I…did not think this essay would happen, but here we are. I love Paradise Killer and this commentary is not meant to be an attack on KaizenWorks. This is just a thought experiment meant to repair some of the issues people had with the narrative and thus focuses on narrative alone, so other mechanics like the platforming won’t be considered at all. I’m not going in any particular order here in regards to my criticism. I’m just working through, fleshing out my notes until I’ve completed this essay. Also spoilers abound.
As someone who is very much an Ace Attorney fan, the trial in Paradise Killer didn’t do a thing for me. I expected more, especially since there were so many elements. I mean, there are two separate conspiracies at play, a secret killer child, hidden space-bending corridors, torrid affairs with subordinates, demons— I expected way more!
But the trials are rather straightforward compared to Ace Attorney. While it is a whodunnit like Ace Attorney, the game doesn’t expect you to to sit down and logically parse who did what. You will have enough evidence to convict the people who need to be convicted (not to accuse whoever you want, remember this) and all of this evidence will be properly sorted to each character before your very eyes.
When it comes time convict someone for a particular crime (you are allowed to convict different people for different crimes), the characters are shown alongside a list of all evidence associated with them. You never need to review this evidence to make sure you’re accusing the right person— Love Dies will list all the evidence she had with various characters jumping in to defend themselves—though this never leads to you having to prove your theories— and at the end Judge will just tell you if that person has been convicted or not, if you chose wrong, there’s no penalty— Judge just defaults to convicting another character.
Compare this to Ace Attorney— you have your evidence and you might have an idea of who committed the crime, but the onus is on the player to connect the evidence to the suspect. Sometimes you, quite literally, have to “turn your thinking around” to come to the proper solution. Not so in Paradise Killer.
Something else to note is the game’s insistence that you can “make a truth”. Not only does Judge tell you this explicitly, but Love Dies mentions it as well on multiple occasions. The player might be led to believe that the structure of game will accommodate them being able to accuse anyone— but as I mentioned previously, there is a right answer and Judge will smack away any useless accusations.
I understand that the game is trying to convey a sense of ambiguity, but it doesn’t have to lie to the player to accomplish this. Unless I’m completely misinterpreting that statement and “making a truth” refers to gathering evidence that proves that Henry is innocent, contrary to what everyone else believes. Love Dies does admit that a Citizen being the culprit is too easy, so perhaps “making a truth” is referring to that.
We should also consider that, as mentioned, two conspiracies are at play. But the “making a truth” idea still fails here— picking a conspiracy isn’t like picking a route in a typical visual novel. In the court system of the game, if a character is convicted of ANY crime, the punishment is death, and you have the ability to convict different characters of different crimes. As I will go into later, it’s very easy to convict everyone who is guilty, so both sets of conspirators can be punished in the same trial. So you hardly have to “make a truth” about who did it, just convict everyone!
This problem is also doubly compounded by the “epilogue”, but we’ll get into that later.
I can think of a few solutions to these problems, some of which overlap. The first is multiple routes— a Henry route, a Witness route, a Carmelina route, and a True Ending. I’m not sure how one would find themselves on either the Witness or Carmelina route, I believe they should be fairly separate but with some overlap— you find all the evidence needed to convict one conspiracy or the other, but not enough to convict whoever you didn’t pick. This could either frustrate you if you wanted to convict both at once or hint at the other conspiracy if you didn’t pick up on the fact that there were two in your first run, but either way this should provide incentive to do another run. This way you can’t just snipe everyone on your first run— you have to do the legwork of figuring out each conspiracy.
The second solution would require some altering of character motives— in this instance, make Love Dies more dogmatic in her sense of justice (maybe a result of her own sentencing) and make Judge more robotic and more an element of Syndicate. Maybe everyone agrees that Henry did it, Judge included because they’re programmed with that sort of bias. However, because killing the council is such a serious crime, Love Dies is let out of exile to do a real investigation.
Now, in the main game— despite Henry’s (justifiably) abrasive attitude— it’s so blatantly obvious that he’s been set up that shit’s not even funny. Love Dies comments on it, but maybe in this revised version she actually acknowledges the shitty handling of the investigation before she came around. Because Henry is so obviously innocent of this crime (and also his own possession, but one thing at a time), Love Dies’s goal becomes proving his innocence. Maybe she already knows from prior cases that Judge can swayed from their programming if there’s enough evidence, or maybe it’s a failsafe in the programming and Judge voluntary reminds the player of it, reminding them that they don’t have to do a Henry run and probably shouldn’t.
