Tea Danganronpa games may be why visual novels have penetrated the West. These games put players on the task of solving ingenious mysteries and finding out who the culprit is in a cruel killing game. Each entry further upped the ante with new compelling characters and witty dialogue that made them engrossing.
Danganronpa‘s creator, Kazutaka Kodaka, would go on to create new mystery games that would stray further away from the limitations of visual novels as seen with World’s End Club and Death Come True. With Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE, he would return to his bread and butter; uncovering the truth behind bizarre murders with minigame abstractions.
This could be Kodaka’s most ambitious thriller yet. There is no killing game this time, but discovering the truth still leads to death and the cast is no longer confined to a school. With the help of a death god, can Yuma Kokohead take responsibility for the truth? Is the ultimate secret of Kanai Ward worth discovering? Find out in this Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE review!
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE
Developer: Too Kyo Games
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft US
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 30, 2023
Kanai Ward is a city that screams under the chokehold of the Amaterasu Corporation’s despotic control. This company is like Umbrella meets Apple, Blackrock, and Acme; there is no soup where they don’t have their sinister hand in. This company town is full of secrets and at the heart of them all is the Amaterasu Corporation’s security force; the Peacekeepers who control the flow of information and suppress the truth.
There are no detectives in Kanai Ward. Most citizens have no concept of them. The Peacekeepers act as judge jury and executioner and most of the time they aren’t interested in the truth. Whatever story is most convenient always becomes the official story in Kanai Ward which makes this city full of unsolved mysteries and wayward souls who never got justice.
It never stops raining in Kanai Ward and the sun never rises. It is a town trapped in a perpetual state of gloomy grit and steadily rising water levels. It is an industrial neon-soaked cyberpunk dystopia that feels like Midgar as imagined by the Danganronpa designers. Signs and graffiti mix languages like Cyrillic, English, and Japanese; further illustrating a globalist tyranny.
Everywhere you look, there is either vulgar decadence or bleak desperation. Kanai Ward is a city of extremes; areas can be dark and dank as a dungeon or lit up in glaring ostentatious signs or light fixtures. The oppressive atmosphere is palpable and you always feel like you gotta watch over your shoulder and wipe your brow from the constant stream of rain running down your face.
Kanai Ward is almost cut off from the rest of the world. Nobody has cell phones and the internet won’t work there due to severe interference. That won’t stop the World Detective Order from sending their top talent to figure out what is going on over there. At least, they would if most of them didn’t get assassinated on the train ride over there.
Yuma Kokohead is one of the few who made it into Kanai Ward. The only problem is he isn’t actually a master detective like the rest of the WDO. He doesn’t even remember anything about himself, but he has natural detective instincts. Actual master detectives have a “Forensic Forte”, which in this game means some kind of superpower.
One master detective has the power to look into the past and see the crime scene as it was first discovered. Another master detective is a master of disguise and another could speak to animals. Yuma has no apparent forte… but he does have a pact with a death god.
Shinigami may be a death god, but she is really easy on the eyes. She normally resembles a floating purple sperm cell with horns, but when it is time for Yuma to solve a mystery, she becomes a total babe that would make the Ultimate Despair jealous.
The mechanics of the mystery dimension are as ludicrous as they are fascinating. The more mysteries that are unsolved, the more likely people are driven to murder. The labyrinths manifest whenever a crime has been committed and are where Yuma is tasked with uncovering the truth by interpreting abstract representations of the crime which are in the form of various minigame modules.
Yuma isn’t here to administer justice. The fact is, there is no justice in Kanai Ward and there may very well never be justice. The best Yuma can do is discover the truth with the help of Shinigami. When deducting who the killer is from the inside of the mystery dimension, Shinigami administers his own brand of justice and takes their soul; like a reverse Death Note.
