My review of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code could end with a single description: “The Danganronpa devs trying to make their own version of Persona 5.” It’s about as perfect a summary of a video game as you could get. But to end things there would undersell what is.
Master Detective Archives starts with the greatest mystery of all: amnesia. The protagonist is Yuma Kokohead, a young member of the World Detective Organization (WDO), who awakens in a closet with no memory of his life. He is joined by a ghostly presence called Shinigami, who tells Yuma that he traded his memories for his assistance.
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Key Details
- Developer- Spike Chunsoft, Too Kyo Games
- Platforms – Nintendo Switch
- Release Date – 30th June 2023
- Price- $59.99/£49.99
Entering The Deadly World Of A Master Detective
Yuma doesn’t have long to ruminate on this new development as he rushes to catch a train with fellow Detectives, which quickly results in a grisly murder that needs solving. It turns out that the WDO is not that popular with the powerful Amateratsu Corporation, with Yuma sent to the city of Kanai Ward to solve mysteries tied to the Amateratsu and its members.
Master Detective Archives splits the game into chapters that focus on individual mysteries. These chapters are broken into detective segments, where the player must explore their surroundings and talk to suspects, gathering as much information as possible about the crime committed in the area. Yuma isn’t going to be solving mysteries with just clues and evidence, however, as he has the ability to target his foes from within their own minds.
Yuma might struggle to regain his detective skills at first, but he has a powerful ally in Shinigami, who has the power to create a “Mystery Labyrinth” when faced with a deadly mystery. In this world, Shinigami transforms from a ghost into an attractive woman, wielding the power of a death god. It’s in this deadly Mystery Labyrinth that Yuma can uncover mystical Solution Keys by reexamining their clues and questioning monstrous recreations of their suspects in order to break the spirit of the guilty party.
If all of this is sounding like Danganronpa’s gameplay but with the Metaverse and Mind Palaces from Persona 5, then you’d be right. Master Detective Archives wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and those who have experienced the adventures of the Phantom Thieves of Heart will find familiar ground here. This doesn’t detract from the experience in terms of gameplay, but it does make the concept feel less unique, especially in terms of its execution and aesthetics.
Merging Visual Novel & Adventure Game Story With Action Gameplay & QTEs
Master Detective Archives shares an issue with Persona 5 in that it has long story sections and interrupted long gameplay segments. The scenes in the real world often involve lengthy dialogue sequences, with my Nintendo Switch going into power-saving mode when left alone with the auto-text progression switched on. It’s a shame that exploring the crime scenes doesn’t have much interaction, with them feeling like very basic point-and-click adventures at times.
Fortunately, the world and characters of Master Detective Archives are the main draw, with the supernatural setting and evil ruling corporation providing an excellent backdrop for the crime-solving, providing an excellent framework for an overarching story and new enemies for Yuma to face over time .
Where Master Detective Archives shines is in the Mystery Labyrinth sections, as this is where the most unique visuals come into play and where most of the conventional gameplay sequences happen. The Mystery Labyrinths are broken into minigame sections, where the player must use their knowledge about the crime scene to complete QTEs or perform basic combat scenes while countering the enemy’s blows with sword blows infused by facts.
Unfortunately, Yuma cannot remain in the mystical realm forever, so the player has a Stamina meter that lowers whenever they screw up. Luckily, the Stamina meter is generous and can be increased, so I never felt worried about dying due to repeated failures.
The minigame segments are the highlight of Master Detective Archives, as they make the crimes actually engaging in a way that the drawn-out story segments struggle to do. If the game had managed a more even spread between the dense story and the fast-paced gameplay, then it would have been so much more engaging.
Master Detective Archives also has an RPG element of sorts, as the player can earn experience points by investigating items and solving tasks quickly, which can be used to unlock new skill points. These skills essentially make the Mystery Labyrinth sections easier, either by allowing the player to make more mistakes or by reducing the number of incorrect options in multi-choice tests. This is a great addition to the game, as it acts as a variable difficulty slider while also giving an incentive actually to do well in the challenges.
Nailing The Neo-Noir Look (Even When It Goes A Little Too Far)
One of the most impressive aspects of Master Detective Archives is its visuals, especially as the game is currently an exclusive on the Nintendo Switch’s aging hardware. The neon colors and lighting in both the real world and Mystery Labyrinth are gorgeous to behold. It’s clear that a ton of work has gone into making the world of Mystery Detective pop, especially in the ever-shifting landscapes of the Labyrinths, which warp around the player.
The character designs in Master Detective Archives are more of a mixed bag, and it’s here where we can see the Danganronpa influences the most, as there are plenty of awesome character designs mixed with overly complex ones that are ridiculous to behold, but in a way that detracts from the experience. It also has the Danganronpa brutality in its design, with the cute anime characters being the victims of some brutal deaths, with the game never shying away from showing grisly corpses.
The biggest issue, however, comes from Shinigami in her humanoid form, as she’s constantly played for fanservice at every opportunity, and her endless flashing of skin, posing, gravity-defying jiggling, and innuendoes are overdone to the point of tedium. This wouldn’t be so bad if she was a one-off character, but she’s a recurring element throughout the whole game, so you have to sit through the same repeated cheesecake shots until the end.
At its heart, Master Detective Archives is a story-based game, especially as it acts as a visual novel for portions of its runtime. If you can be patient and enjoy the slower sections alongside the fast-paced ones, then you’ll find a lot to love in this game. It’s a shame Master Detectives Archives doesn’t quite nail the gameplay/story balance. Still, the process of actually solving the crimes and conquering the Mystery Labryinths manages to carry the parts that drag and make for a satisfying experience, as the layers of secrets of Kanai Ward are slowly peeled away.
|+ Master Detective Archives: Rain Code looks stunning, especially for a Switch game.
|+ RPG elements let you tailor the difficulty to your liking.
|+ Mystery Labyrinths look incredible and are a blast to explore…
|– …Especially when contrasted with the slow-paced exploration segments.
|– Cutscenes can be way too long for what they reveal.
|– There needed to be a more balanced spread between the story and gameplay sections.