The Henry run is the bad run in this thought experiment. Paradise Killer already does a good job of cluing the player into the fact that Henry is a scapegoat, but here it can be used as an incentive to do a proper trial. If the player accuses the wrong person, then the conviction automatically falls to Henry because of Judge’s programming. The consequence isn’t that Henry dies— he’s going to die anyway— but that the corruption in the Syndicate will continue to run rampant.
Due to later changes I’d like to make, if you can’t convict someone in court, then they walk, period. Letting Henry get too many convictions means that the people who actually did it will go free— Judge may consider that Henry is an unwitting pawn, but not that Syndicate members were working with Henry. If you’re on, say, the Witness conspiracy route, focus on convicting Witness and his accomplices, and not on trying to convict as many people as possible.
I feel like I’m getting a bit abstract here, so let me give an example. In the original version, Lydia Day Break is a part of Witness’s conspiracy, while Yuri Night is a part of Carmelina’s. Both characters have access to the Second Holy Seal, but if you’re on Witness’s route you have to convict Lydia. Let’s say you choose to reach across the aisle and convict Yuri— which I fucking would, fuck that guy— but because you’re not on the Carmelina route, you don’t have enough evidence to convict him so Judge defaults to convicting Henry.
At the end of the case, this looks like Witness used Henry’s help to break through the Second Holy Seal among other crimes. Because you haven’t proved that Henry’s possession was also a crime (it is, by the way, done by Yuri, but since you’re not on the Carmelina route, you can’t prove this), Judge ignores the Witness conspiracy altogether because there’s no way that Witness would actively seek out Henry’s assistance, so the Witness conspiracy is incidental to Henry’s (nonexistent) crimes. Henry is executed at trial, while Witness and accomplices get to walk free on top of Carmelina and accomplices also walking free because the player wasn’t on the Carmelina route to begin with.
(Don’t ask me how this would work for Carmelina since in her route (as it is originally) you could prove that Henry was manipulated. Maybe that’s more incentive to do a Witness route and then a Carmelina route rather than getting to choose one or the other.)
For Love Dies, this is more evidence that this system— the Syndicate— is corrupt to the bone, but I think the narrative can lean towards that conclusion without the player actually going through the Henry route. It does provide some build-up as well for my imagined True Ending.
This section will be a bit shorter by virtue of the fact that I’ve already mentioned some elements of it. In short, the story is a very straightforward whodunnit.
“Straightforward”, but we’ll get to that.
In the game as it is now, there’s no consequences to picking the wrong person to accuse. You can’t accuse someone who’s “innocent” or who has no evidence because Judge will call out the weak evidence and convict the next most obvious option. If you do manage to convict someone, the punishment is death, right there in the courtroom.
(The epilogue makes all of this moot pretty much.)
If you don’t manage to convict everyone who needs to be convicted (for example, Lydia and Sam Day Break definitely did some shit, but I couldn’t gracefully weave this accusation into the trial), there’s no real punishment. They don’t like, run around and do more crimes or whatever the fuck. You just miss parts of the “story” so to speak, but there’s not really a cohesive story to speak of and you as the player can put two and two together after the fact with the evidence you have.
I imagine the epilogue is meant to alleviate these sorts of issues, but if the player can’t bring up everything that needs to be brought up in the trial, why bother fucking having one in the first place?
So, there’s two conspiracies, but there’s no overarching story. Not that there needs to be a mastermind or anything like that, but they’re both fairly self-contained despite occurring in the same courtroom, which is coo-coo bananas for reasons we’ll get into later. These two conspiracies are the main story, but that main story is so layered and complicated that the “accuse anyone” aspect is kind of wasted.
(Most) Every character is complicit in the narrative, but this isn’t Murder on the Orient Express where everyone is equally complicit and where everyone can be equally blamed. For example, even though there is a large cast in that story, Poirot could have easily said that a single character delivered the death blow despite the fact that all of them contributed to the death in some way. It’s a relatively simple narrative in that regard, and the complexity comes in who exactly did it.
