There are strong openings, there are memorable openings, and then there is the opening of Paradise Killer. It is a sequence which sets the stage for the journey that lies ahead so perfectly that it doesn’t just make an entrance, it grabs your attention, invites you in warmly, and just as your mind begins to process all of the slightly off-kilter decorations in the house, it Sparta-kicks you over the precipice of an inter-dimensional portal and you begin your slow descent into the otherworldly. Notably, this is not too far removed from the actual sequence of events in Paradise Killer‘s first five minutes, but it the overall effect is simultaneously immersive and bewildering, and by the time your feet hit the ground, you’ve no choice but to accept the mysterious world you’ve stumbled into, and the role you have to play in it.
Playing as Lady Love Dies, an investigator who has spent the past three million days in exile from Paradise for consorting with the gods, you have been brought back to investigate the untimely murder of The Syndicate, a council of immortals responsible for creating, maintaining, and destroying each iteration of Paradise every few millennia, as they aspires to achieve total perfection. Of course, Paradise isn’t just any ordinary island, and these aren’t just any ordinary immortals. Paradise itself is the full realization of a sun-drenched, unapologetically neon, vaporwave-as-lifestyle civilization that influences every aspect of the geography, architecture, decor, and even celestial patterns. It is an utterly surreal mix of tropical vistas, monumental brutalist temples, Roman columns and busts, opulent gold finishes, and unnaturally colored but beautiful skylines. It’s a lavish experience that will leave you awash in the sense of being out of time and place, like a really good trip.
This is further supported by a motley cast of characters that feel homage in equal parts to greek mythology, and peak 90s dystopian future anime. While each character you’ll meet is fully individual in motivations and personality, they all share the same laissez-faire attitude toward life and existence in general that one might naturally develop as an immortal being, along with a level of comfort and confidence in their own sexuality that frankly every person should aspire to. These folks aren’t just horny, they clearly embrace sex and love as an essential part of simply being, which is made clear by their outfits, their attitudes, and the very energy they put forth into the world around them. There’s also a level of subtle aggression bubbling under the surface of most conversations (if not overtly dominating them) that lend a sense of never being sure if the person you’re talking to wants to bed you or kill you. Or maybe both? Don’t get me wrong, this is all wonderful in the context of the story and the setting, and it adds yet another vital layer to the overall sense of indulgence experienced by playing Paradise Killer.
In between having conversations with and interrogating Paradise’s inhabitants, you’ll spend a lot of your time just walking around and taking in the sights, looking for hidden paths and collectible items scattered about, and generally immersing yourself. For as much fun as it is to engage with the characters and investigation (of which there is plenty to enjoy), I repeatedly found myself lost in bouts of wandering around Paradise, taking in the incredible spectacle and having an absolute blast finding my way around every nook and cranny of the island on the hunt for secrets and collectibles. Exploration is a huge component of the Paradise Killer, to the extent that there is a large amount of environmental storytelling and investing time into Paradise is investing further into the immersion. I often struggle with the push and pull of story progression and world exploration in games, but Paradise Killer masterfully sidesteps this problem with its well written dialogue that emphasizes the gravitas of the situation at hand while also downplaying the urgency typically present. Some characters will absolutely try to push you toward wrapping things up, but it’s clear this is from a place of serving their own interests, and Lady Love Dies masterfully and deliberately deflects all attempts to cut short her meticulous process. That the game’s protagonist is an active ally in the player’s enjoyment of the experience is a welcome and frankly seldom-seen tactic that frankly most games could learn from. As such, you can truly play through Paradise Killer at whatever pace you like, and never once feel rushed or hindered, which is vital to fully embracing the experience of Paradise.
Of course, it isn’t enough that everything about how Paradise Killer looks will transport you to another dimension; the game features a soundtrack that feels conjured by the very essence of 90s-era SEGA arcade and disc systems, with bouncy synth jams and enough real sax and fake-ass MIDI horns to transport you right back to the idealized memoryscape of what video games promised life could be like. It is a love letter to everything about Japanese video games from the mid-90s and it is truly the perfect backdrop to underscore this dreamlike, bizarre, engrossing murder mystery. It is impossible to adequately describe just how much this soundtrack slaps, and you’d do well to go give it a listen yourself as the jams alone may be enough to convince you to play Paradise Killer in case none of the aforementioned had done so already.
Paradise Killer checks a lot of my favorite boxes. There’s an exciting and strange world to explore, there’s a strong cast of characters to get to know, a solid mystery to solve, and enough throwback references to 90s-era technology and eclectic iconography thrown in to create something that feels nostalgic and completely alien all at once. I’ve honestly never experienced a game quite like this one, and it’s one of the easiest recommendations I’ve been able to make in some time, especially if you relish in the weird. It’s a delight to get lost in Paradise, which leaves a lasting impression in almost every way imaginable.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes