The incredibly stylish Paradise Killer is our Best Adventure Game of 2020. We'll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Andy Kelly: Paradise Killer came outta nowhere and single-handedly reinvented the detective genre. The first project from indie studio Kaizen Gameworks, this is a detective game that lets you actually detect. You’re presented with a crime, a densely detailed island full of clues and suspects, and you can go to court and present your case whenever you like. This freeform structure is bold, but it pays off. A single, well-hidden clue can completely transform the version of events you’ve built up in your head, and it’s even possible to pin the crime on the wrong person if you missed something. The game won’t even tell you if you got it wrong; you just have to live with it, like a real detective would.
You play as Lady Love Dies, a disgraced investigator brought out of exile to investigate a mass murder. But the deeper you dig into the crime, the island, and its eccentric inhabitants, the more the waters are muddied. It's a big, dense, complex conspiracy, and it's your job to untangle it by finding evidence, poking holes in testimonies, and breaking alibis, which you can do in any order, at your own pace. It has elements of the Phoenix Wright and Danganronpa games, but also more esoteric influences, including Goichi Suda’s mind-bending Killer7, and those chill videos on YouTube where people strap on a GoPro and walk through the streets of Tokyo at night. It’s a weird game by people who love weird games, but not in the sense that it’s full of lame wink-to-camera references. The developer taps into the essence of its oddball inspirations and creates something completely unique with it.
As well as being a great detective game, Paradise Killer is also an audio/visual feast. The vivid art style, outlandish character designs, idiosyncratic writing, and superb soundtrack—inspired by ‘90s videogames and Japanese city pop—combine to create one of the most visually and aurally stimulating games I’ve played in years. It’s also deeply, deeply weird. This is a mythical fantasy world of gods and demons, but also blandly contemporary, with convenience stores and apartment blocks sitting alongside immense crystal statues of goat-headed deities. Like the soundtrack, it’s a dazzling fusion of styles that gives the game a completely unique—and impossibly cool—identity.
The first time I presented my case to court, I was convinced I’d hoovered up every last morsel of evidence on the island. But the outcome was far from satisfying, as half a dozen characters I loved ended up being executed. I wasn’t sure, but I felt like something was wrong, so I loaded an earlier save and looked for more clues. Then I found something that completely turned my case on its head; the smoking gun that every detective dreams of. I returned to court and watched things play out in a shockingly different—and less traumatic—way. Paradise Killer sets a new bar for detective games, and does it with a singular, eccentric style. It’s also one of a very small number of videogames whose soundtrack I’ve bought on vinyl. The music is that good.
Jody Macgregor: A lot of mysteries present the investigator as an outsider who has to understand the community a crime took place before they can figure out whodunnit. Paradise Killer makes that a real challenge by being set in a community unlike any other: Paradise.
Paradise is an island run by a council of immortals who abduct ordinary people to populate it, hoping to use those people's psychic energy to resurrect their gods. Every time they've tried in the past they've failed, usually thanks to the interference of demons, and so they keep trying again, sacrificing each batch of kidnapped mortals and making a different island with different people every few thousand years or so.
It's a bizarre place, and so are the immortals who make up its main cast. They have names like Lydia Day Break, Grand Marshal Akiko 14, and Doctor Doom Jazz, and exaggerated personalities to go with them, all jaded and twisted by their long lives. None of them have easy motivations like wanting to collect the life insurance—it's all dead alien god conspiracies and demonic possession. Paradise Killer expects you to really dig into its oddness to figure out what's going on there, but it's written well enough that you'll actually want to do that.