Title: Process of Elimination
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: April 11, 2023
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
When it comes to visual novels, few companies actually bring over their own titles from Japan. Whether that is simply due to the niche nature of the genre or because of high localization costs varies. Among those companies includes Nippon Ichi, which, mostly known for the Disgaea series, has plenty of titles that have remained Japan-exclusive. But at least one of those cases changes today with the Western release of the mystery adventure Process of Elimination, so let us “investigate” and see what this title holds.
In Process of Elimination, you play as Wato Hojo, an apprentice yearning to make it big as a detective in a city where a serial killer known as the Quartering Duke has gone rampant. No one knows their gender due to their voice filter, and they always seem to leave two victims, no matter what, with the Duke claiming it’s all in the name of entertainment.
Wato is then scouted by the Detective Alliance, an organization where the most respected detectives have gathered to solve the case of the Quartering Duke once and for all. They each have an ability they “excel” at, in a sense, which is reflected in the codenames they give each other. Moreover, revealing one’s real name is against the rules unless it’s essential. Much to his dismay, Wato is given the title of “Incompetent” Detective.
You’ll primarily be scrolling through pages upon pages of text, which, in my opinion, makes the title way more suited for a small screen such as the Nintendo Switch. This is further emphasized by how the space between glyphs is a bit wide in the font they’ve used, and that did require me to stay further than my usual “sweet” spot of 1.8 meters (six feet, give or take) from my TV for a comfortable reading experience. So if you were on the fence about whether to get this on PS4 or Switch, my vote would be for the latter platform.
Similar to some of its contemporaries, such as Danganronpa, 13 Sentinels, and Ai: The Somnium Files, once you’ve figured out the plot twist, it’s absolutely impossible for you to re-experience the narrative of Process of Elimination properly. Unfortunately, the first few chapters are littered with pacing issues, but from around the midpoint, it gets dramatically better. The game is regrettably short, even by visual novel standards, though for those interested, the Platinum trophy is honestly quite easy. I managed to complete all of the chapters in less than ten hours, and it only took me an additional two to three hours to obtain the remaining trophies.
Speaking of the detectives, their dialogue and interactions are hilarious, and I applaud the localization team for successfully bringing out their quirkiness. While it might be a bit of a shame that there is no English dub, some UI elements and even terms were written with the Japanese language in mind, so they did their homework to faithfully translate them. Regarding the endearing cast, I found Downtown, a detective who uses a lot of internet slang, and Bookworm, another Alliance member who always speaks as though she’s a narrator, particularly enjoyable.
Admittedly, the story’s ending definitely could’ve elaborated more. It almost feels like the developers wanted to expand a lot more into the worldview and its scenario but decided to cut it rather abruptly. This is evident by how much of the information that discusses each detective’s notable case and residual thoughts, which provide brief skits where you learn about their pasts, are all shoved away into a menu that is, as far as I can tell, entirely optional. Additionally, it feels there is more to the tale due to the fact that the epilogue implies the existence of a potential sequel, but given that Process of Elimination has been out in Japan for almost two years now with no news of a continuation, I’m not holding my breath.
Perhaps one thing that makes Process of Elimination stand out from its contemporaries is the tactical RPG-esque Investigation segments, where your objective is to examine various spots scattered across a grid map to obtain and analyze evidence, to get to the truth of the case.
These segments frustrated me for several reasons at the beginning, with the most significant being that once you’ve decided on an action for a detective, you can’t undo it unless that action only involves moving that detective. As a result, it’s not uncommon to get a Game Over because some investigations will require precision under a time limit.
Furthermore, the map grid perspective cannot be changed, nor is saving an option during these scenarios. I instead would’ve much preferred a top-down grid like in Fire Emblem. And if that wasn’t enough, inspecting certain types of Evidence in some chapters will trigger traps that will give a Game Over if a detective with an insufficient Inference stat is nearby, so that aforementioned fixed viewpoint can be a hindrance in some instances.
That being said, however you choose to solve the Investigation segments, Process of Elimination is rather flexible on what solutions you can use, partially due to how you are scored at the end of a chapter. It doesn’t matter if you finish with four or two turns remaining, or whether or not you’ve examined all of the spots marked in red. As long as you can answer all of the questions, you can still get the max score.
Once you’ve collected all of the Evidence, it’s vital to carefully analyze how the text is worded so that you can answer multiple-choice questions that appear later. Answering them correctly will increase your trust level, which affects your score at the end of the chapter. The benefit of doing this is that after you’ve cleared any chapter, you can always replay them, causing residual thoughts containing small skits that peer into the past of the detectives to appear if the protagonist inspects them.
Process of Elimination is a wild emotional rollercoaster. Despite the story’s initially weak pacing, the narrative manages to deceive you so thoroughly that you’re led into a loop you may not see coming. Similar is the overall gameloop, where the strategy segments don’t improve until you’ve spent a few hours understanding the nuanced systems.
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