The narrative in Paradise Killer, despite its flaws, is so complex so there’s no way to accuse a single character of doing everything necessary to orchestrate such a crime without getting stupidly contrived. Certain characters did certain things, and you really can’t accuse anyone of doing those things other than those specific characters.
For example, Yuri and Lydia both have knowledge of the Second Holy Seal. The player can accuse Yuri or Lydia, but you DEFINITELY can’t accuse Akiko because that evidence literally doesn’t exist even if you really fucking hate Akiko and want to pin the whole crime on her.
The solution then, is either to make one really good overarching route, or just a game with two different, separate endings. On top of that, change the trial system. Instead of just picking the right answer on a multiple choice question about who did what, maybe look back to Ace Attorney or even Danganronpa.
That is, EITHER a system where court proceeds as usual with the sentencing of the defendant, Henry, and Love Dies has to actively convince Judge that Henry is innocent while rejecting accusations from everyone else who are collectively acting as prosecutor and eventually convincing Judge that someone else did it, OR a system where the characters just sort of loosely debate who did it and Love Dies has to provide evidence at the right time for the right statements, throwing the suspects into more chaos and providing more interactions between them as they turn on each other.
Maybe even both at once, it’s not like they have to reinvent the wheel, fuck.
FINALLY, WE CAN TALK ABOUT CHARACTERS.
I’m not sure why I didn’t do this first, but it’s my essay and not yours. I might go through all the characters individually, but let me explain my problem first.
In my playthrough, I executed Carmelina, Witness, Yuri, and Akiko at trial. Doom Jazz, One Last Kiss, and Henry walked, and Crimson, Sam, and Lydia were exiled. I went online to see what everyone else did, and, wouldn’t you know it, everyone made basically the same decision, with minor differences in the treatment of Crimson and the Day Break couple.
If the point is that you can choose to do whatever you want in this game, having everyone wind up doing almost exactly the same thing isn’t fucking good.
This has nothing to do with making characters innocent or guilty but everything to do with personality and writing. Sam and Lydia Day Break are extremely complicit in Witness’s plans, but people liked them. They were fun, amiable, and sympathetic, so no one really wanted to shoot them at trial, and characters like Yuri are so annoying (by design, this is not a knock on the writing team) that I wanted to shoot him after our first conversation.
There’s two solutions to this: either make everyone equally likeable so players have more variety in who they’re willing to convict, or evenly split up the assholes and cool people over the two separate routes I’ve been talking about.
For example, in the original game, Witness collaborated with Crimson and the Day Breaks, and Carmelina with Akiko and Yuri. Carmelina is basically saddled with the characters no one likes, and the game already treats Sam and Lydia like they’re one entity.
Instead, why not group Witness with Yuri (I feel like their goals align better since Witness is a zealot and Yuri is being deceived by a god. Might be odd since Yuri does literally work for Carmelina, but maybe it makes for better courtroom interactions between the two of them) and Sam (since he held the GodFlesh for Witness), and then Carmelina with Akiko and Lydia (maybe she can relate to Dainonigate a bit better than Yuri did being an assassin and all). Doom Jazz can be an actual fucking coroner and protected from accusations since he doesn’t do anything otherwise, and Crimson can be dealing secrets to both sides making her complicit and executed in either route.
This fixes a lot of problems when combined with limiting executions to the courtroom. Assuming we don’t change characterization, now we have less options but a more compelling set of choices and consequences. Regardless of who you decide to go after, you will be splitting up the Day Breaks who are completely sympathetic, and maybe some players might consider a Henry route just to avoid that. On the other hand, you’re always going to have to let one of the assholes walk free. Akiko is insanely fucking incompetent and should be executed just for all the gross negligence, but if I go after her, then I’m letting fucking Yuri walk free. And maybe during the epilogue for each route, these characters really ham it up so that you can feel like shit— Carmelina or Witness gloat about how they got away with it, Yuri or Akiko are extra annoying, Sam or Lydia are grieving, whatever.
Choices. Either way, the player is forced to make some sort of sacrifice, and since some of the characters you let off are pretty fucking guilty, this still lends itself to that air of ambiguity the game seems to be going for. (Which, okay, “ambiguity” isn’t an excuse for such a limp ending. I’d argue that Virtue’s Last Reward also has an ambiguous ending for a lot of the characters, but the plot still comes to an actual head and means something.)
