Seeking the Truth in Paradise Killer

I know we all hate BBC’s Sherlock now. Some say it started to investigate its own butthole in the later seasons, some say it was never good. But every episode had an undeniable problem: You couldn’t solve the mystery. Nearly all the best mystery novels and shows and movies have an element of “oh, why didn’t I think of that!” when the detective makes their final deduction, allowing you to put all the pieces together yourself. Though Sherlock arguably succeeded at being an entertaining character study, it could never be a great detective story because it never gives you that chance. I don’t want to be thinking “I wonder how Sherlock’s superhuman brain solves this”, I want to be thinking of all the clues the episode has laid out for me and deducing for myself – and then still being surprised because I missed something too clever for me. 

That’s what makes video games the perfect medium to concoct the perfect detective story. You are the detective, you have to find the clues, and only you can put it all together at the end and present your case. Paradise Killer is that perfect detective story. It holds your hand just enough that you’re never going to get lost and give up but it never leads you to the next clue; that’s for you to seek out and investigate for yourself. The characters all have compelling motivations for committing the murders; it’s your decision whether or not there’s enough evidence to convict them. And if you decide you’ve got all the answers and you know precisely what happened, you can walk to the courthouse at literally any time and present your case – yes, even if you’re woefully wrong. 

Leader Monserrat, Head of the Council – RIP

Paradise Killer’s intro text scroll and basic lore loads you up with so much new and completely, delightfully bizarre information about its absurd world and you just have to trust that it’ll all make sense in the long run. Here’s the gist of it: Mysterious alien gods came to Earth thousands of years ago, each with their own agendas for the fate of humanity. An organization of immortal humans called the Syndicate have kidnapped thousands of mortals to force their participation in psychic worship rituals to resurrect the gods who were killed during the Great Betrayal, a massive deicidal war. These rituals take centuries to complete but they always fail due to demonic corruption, godly betrayal, or simple incompetence. Each ritual takes place on an interdimensional island and must be reset upon failure, killing any remaining humans. “The islands always fail. The islands die and a new Paradise Island is born. The cycle repeats.” We find ourselves in the shoes of Lady Love Dies, a Syndicate detective who was deceived by a god resulting in the corruption of Island Sequence 13 and her subsequent exile. Three million days later, the night before Island Sequence 24 was set to end following its untimely (albeit predictable) corruption, the Syndicate members who lead the island – The Council – are murdered in their chamber. As Lady Love Dies, your job is to interrogate the few remaining island residents and piece together the events that led to this heinous act. Facts are abundant but the truth is precious. Find them both and report your truth to The Judge. Only then can so-called “Perfect 25” begin. 


To start at the end, it’s the way Paradise Killer deals with wrongness that reveals its core philosophy. As soon as you’ve completed its brief intro, Paradise Killer allows you to begin the final trial and accuse whoever you’d like. Whether you’ve found the truth – any version of it – or not, the game will end much the same way. Island 24 ends, Perfect 25 begins, and the world keeps spinning. We know without knowing that Perfect 25 is a myth; no matter who you allow to walk free, the islands will cycle ad infinitum. This nihilism makes the message clear: The truth is yours. There’s no reward for finding the truth other than your own confidence and satisfaction in having found it. The moral ambiguity adds to this wonderfully: do you even want the truth to be found? Let’s not forget that The Council’s job involves rounding up thousands of people like cattle and sacrificing them to resurrect conniving, scheming gods! While other games may have explicit Good Endings or Bad Endings depending on your choices, Paradise Killer eschews that in favour of forcing the player to consider for themselves the “goodness” or “badness” of their results. The other wrinkle: The answer you’re searching for the entire game is impossible to know for sure. You can narrow it down to two (or possibly three?) suspects but there is literally no way to know who committed the actual murders. All you can know is who orchestrated it and who helped, which is far more important but technically not the absolute, complete, unequivocal truth

Grand Marshal Akiko 14 – KNOWN LIAR

The cast of characters – predominantly Syndicate members with crucial roles in the purportedly smooth island operations – provide you with the twisted truths and bald-faced lies that may occasionally lead you to facts. They’re brilliant. As soon as you set foot on the small but dense open world island, you’ll realize that you can visit each of the characters at any point you’d like. This means that what may seem like the truth to one player can be an obvious lie to another player who found conflicting information first. It’s a fantastic way to create the illusion of emergent gameplay, making it feel like your experience is unique based on the choices you’ve made even if that choice involves simply wandering up a distant hill and discovering a clue earlier than someone else might have. It also forces you to constantly keep your detective cap on – the game will keep track of the info you’ve gathered but it’s up to you to figure out how it all fits together and what info conflicts with previously established “facts”. My playthrough in particular felt especially bizarre since I missed an extremely obvious hole in a gate, leaving me without knowledge of how to access two key characters for the majority of the game. Despite this glaring gap in my knowledge and the frustration of listening to characters tell me to ask Akiko this, accuse Henry of that – I don’t know how! – I still felt as though I was piecing together the conspiracy in my own way. When I finally figured out how to talk to them, it was more like I was confirming existing theories I had rather than formulating entirely new ones. It speaks to the genius of the game’s design and the intricacy of its writing that so much information can be gleaned simply by hearing others speak about these characters rather than actually speaking with them myself (especially since Akiko mostly ended up telling me lies anyway). 

I’m no detective. I’d be a crummy one in real life; I have a mediocre memory and I never see the twists coming in movies. But Paradise Killer allowed me to live the lie that I could solve a murder mystery if I wanted to, and finding the truth – even if it’s only my truth – left me totally fulfilled. 

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s