Paradise Killer is a Christian summer camp without a god. The game seems to be in service of a greater, abstract theme; spirituality permeates everything. But also, maybe, it might not exist.
There is no savior or even one true religion, and the keepers of Paradise know this. The land is populated with expendable believers to extract their energy. These Citizen’s belief makes the "Old Gods" real, and player belief is what's required to make the game great.
As an investigator and traitor who's been in exile for 3 million days (over 8,000 years), Lady Love Dies is tasked with solving penultimate problems that plague Paradise 024, which prevent passage into Perfect 025.
Society here is defined around worship and religion, something typically associated with rituals and ceremonies. And these rules clearly exist, but the details are unimportant. Everything in this universe just works, so don't worry about it. Paradise has been found just one island away; Love Dies is here to tie up loose ends.
The Syndicate has been creating islands for a long time now, over and over again in search of a final, perfect version; a perfect world using religious fervor ruled by head honchos known as The Council. Citizens, a.k.a sacrificial faith pumps, are executed at the end of each island while The Syndicate lives among the multitude of living, presumably breathing, deities as a pseudo-bourgeois class.
But on the eve of transition, all members of The Council have been murdered. With a suspect already in custody, it’s up to Love Dies to befriend/accuse a literally colorful cast of characters and judge who is responsible for mucking this all up.
It's easy to be enthralled by this quirky Japanese vaporwave detective game. Egyptian prayer stations to spray blood into sit beside giant goat tentacle statues. East Asian influences abound from the mascot characters to the signs in Katakana. The relationship this game maintains to the real world is mostly voyeuristic, pretty, and at worst orientalist.
The open-world feels smooth to run around in, and the required platforming works well enough. Character design is diverse and sexy. We have:
Love Dies builds relationships with all of them, slowly extracting the story of Paradise over time. The dialogue is long and typically summarized at the end as an evidence log, which was always necessary. I wanted to hear from the likes of Witness and Doctor Doom Jazz, but exploring Yuri Night and Carmelina Silence felt like a slog, even during plot-heavy interactions.
Solving the murder became secondary to me about 30 minutes in, as the island is overwhelming and littered with collectibles. Questions like what happened on previous Paradises come up in flavor text and left me wanting more. Items like Coupons given to Citizens for two minutes in a footbath are narratively heavy but ambiguous.
My longing carried Paradise Killer in a way games typically fail to do. Discoveries felt important at surreptitious times, even though I had little direction. There is a significance in the unknown, which feels different from Danganronpa or Zero Escape. Yes, there is a singular sequence of events and a guilty party, but responsibility is up to the player. There are many, many endings, and most of them are "true". If the evidence is lacking, there will be no justice. Not that there was any, to begin with.
Like the masterpiece Return of the Obra Dinn, Paradise Killer is a narrative exploration game. Ignoring the main question reveals the story. Beautiful environments challenge the player at all times through paradoxically big/small details like ghosts on the beach or Doctor Doom Jazz’s boat house.
This island is tortuous for some of the people, and utopia for the other. Solving the case cannot fix what needs fixing; the sadistic, patronizing, vain cabal at the very top.
There is a supposition required for Paradise Killer that feels like blind faith. The game is silly and needlessly verbose. The cultural markers can seem hamfisted. But like in a lot of stories and faiths, these flaws must be ignored. Wrapping dystopian oligarchies in pink and blue marble busts got my attention. Rapturing citizens from 1000 AD and giving them metal arms gave me amusement. And when the story pays off, it’s revealed to be as shallow as the detective game structure it’s based on.
The blessing and curse of this game is the lack of an ending. In a way, this is what life is like. Not satisfying, and deeply flawed in a way that should be celebrated. Paradise Killer, like the island it’s set on, pushes forward what’s possible in game narratives. But you have to believe in them for it to work.
For more opinions on games like this, check out my Walking Simulator article series.