Anyway, let me take a quick moment to talk about some characterizations that I would tweak:
WITNESS/CARMELINA: I wouldn’t actually change much about Witness and Carmelina. I didn’t mind them as characters, but since they’re both “villains” I wish they had clearer highs and lows to sort of allude to this. More sympathetic moments and more moments to make the player think that something isn’t quite right with them.
AKIKO: I don’t…hate Akiko. She’s sympathetic and I could see myself trying to avoid convicting her if she wasn’t so shit at her job that 90% of the evidence pointed to her anyway. She just needs to be a bit more dere and bit less tsun. I think the reason why Akiko works better than Yuri is because Love Dies seems to like Akiko (at least with the choices I made) and tries to talk to her calmly and without starting shit. Maybe find a way to make Akiko hate Love Dies less and play up her positive side.
Everyone has these cool backstories, but we don’t really know much about Love Dies beyond the fact that she grew up with Crimson. Maybe back in the day she studied both the body and the mind, so she was both a combat medic and a therapist for soldiers with PTSD. Maybe Akiko respects her more because of that service and is semi-loyal to her in that regard, but still keeps her distance because Love Dies isn’t a Marshal, you know, like the kind of relationship Akiko has with Crimson.
YURI: Yuri’s so fucking insufferable which sucks because Love Dies actually has a major reason to get along with him. Part of this has to do with the fact that Love Dies is also annoyed by Yuri in dialogue. Just fix that. Yuri was born after Love Dies was exiled, which means that, at most Love Dies is 8,000+ years older than him. Even more if we count the time before she was exiled. Maybe because of this, Love Dies can’t take his posturing seriously, and treats him more like a pesky younger sibling. His attempts to disrespect her kind of roll off her back, like they already do in canon, except she doesn’t get so riled up about things.
Secondly, they’ve both been deceived by gods. This was why Love Dies was exiled after all. Once she finds evidence of this, shouldn’t she feel a bit more sympathetic since he’s not fully in control? Maybe there are more outward signs of deception that Love Dies can recognize from her own experience, like, I don’t know, minor hallucinations. Maybe after you find the evidence that he’s being deceived, Love Dies stumbles upon him coping with one of these hallucinations and, using her medic/therapist background, she talks him down without making him feel attacked. After seeing some softness from Yuri, he tries to slip back into his usual pompous attitude, but the player now understands it’s a front rather than abrasiveness.
SAM AND LYDIA: I understand why people stan Sam and Lydia. I wish the game actually leaned into them being into a couple more, but also let them be bad sometimes. While the game provides evidence for them not being happy on Paradise, I can’t imagine them actually participating in the murder plot without coercion. Maybe instead of operating as a duo, they both agree that the Syndicate is stifling, but that they won’t do anything (violent) about it. This way, when they go to do their various conspiracies and it gets revealed in court, it’s still sympathetic because they were doing it for the other person, but there’s more engagement in the courtroom as well. And maybe Love Dies can feel bad that she had to be the bearer of bad news at such a terrible time.
DOOM JAZZ: Crimson and Doom Jazz are the only two characters you can sleep with and I guess that’s why both of them are “innocent” in the main story. Doom Jazz does nothing of note beyond not telling you things, but I think his is the only instance where I’m okay with “But you never thought to ask” as the answer. At most he’s complicit in giving Sam Kafka’s blood and his clinic’s back door (no pun intended) is unmonitored, but that’s literally nothing. Why have that shit at all?
Maybe much in the way that Love Dies is not a suspect because she works for the court (and has an alibi) maybe Doom Jazz is the same. He’s the court coroner so he still provides the same information, and maybe he has an alibi, like he was working with Judge on prepping their body for Perfect 25 or is stationed at the Paradise Gates examining the Syndicate members to prevent them from spreading diseases to Perfect 25. Or just make him actually involved with the conspiracy in some way.
CRIMSON: Crimson runs right up to being complicit in that she sells information about the Second Seal to Witness and maybe killed K.HX, but I couldn’t make it work so I exiled her. Maybe selling secrets is something that she can actually be convicted for, and then she can just sell secrets to both sides (something to note for later).
