3 Years Later, Paradise Killer Is Still the Most Stylish Murder Mystery Ever
Solving a crime has never looked better.
“Press the Left Trigger to highlight clues!”
For how often games cast you as a detective or focus on solving mysteries, it’s strange how banal the process usually feels. In recent years, games like Return of the Obra Dinn and The Case of the Golden Idol have put a far more satisfying spin on detective work by requiring thought and investigation rather than just following onscreen prompts. One game celebrating its third anniversary this September did the same — and added sex, demonic cults, an incredible soundtrack, and style to spare.
In Paradise Killer, the first and so far only game from Kaizen Game Works, you play as Lady Love Dies, a detective who’s called out of retirement to investigate a particularly grisly murder. Pretty typical detective stuff, except that “retirement” was an eternal exile of which Lady Love Dies has served 3 million days (or 8,213 years) and the victims are a group of misanthropic immortals who rule over a paradise resort in an alternate dimension that reconfigures itself every few thousand years.
Not so typical.
Paradise Killer wastes no time pulling you into its bizarre world. After a text crawl lays out the premise, you watch a conversation between two strangers in a bar after the events of the game, then awaken in your room, where you have a chat with a blue, jackal-headed demon. To start your investigation, you simply jump from your floating cell miles above the island as a sweet vaporwave tune plays and fall back home.
Once you touch down, you’re free to roam the island as you see fit to solve the murder of the millennium. The facts are simple — at least, as simple as anything can be on Paradise Island. The ruling council known as the Syndicate has been killed behind locked doors on the eve of a ritual that will see kidnapped humans sacrificed to destroy the island and raise a better one from the ashes, and the prime suspect is a victim of demonic possession. Simple.
To piece together what happened, you’ll have to speak to Paradise Killer’s cast of deeply strange and mostly off-putting characters. A religious zealot who never removes his mask, a walking skeleton who runs the best bar in town, a goat-headed woman blessed by the gods. These are the citizens of Paradise Island, with names like Crimson Acid and Dr. Doom Jazz to match their out-there designs. As charming (and extremely hot) as many of them are, they’re all part of a system that’s profited off the death of innocents for thousands of years. But hey, so has Lady Love Dies, so who are you to judge?
Solving the case means needling the island’s inhabitants until they spill their secrets. From mundane details like who saw them last to the intricacies of Paradise Island’s arcane politics, you’ll need to internalize it all to solve the case.
Paradise Killer involves a lot of wandering and backtracking as you comb the island for clues and re-examine suspects after one of their fellow citizens let something slip. But it hardly ever becomes a bore, thanks largely to just how weird and dense the story is. Characters’ backstories span thousands of years, and they throw surreal concepts and inscrutable proper nouns at you in every conversation. Paradise Killer trusts you to keep all this absurdity straight, and before long you may somehow find yourself understanding it just as well as Lady Love Dies.
The most thrilling part of Paradise Killer is putting together the clues yourself, getting a handle on what’s really going on here, only for a new revelation to shatter your vision of the truth. Again and again, you’ll have to follow your own instincts to dig up evidence and be ready to toss it all out when you find contradictions.
In the end, you’re responsible for executing the culprits of the murder, after sufficiently making your case to the spirit of justice known as the Judge. Even then, you’re free to choose which evidence you present and how you interpret it, meaning the truth of the island is up in the air until you pull the trigger.
Three years after its release, Paradise Killer is still unmatched in how well it puts you in the mind of its lead investigator. Nothing is ever handed to you, and you’ll find yourself making tough decisions about who to believe and who to punish — particularly if the facts cast doubt on someone you’ve come to like. It does it all with a style no one has touched since, leaving Paradise Killer still in a league of its own.
Paradise Killer is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC.