Paradise Killer is a challenging game to sum up in a few sentences. It’s a high concept experience in both story and gameplay. The first few minutes are an infodump featuring an island of immortal weirdos trying to create a perfect paradise and resurrect their dead alien gods. Every paradise eventually falls to demonic corruption, forcing them to scrap it all and retry again and again. You awaken on the last days of the 24th sequence, as the exiled investigator Lady Love Dies.
When you take control, what follows is a blend of visual novel storytelling and first-person exploration. Lady Love Dies is pulled out of exile to solve a murder. The suspects consist of old friends and colleagues, and evidence is strewn across a surreal, massive island paradise. The game exists in an impossible space between Phoenix Wright and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, where long interrogations are broken up by time spent jumping around on Vaporwave-inspired apartment rooftops and beaches in search of collectibles.
It feels like a love letter to a genre that only exists in my mind.
Years ago, at the height of the Xbox 360, when dozens of indie games were being released by almost anyone who wanted to make a game, I would sample the timed demos of every single one. Some of my favorites were the polygonal 3D games. They were rarely good, barely playable, but always evocative. Low-polygon design and unnatural lighting gave these genuine attempts at realism a surrealist quality, like everyday life filtered through the eyes of David Lynch.
Paradise Killer looks and plays like a game inspired by those weird, broken ambitions. In an older 3D game your mind would fill in the gaps of the abstract layout, but here the layout is intentionally surreal.
This off-kilter quality made the exploration and platforming just as fun as the storytelling. Paradise Killer has a dense plot, with many twists and turns as you search for the truth. Being able to step away from that for a bit and jump around on some rooftops—all the while obtaining bits of world-building and clues—broke up the pacing in a way I wish I could do in more visual novels.
As you explore and chat up the suspects, the game assaults the eyes with colorful, wild UI elements. Every collectible you obtain and every clue you discover comes with its own bit of Lisa Frank-esque pink and purple fonts and visuals. Real world photography blends with pixelated clip art as a relentlessly catchy soundtrack launches into an unexpected saxophone solo.
All that aesthetic charm wouldn’t mean much if the story fell flat, but that’s not a worry here. Paradise Killer’s central mystery is a wild, meandering conspiracy that had me guessing and chewing on my own theories until every last clue was obtained. I played extremely thoroughly, but you can take your evidence and begin the final trial at any time.
Part of what makes the investigation work so well is that despite all the demonic possessions and millennium-long relationships, the trial is ultimately about motive, alibis, and evidence. Not only does it all come together brilliantly, but it’s satisfying even if you don’t have all the answers. The story allows for multiple outcomes without ever feeling arbitrary. You may not collect all the facts, you may miss some key detail, but you can still come away with a satisfying version of the truth.
I look back at this game and it feels impossible. It is an unbelievable blend of genres and style that nevertheless exudes confidence and purpose. It feels like a gift laser-focused to my specific tastes, something truly special and personally unforgettable.