The first thing you see when you open your front door in Paradise Killer is a beautiful villa, filled with pools of inviting blue water. The high walls are decorated with hanging plants and polygonal skulls. This is the tastefully appointed prison of Lady Love Dies, a professional investigator 3 million years into her exile. Her imprisonment comes to an early end when the entire ruling council of her home is seemingly slaughtered, with one strong suspect - maybe too strong - and a mostly deserted island full of motives and secrets.
A 3 million year exile sounds bad, but it's not better than the sentence you'll impose on whoever you find guilty. And it is all up to you. Lady Love Dies is the investigator, and whatever you find out as you play her is what you'll take into the trial at the end of the game. In fact, if you have a strong hunch, you could just start the trial as soon as you meet the judge. But then you'd be missing out on finding your own truth (which is not the same as facts, as Lady Love Dies is quick to point out) by combing the island, searching for clues, and interviewing the remaining inhabitants. Each one could be personally guilty, tangentially involved, or just an innocent bystander.
They're also your friends and colleagues from your life before the exile (time seems to work differently in Paradise), and you shouldn't let this murder business keep you from catching up. Speaking to each of the stragglers/friends/suspects plays out like a visual novel, with multiple topics to address and dialog options coded by their tone - do you want to be [Suspicious] with the skeletal bartender, or do you want to play it cool and keep the tone [Nostalgic]? You'll also discover the occasional Nightmare Computer, which you can hack into by recreating images using a selection of enigmatic glyphs. Computers work differently in Paradise, too.
Listen, and you'll hear it
The island itself is a nostalgic junction of mundane infrastructure, otherworldly architecture, and occult flourishes. A canal runs through a residential district of identical white condos, a quick walk away is a beach with sands pierced by black obelisks, all surrounding a Chernobyl-style cement sarcophagus that mostly contains the corruption of an extremely illegal demonic summoning ritual. You're free to explore wherever, and you can augment your investigative snooping with some light platforming. I'm honestly not sure if I was supposed to find a secret tunnel leading into said demonic containment zone before I was able to properly hack my way inside from the front door, but the light post and fences did abide.
Exploring this mostly empty island of CD-ROM-era sights and sounds took me back to a youth spent in Lego Island and Encarta, just with a bit more (intentional) horror. Even when you aren't stumbling upon dark secrets that will inform who walks and who dies at the final trial, the corners and cliffs of the island will yield other objects of interest: relics that remind Lady Love Dies of previous attempts at paradise, Blood Crystals that you can spend as currency for everything from soft drinks to computer upgrades, and cassette tapes that let you play in-game music wherever you want, to name a few.
Sometimes a perfectly composed soundtrack is the cherry on top of a well-made game. Paradise Killer's soundtrack is the ice in its whiskey highball - the chilled-cool ingredient that melts everything together. Reverberating, lo-fi vaporwave beats alternately soothe and unnerve you as each part of the island plays its own background track. This is the closest a video game has ever come to feeling like walking through the cover of Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus/Vektroid while also being something you actually want to play.
I haven't worked up the courage to start the final trial of Paradise Killer yet. While some of the islanders are friendlier than others, I don't want any of them to die, really. Why does it always take a mass murder to bring the gang back together? And to be honest, I'm enjoying the vibe way too much to want this party at the end of the world to end. I have more investigating to do before I'm confident in my convictions, and I still have a handful of leads to follow up on the next time I return to Paradise.
Paradise Killer is available now on Steam (opens in new tab) and Nintendo Switch (opens in new tab).