From the developers of cult-favourite mystery series Danganronpa, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is Spike Chunsoft’s latest foray into the detective genre, and it’s clearly taking inspiration from the games that paved the way for its neon-riddled noir world. Though it’s a spiritual successor to those key titles, it also differs in some important ways that allows it to surpass them. It could be a true masterpiece – if only it would leave a little more of what inspired it behind.
Mysteries are at the core of this game – from gameplay focused on solving crimes to the state of the protagonist when the game begins. From the first moment, protagonist Yuma Kokohead is faced with the biggest mystery of all – he has no idea who he is. Some handy nearby clues inform him that he’s a detective, and he’s running late for his train to Kanai Ward, where he’s been summoned along with other members of the World Detective Organisation for what seems like a pretty important matter. He also realises that he’s made a pact with a death god, Shinigami, who seems willing to help him solve crimes – he just has no idea why he would have done something like that in the first place.
Initially, the reason isn’t so important – Yuma has more pressing concerns, and Shinigami is quick to give him some handy tips and tricks for solving crimes. Master Detectives are supposed to have a thing called a ‘Forte’, which is basically a superpower that somehow aids them in doing good detective work, but obviously Yuma can’t remember his. This is also not a problem, because of the aforementioned death god, and her willingness to help him. When inevitably a murder soon occurs that needs to be solved, Shinigami takes the young protagonist into something called the ‘Mystery Labyrinth’ – a place constructed specifically for the purpose of solving mysteries and uncovering truths, connected to the real world but with its own set of rules and eccentricities. The Mystery Labyrinth allows Yuma to fight against ideas or individuals that are obstacles to the truth in ways that are fantastical, multi-coloured and wildly over the top – but also often incredibly satisfying.
Within the labyrinth, the mechanics become extremely reminiscent of Danganronpa, with evidence collected in the real world during an investigation phase acting as ‘Solution Keys’ that allow Yuma to refute statements. It’s a fun action-logic combination, and plays out like an Ace Attorney courtroom, but one where Phoenix Wright spontaneously jumps over the bench and slaps a criminal in the face every time they try to lie. These ‘Reasoning Death Matches’ are mixed in with other similar mechanics, all with the goal of eventually leading you towards the truth. Like in Ace Attorney games, refuting statements will sometimes involve some frustrating moments spent throwing evidence at the opponent while you try to work out which statement the game thinks is the specific one that needs to be refuted, but for the most part it’s satisfying.
Even though the narrative is filled with wild twists and turns, it was rare for it to throw a conclusion at me that didn’t seem logical based on information I already knew. Some of the questions being asked were morally complex or generally grey, but I never felt like they didn’t reach an answer based on reasonable evidence, nor did I feel like the evidence should have led me in a different direction. It managed to solidly execute the balance of fostering a sense of mystery and uncertainty, and feeling like those mysteries could be solved, which is no small feat for a game like this.
It also excels in world-building, with Kanai Ward feeling truly alive and the citizens living vibrant and believable lives even in the dreary and constant rain (the game is called ‘Rain Code’ for a reason). This relatively open world does occasionally lead to some textures popping in and out of the background, and strange visual glitches occurring during conversations, but for the most part it’s a visual treat – especially the scenes in the Mystery Labyrinth. There’s also a pretty big problem with the load times, to the point where I got so frustrated that I started keeping a colour by numbers app on hand during loading screens to keep me busy while I waited for the game to fast travel me from one section to the next.
But the real problem, as with many of the games most similar to this one, is the way it views women. Or, more accurately, the way Shinigami seems to view women. She’s a constant negative voice in Yuma’s head, using terms to describe women that would feel most appropriate coming out of the mouth of a teen girl in the year 2002. One character, who plays a relatively vital role in the story, is constantly reduced to a ‘flat-chested uggo’ by the death god, who also constantly insists that Yuma must be having ‘perverted’ thoughts about her. No matter what the context, Shinigami tells the protagonist that he is perverted when he talks to women, while degrading them at every opportunity. The ‘joke’ seems to be that this comes from a place of jealousy, and that he’s supposed to only be thinking that way about Shinigami herself, but at no point does Yuma actually suggest that’s something he’s vaguely interested in doing. With Yuma knowing nothing about himself and projecting a strong air of innocence, most of Shinigami’s dialogue feels predatory rather than humorous.
It’s a strange dichotomy to experience this immaturity of dialogue in a game that is in so many ways deeply mature. The way it handles themes of morality, integrity, identity and the search for truth are so captivating and clever that it’s so frustrating that so much of it is presented through such a juvenile lens. The characters and their unique abilities are interesting, if a little shallow, and the game makes some bold choices with the way it introduces them and involves them in the story. All the makings of an incredible work of art are right there, and it just gets in its own way.
My feelings about Master Detective Archives: Rain Code are complex. There’s some incredible gameplay at its core, mixed with some tired and unnecessary sexist and immature tropes that feel out of place in the current media landscape. If nothing else, it’s definitely a game I’ll remember, for reasons good and bad, which in itself is an achievement.
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by the publisher.