That’s really the only justification for her presence I can think of— while she’s an interesting character, she really only exists to sell upgrades which could be implemented in other ways (maybe a max friendship link nets you a new skin and the COSMOS upgrade is another puzzle reward) and tell you secrets which already can be found in the environment or explicitly told to you once a relationship is high enough. Either remove her or make her more important.
I have some final thoughts on One Last Kiss and Henry, but I’ll save them for a later section.
Finally, I can talk about that dumb, piece of shit epilogue.
Prior to the trial, when you meet Judge for the first time, you/Love Dies also get a look at the method of execution— your gun, which has a cool name but I can’t remember that shit right now. You don’t get to use your gun until after the trial when you execute the guilty and you get a cool cutscene during.
After the trial, you get to walk around Paradise again, but now you have your gun. When you talk to the various characters, you now have the option to execute or exile them before you leave Island Sequence 24 for good, which…why?
I get it. Sam and Lydia were difficult for me to accuse in the courtroom and Crimson might not have actually done anything but was complicit in a lot of things. I get that it’s an opportunity for Love Dies to dispense justice to those who deserve it, but what’s the fucking point?
Why bother having the trial if I can go around and execute everyone else anyway? You can even execute One Last Kiss for fuck’s sake and she’s a goddamn ghost. Why have this? Why give the player a means to have a clean cut ending in your game about ambiguity? It felt bad exiling the Day Breaks, but they did fucking help Witness so of course I’m still going to do it.
The epilogue shouldn’t be like this. It feels good and nostalgic to walk around Paradise one last time, but the player should have to sit with the consequences of their choices. If you didn’t accuse Sam and Lydia, you don’t get to do it after the fact. Same for Crimson. Force the player to engage with the trial and make the trial worth engaging with.
This is why I keep saying that execution should be limited to the courtroom and that half the cast should get out on their respective routes. Maybe when Judge convicts someone Love Dies has the option to speak up and ask for a lighter sentence, but otherwise no. If you go the Carmelina route and Witness and co. walk, the player has to sit with that. Witness can gloat and be smug after the fact and the player has to accept that as a consequence. Maybe it’ll incentivize them to try the other route or True Ending. Anything but the way it is now.
This section is something of a conclusion, a final summation of what I would change (narratively) about Paradise Killer. I understand that overall the game is trying to imbue this sense of ambiguity, but does it really matter?
Throughout the story, when you find various alcoholic beverages (just roll with it) you see interstitials from Perfect 25. Two silhouettes are talking in a bar, though we don’t know who they are. Some have hypothesized that they’re Love Dies’s ex-husband, Isaiah and his new paramour, Madame Clover, based on some incidental dialogue but this is never confirmed.
As I’ve already discussed, the epilogue has already ruined this sense completely, and the main narrative is too limp to not feel like a cop-out.
The solutions, as I’ve mentioned, are either multiple routes, or one really fucking good route. Just to get this out of the way, those cutscenes from Perfect 25 can stay. We don’t know who characters are, the setting is unfamiliar, and the silhouettes look more photo-realistic than the other character designs— it’s already a different world, just remove the explicit references to Love Dies near the end.
I have plans for Love Dies.
As I’ve written this essay, I’ve settled on the idea of doing the Witness route, then the Carmelina route, then the True Ending— or maybe the Carmelina route and the True Ending are the same— and the Henry route as a consistent bad end.
The reason why the Carmelina route and the true end could be combined is because I think some elements of the story could be threaded through multiple playthroughs. For example, the Dainonigate reveal feels like something that should be saved for a True Ending, and maybe the same could be said of the Killer Demon. But to find the vault and the way past the Fourth Seal, Love Dies has to enter the vault by the Graveyard Path. This is perfect actually, because One Last Kiss is also an element that could occur on multiple playthroughs.
Maybe she could have the opposite problem that Akiko does, be a bit more tsun and a bit less dere. When you meet her on the first playthrough in the Witness route, she’s cold and obscure, but by the time you get to the True Ending she sees that you truly want to make a difference and asks you to find her murderer. This means you can finally go up to the graveyard path and notice the vault with Dainonigate. Bada-bing-bada-boom.
