Does the next entry from DANGANRONPA and ZERO ESCAPE developers Too Kyo Games live up to the hype?
There are few game developers in the world who make more compelling murder mysteries than those at Too Kyo Games. Comprised of team members responsible for the DANGANRONPA and ZERO ESCAPE series, there's a lot of pedigree behind MASTER DETECTIVE ARCHIVES: RAIN CODE.
An absolute mouthful of a title aside, Rain Code delivers on the high stakes drama and convoluted murder mysteries expected of the talent behind the scenes. And while the overall presentation and strong aesthetic is arguably the best I've seen from this development team, not everything has progressed quite so linearly.
If you've played Danganronpa or any games of its ilk, you'll be familiar with the iffy treatment of women and non-male characters seen in Rain Code. So while there are interesting explorations of corporate overreach and private militias among the detective-'em-up action, it's coloured by a routinely juvenile and sexist worldview of the women of its story.
Fighting an oppressive police state from within
As Yuma Kokohead (yes, you read that correctly), you're a detective-in-training for the World Detective organisation (WDO). Or at least, you think you are, as Yuma has amnesia. Although convenient, it's an effective plot device that has you questioning every truth presented, whether it be in or outside of the several murder cases you take on.
Many WDO members possess supernatural abilities known as "fortes" that help them solve cases. These range from time-rewinding abilities to being able to visualise a crime scene in its unaltered state. An extension of Yuma's amnesia is that he can't recall his forte. However, he quickly learns that he apparently signed a pact with a death god named Shinigami.
After an eventful train ride, you arrive in the secluded Kanai Ward, a region with distinct social classes run by the oppressive Ameratsu Corporation. Everything you do in Rain Code is coloured by Ameratsu in some way, shape or form. Its peacekeeping force of heavily armed members enact a violent police state regime, keeping everyone in line through fear. Add in plenty of shady characters and secret research bubbling away in the background, there's lots going on.
Kanai Ward is a fascinating setting to explore, with its various districts, thanks to how alive it feels. As you explore its 3D spaces, it's easy to lose yourself among the dazzling neon near-futuristic setting, observing the difference between the affluent citizens in their cosy abodes, and those resigned to the tin-shed slums.
Of course, Rain Code's main attraction is its mysteries. In between other story beats and cutscenes, you examine crime scenes, often involving multiple Kanai Ward locations. Acquiring evidence manifests as "Solution Keys" needed for uncovering the truth. After collecting every Solution Key for a case, Shinigami transports Yuma to an alternate dimension known as the "Mystery Labyrinth". Here, you present evidence in various mini-games and quick-time-events to take down false testimony presented by otherworldly manifestations of the culprit and other interfering parties.
On a fundamental gameplay level, these mini-games ramp up the production quality you might be familiar with from the likes of Danganronpa, but the core concepts remain the same. Wade through a bunch of exposition, identify lies, and choose the appropriate response when prompted. Everything's punctuated by hyper-stylish anime visuals and an eclectic soundtrack that routinely turns the dramatic screws on you.
Rarely do the mysteries' outcomes completely blindside you, but arriving at each one's conclusion is always a gratifying spectacle. I'm often critical of Japanese game's verbose nature but was impressed by some of the methods Rain Code employs to streamline events. For example, instead of repeating information ad nauseam whenever a new character appears (looking at you, Persona 5), the camera pulls away while a VHS fast-forward effect plays over characters miming sped-up dialogue before fading to black. Once it fades back in, everyone's up to date and you can go on with the show.
Women, in my video game?
As alluded to earlier, Rain Code has a women problem. Shinigami, Yuma's unlikely spectral companion transforms between two main forms. One, a goofy little purple blob of a ghost, and the other is an impossibly-proportioned busty anime waifu. Sexualised characters are fine in isolation, but present problems when examined systemically. Initially presented as a trope-laden sexual deviant intended for routine comic relief, Shinigami quickly turns into an exhausting side character to be around.
While Shinigami is portrayed as having power and agency over her appearance – an improvement over plenty of other anime women sexualised against their will – it's the way she talks about other characters that grates. She continually puts down other women and makes suggestive remarks about them to Yuma, no matter the context. There's also way too much victim and slut-shaming, which contributes to Shinigami being an utterly unlikeable and insufferable companion. She occasionally lands a funny zinger, bringing to mind that classic adage about broken clocks.
Although Shinigami isn't the only questionable portrayal of women Rain Code provides, there are plenty of other cool characters you meet along the way, fortunately. If only they were your sidekick instead!
Ultimately, looking past some of its irritating characters, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code overcomes its genre trappings to produce a murder mystery worthy of Too Kyo Games' legacy.
Listen to the review discussion on Drop Rate
Taking the analysis even further, Oliver Brandt (GLFH, Vooks) and Jess Zammit (Player 2, Represent Me) discuss Rain Code in even more depth on Drop Rate, SIFTER's review podcast.
The latest episode is live now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
A copy of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code on Nintendo Switch was provided to SIFTER for the purpose of this review.
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