This brings up a lot of questions about the morality of solving these cases since the truth kills the perpetrator. Yuma has a terrible responsibility and his character will be pushed to make gut-wrenching decisions. As the drama unfolds, expect to get enveloped with the cast of characters and to care about what happens.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE‘s story is as gripping and twisted as fans of the Danganronpa games would hope for. Ingenius seeds are planted and have shocking pay-offs later. Many characters are not always as they appear and it seems like anyone can die. Players will feel like in a state of constant doubt and when they let their guard down is when something really bad can and will happen.
The narrative is some of the finest mystery writing in video games, but it does have some flaws. Like with many visual novel games, Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE is rotten with excessive aizuchi dialogue. It is understandable since this is a Japanese game and certain cultural aspects are unavoidable, but in RAIN CODE it gets out of hand and needlessly pads out already long dialogue scenes.
Not only does the filler dialogue slow things down but there are numerous examples of information being repeated multiple times in consecutive scenes. It will feel like a recap of a scene you’ll ponder if there was greater significance because Kodaka’s games tend to have very deliberate scenes.
While the pacing of the dialogue can be overly drawn out or repetitive at times, the writing is genuinely witty and sharp. There are some hilarious lines of dialogue with perfectly executed readings and every cast member sounds natural and is well-cast. Yuma, the lead, especially comes off very convincingly as a naive and youthful junior detective.
The meat of Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE‘s gameplay is exploring Kanai Ward and making sense of bizarre killings. When entering the mystery labyrinth, the gameplay shifts to various kinds of setpieces and minigames like the ones used in Danganronpa.
The deathmatches are a highlight and are a little bit like Punchout meets the debates in the killing games’ trials. Yuma can side-step, duck, jump, or slash at distracting information, but he must attack the lie with the truth that is in the form of a sword. Other sequences involve reconstructing the murder and figuring out the order of events or enduring a gauntlet of quick-time events where the player has to choose the correct prompt.
Some holdovers from Danganronpa return, such as the final denouement manga reconstruction but with some modifications to eliminate the guesswork that made them troublesome. Even the dreaded hangman’s gambit returns but is a lot easier to figure out the correct word since players can get hints and letters can be grouped for easier conclusions.
Keeping tabs on details in the environment of the murder scenes is key to understanding how the killings took place. Watching characters’ behavior is also critical to understanding who committed the murders and figuring out the motive too. There is always a sense that the solutions are just out of grasp and are on the verge of a revelation as the stories unfurl.
Jun Fukuda and Masafumi Takada utterly nail the soundtrack and set the mood flawlessly with their beats. The music has a smoldering jazzy feel that combines some trip-hop and magnificently captures the tone of Kania Ward’s noirish atmosphere. Some Euro house music influences crop up for intense moments to emphasize the sense of panic and mania.
Regretfully, all the wonderful ambiance takes a hit while exploring or diving deeper into the mystery labyrinths because of Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE‘s frequent load times. The length of load times are not the longest, but they are long enough that they are annoying and they happen often enough that gamers may start to lose patience the more they play.
While doing sidequests, the loading screens will be burned into retinas because they involve jumping around to different locations in the Kanai Ward, and a lot of the time it won’t feel worth the effort since it only rewards with XP which is used to unlock skills that make the minigames in the mystery labyrinths easier.
Yew Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE was on a more capable platform with an SSD, players may not have noticed the transitions between areas. After a while, the loading will wear down players, and compounded with a laidback gameplay experience, this could turn off people from enjoying the game’s finer qualities.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE does run pretty stable, and texture loading is rare. The only other technical drawback is the rendering distance for NPCs who first appear as generic silhouettes, then vanish, then are rendered as their actual character model.
Fans of the Danganronpa games will surely find a lot to like with Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE. It is a worthy spiritual successor that expands on a grander premise and introduces new ideas. The callbacks are tasteful and the new cast hold their own in the fascinating world of Kanai Ward.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by Spike Chunsoft US. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE is now available for Nintendo Switch.