Now that you can actually collect all the evidence necessary, what comes next is actually connecting the two conspiracies. If you remember my musings from earlier, then you know that the revised Judge now is focused on supporting the Syndicate. The diagetic reason why you can only accuse Witness OR Carmelina, beyond the amount of evidence that you can find, is that Carmelina is the Emergency Leader of the Syndicate at the moment (which is technically illegal) while Witness is actually supposed to be Leader if something happens to the rest of the council. Judge isn’t willing to leave Paradise without a Leader, so you can literally only pick one of them, UNLESS you can convince Judge that the Syndicate is rotten to the core and override their need to defend the Syndicate with the need to mete out justice— hence a True Ending.
I don’t think the True Ending needs to include some mastermind running the two conspiracies— I could easily just say Crimson because she’s a secrets dealer but I don’t like the idea so I won’t talk anymore about it than I already have— but I think the concept of duality needs to be a complete one. Connect the dots. Like Shinji says early on, if you break one member the whole Syndicate will come crumbling down, so give me that moment.
Witness and Carmelina already have a connection— several actually. Not only as opposing Leaders as described above, but also through the idea of the spiritual (Witness wants to focus on resurrecting the gods) versus the material (Carmelina wants credit and accolades for her labor). They were even literally fucking married at one point for a year or so.
(Funny story: At one point I got caught in a loop where Carmelina told me something, so I had to run to Witness’s apartment to confirm, and then Witness got pissy and spilled some tea on Carmelina, so I had to run back to her to confirm it, and this kept going for like an hour and a half. I truly felt like I was going between two people who were still hashing out their divorce 10 years later. I mean, I could’ve teleported back and forth, but personal narratives and all that.)
While they could butt heads at trial (they kind of don’t in the original), I don’t think the connection should actually be Witness and Carmelina, but a thematic counterpoint: Sam and Lydia Day Break, the happy couple.
They’ve both gone behind each others backs, but they did it hoping to reach their goal of leaving the Syndicate together. Since there’s also some parallels to their first meeting on a literal battlefield, they get to have another catharsis in the courtroom, and their reconcile and joint admission of guilt brings both conspiracies to light. (Maybe Love Dies gets some catharsis too because of the shit with losing Isaiah after her conviction). This pisses off Witness and Carmelina who start sniping at each other and get into a full blown argument during the trial, bringing both conspiracies crashing down.
Judge witnesses this and realizes that Syndicate was rotten to the core. Henry gets to walk (not really, he’s a Citizen and is going to be slaughtered anyway), but all the Syndicate members need to be rooted out.
All of them.
I want to loop back for a bit. Throughout the original game, Love Dies can pay a lot of lip service to Henry and various Citizen ghosts about how awful the Syndicate is, and I think now is the point where Love Dies can actually make good on her promises.
Since she’s proven that some change needs to occur in the Syndicate, Judge is committed to thoroughly investigating the members who made it to Perfect 25 as well, but no one will be there to see it except Judge. This is where that longed-for ambiguity comes in— Perfect 25 has a different aesthetic from 24 and maybe dialogue changes can hint that something has changed, but since our POV character isn’t present we’ll never actually know for certain.
Working backwards now, Witness and Carmelina are executed because they’re guilty. Akiko, Yuri, and Crimson are also executed because they’re complicit, and they accept this with various levels of grace— Akiko accepts it with dignity, Crimson appeals to her friendship with Love Dies, and Yuri is being deceived so Love Dies is the most sympathetic. Lydia and Sam are happy to go because they get to go together (Sam mentions in the original game that the…unusual nature of his body means that it has a limited lifespan, for him it’s better to go with Lydia on his own terms than leave her alone after a painful decline).
Love Dies confers with Henry and One Last Kiss— pretty much the same conversations they have at the end of the game, only Henry and One Last Kiss now share some banter since they’re meeting (again) for the first time. Maybe One Last Kiss offers to stay with Henry until his execution instead of just disappearing.
Love Dies talks with Judge who promises to remember this trial and what it has taught them for the next island and Doom Jazz who thanks Love Dies for the honor of working with her. With that, Doom Jazz is executed and then either Judge executes Love Dies as an honor to her, or she pulls the trigger herself.
Either way, we get the same banging credits sequence.