using x-ray vision) and doesn’t give the player a cardinal orientation which makes it harder to navigate the island on foot.
Where Paradise Killer shines the brightest is its story. The lore, while overwhelming at first, is intriguing to the point that I wish there was a menu tab just to read about the different gods and historical events. The rest of the in-game story had me completely hooked on its characters to the point that I was interested in every single one’s backstory and relationships. My attachment culminated in a real feeling of anxiety as I started the trial knowing that at least one of the friends I’d made while investigating was going to meet a bullet.
The game tackles surprisingly heavy themes like the cyclical nature of human beings in their pursuit of perfection, and how justice is to be served in an unjust society. The world of Paradise Killer pushes the player to question the morality of Island 24 and even of Lady Love Dies. From beginning to end, Paradise Killer delivers a deep and intriguing world to dig into.
Lady Love Dies’ mantra is that “the facts and the truth are not the same.” This could not be more true for Paradise Killer. The fact is, the game is a jumbled mess of visuals, audio, and game mechanics. The truth? It won me over entirely with its world, characters, and story.
Mixed in with all the clutter, Paradise Killer has a core game that is beautiful, funny, and absorbing. The more time passes, the more I miss the wacky world and characters of Island 24. The positives far outweigh the negatives, but they show that Kaizen Game Works could have delivered a much more polished and compact game by cutting out the open-world mechanics in favour of a more standard visual novel. Doing so would cut the downtime, allow for more purposeful visuals, and would make the game more accessible and portable to mobile devices. That being said, I have no regrets with my time in paradise, and I look forward to whatever Kaizen Game Works has in store next.
Paradise Killer is available on Steam for £15.49.