Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Review – Solving the Must-Play Mystery of the Year

    Title: Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
    Developer: Too Kyo Games
    Release Date: June 30, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
    Genre: Adventure

Following the conclusion of Danganronpa, I can’t help but feel like there’s a void in the current gaming market. We seem to have many great titles across various genres, but something about a death game mystery just hits differently when it’s led by game director and creator Kazutaka Kodaka. While his newest game, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, isn’t a part of that well-known series, it shows a tremendous amount of growth in terms of gameplay systems and writing. Here we have a mystery begging to be solved with many obstacles standing in the way of the player in search of the truth. So let’s not waste any more time in the intro and see where this adventure takes us.

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code introduces a Master Detective-in-training, Yuma Kokohead, who has just woken up on a moving train with amnesia. As he attempts to find his bearings, he figures out that he’s on a one-way trip to Kanai Ward, a region mostly secluded from the outside world and under the control of the powerful Amaterasu Corporation. Yuma finds out that he and other Master Dectives of the World Detective Organization have been summoned to Kanai Ward to investigate the secret of the region. However, no one knows what it is, and it’s up to the detectives to piece together the case.

While the opening of the game acts as an introduction to the recurring gameplay systems, nothing about the narrative becomes segmented. You’re constantly approaching each case through a different means and paired with a detective who adds their own personal spin to solving each case presented before Yuma. While the goal of the game is to solve the ward’s biggest mystery, each chapter presents its own mystery that will hopefully lead Yuma to new clues.

Aside from the other detectives, Yuma’s most significant help comes from his full-time partner, the Death God Shinigami, who he’s made a pact with, causing him to lose his memories. Their relationship is interesting. Shinigami is impulsive and energetic. She believes in Yuma but pushes him to believe in himself. While their friendship is forced, it does have moments of genuine love and respect. However, the pacing of their friendship is slow and natural, but it’s genuine to the point where they each don’t mind calling the other out if they are overstepping.

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As a mystery game, you’ll constantly be piecing together clues to try and connect the crime to a suspect. However, it’s not always made clear who the suspect is. The narrative has its curve balls, but as Yuma’s skills evolve, so should your sense of deduction. As a lead, Yuma can be rather irritating in the opening chapters due to his complete lack of confidence. Without his memory, he feels helpless to approach any challenge on his own. However, this isn’t ever brushed over within the writing, and he understands this about himself.

The character writing is delivered at a staggered pace. Given the size of the cast, each chapter mostly has Yuma pair up with a different detective who brings their unique Forte to the table. This is a special power each detective has to help them solve a case. This also creates a unique gameplay element in each chapter to approach cases differently. It keeps the gameplay fresh and adds to the overall strategy of piecing together the clues.

As each member of the cast makes their mark on the story, sadly, the villains don’t have the screentime to do the same. There are a few more prominent villains, but as cool as they are, none of them receive any sort of backstory or time to really make their mark on the narrative. It’s disappointing in a way because they are each so unique, such as Seth Burroughs needing a bullhorn to speak because he talks too low. However, it doesn’t really expand on how they got to where they are and the events that led up to them being so corrupted.

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The loose structure of the gameplay loop revolves around investigation phases to gather clues, enter a Mystery Labyrinth, solve puzzles to get to the end of the Labyrinth using the collecting clues, and then find the culprit. While that’s a very brief outline, each investigation doesn’t play on the same structure as the previous one. The mysteries are constantly evolving, which is also found in the design of Mystery Labyrinth. During the investigation, players can roam around Kanai Ward to search for clues. These are all highlighted on the map, so it’s tough to get lost.

I was surprised by just how big this game is. The scope of explorable areas continues to grow until the very end of the game. You’ll constantly find yourself in a new place, which keeps exploring the various environments far from dull. Each area also has people to talk to and points of interest that shed light on the scene and region. When interacting with these points of interest, you’ll gain Detective experience. Experience is also gained by completing chapters, but the points earned from levels are used to make the mini-games a little easier or increase your health. It’s a very simple skill tree system but does make some aspects of the game more accessible such as removing bad clues from the mini-games.

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Once enough clues are gathered, you can head to the Mystery Labyrinth, where you’ll bring everything together and catch the bad guy. It’s not always clear who the bad guy is at first, but that’s why the Labyrinth exists in the first place. Yuma is presented with choices to make, and only the truth will allow him to progress. A wrong choice hurts your HP, but I was never at a point where I died completely. Still, failing a puzzle might hurt your ego. The mini-games are each fun and aren’t overused too often. The main mini-game is the Reasoning Death Match, where you need to choose the right clue to use against a false statement. This can be fun, but it is possible to burn through a lot of HP if you aren’t piecing together the hints correctly.

Strangely, there isn’t a particular part of the game that I liked more. As a collective of systems, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code just works. The overall pacing rivals many of the best adventure games to date, which I attribute to the wonderful mystery writing of  Takekuni Kitayama. Each chapter will keep you guessing as you push forward through some pretty bleak narrative beats. Nothing is held back in this adventure, and no one is safe. The truth ultimately holds the power here, and that causes some significant emotional damage to Yuma, who will be faced with some tough choices.

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Some of the best parts of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code come from the side quests. These aim to expand on various side characters introduced in previous chapters while also giving you a little mystery to solve while you make your way through the main mystery. These quests carry significant story details to the overall plot and the city. I was surprised by just how deep they get. So, I suggest completing these as they appear because they don’t come back once you’ve progressed the chapter to a certain point. Luckily, there is a fast travel bus system that gets you around town quickly.

Sadly, the performance of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a hit or miss. While I played most of the game in handheld mode, I will admit the resolution does not hold up. There are moments of out-of-focus characters, and the frame rate drops no matter which mode you play. However, given the genre, this isn’t a huge detriment to the enjoyment of the game. Still, the game has some quality 3D assets that have the potential to look exceptionally pretty, especially Shinigami when she takes on her human form. Be still my beating heart.

Other systems include hidden trophies that reveal short episodes between Yuma and the characters. This expands on their friendship, so be sure to look out for them. Thankfully, there are hints to point you in the right direction. I also need to point out the tremendous English dub for the game. There are a lot of recorded lines, so much so that you can play the game on Auto and watch the scenes play out like an anime. The voice actors for each character knocked it out of the park on this one. In terms of other options, you can speed up almost every scene, which does come in handy during the more lengthy mini-games or cutscenes.

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Master Detective Archives: Rain Code delivers an excellently paced detective mystery through its clever writing and memorable cast of characters. It’s not afraid to go to some dark places and have fun at the same time within its narrative, but the balance of these themes is crafted in a way that keeps you hooked. The puzzles are all clever, and the gameloop never comes off as repetitive or straightforward. It’s an excellent experience that rivals all other releases in this genre.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.