Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Review – Outdoes Monokuma

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Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Review – Outdoes Monokuma

Danganronpa has been one of the most unexpected success stories of recent years. They're weird, they're morbid, they're the kind of thing that's traditionally been very niche outside of Japan, and yet the Danganronpa games have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. You'd think Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka would stick with the series for life, but after producing a couple of sequels, he instead chose to branch out with new studio Too Kyo Games. After posting a couple of smaller experiments, Kodaka has delivered his first major Danganronpa sequel, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code.

Do the Master Detective Archives prove that Kodaka and company are still masterful mystery writers? Or is the game unable to escape Monokuma's cuddly shadow? Grab an umbrella, it's time to wade in…

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code begins with protagonist Yuma Kokohead (this game has a real flair for names) waking up in a train station with no memory of his past. Yes, there is a story about amnesia, but don't worry, the rest of the game doesn't go too heavy on the clichés. Yuma soon finds himself on a train with a number of card-carrying members of the World Detective Organization – Master Detectives who use special powers that help them solve mysteries. Unfortunately, these powers don't end up being of much use, as all the detectives end up dead and Yuma is named as the killer. Isn't that always the case?

Fortunately, it turns out that Yuma made a pact with a god of death called Shinigami in exchange for his memories. Usually the Shinigami appears as a purple Pac-Man-esque ghost that only Yuma can see, but she transforms into a much more… robust… form while in a Mystery Labyrinth. But what is a Mystery Labyrinth you ask? These trippy manifestations of Yuma's current case lead you step-by-step to the true culprit, who ultimately faces punishment from the Shinigami. Punishment that causes them to die in the real world.

Thanks to Shinigami and the Mystery Labyrinth, Yuma solves the train murders and finds himself in Kanai Ward, a perpetually rain-soaked neon dystopia cut off from the outside world and ruled over by the Amaterasu Corporation. Yuma soon links up with another group of World Detective Organization members, known as the Nocturnal Detective Agency, and discovers that he himself is a Master Detective apprentice. The WDO has sent all scouts to uncover "Kanai Ward's Ultimate Secret" which is somehow connected to the wider "Great Global Mystery", but in the meantime, Yuma and friends begin to solve some minor murder mysteries while evading the Amaterasu Corps. Peacekeeping Security Force.

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code's premise isn't as elegant and clever as "high school kids trying to survive a killing game" and it takes a while to set the table. The game's early hours are a bit slow, but you should start to feel at home in Kanai Ward before too long. While the world of Danganronpa certainly left an impression, it was also quite abstract. The state of the wider world outside of the classroom's killing zone was always vague, and the goals of Monokuma and the games' other antagonists were nebulous. In comparison, Rain Code offers a much more fleshed out, believable and in some ways grounded world. Don't get me wrong, the game still serves up some wild twists and turns and the gallows humor, horniness and general weirdness is still here, but this time it's served up with a surprisingly hearty side order of world building. Everything fits together and makes sense. Heck, we even get a pretty brilliant in-universe explanation for why everyone in Kodaka-produced games bleeds pink blood.

You get the sense that Kodaka cares about the characters in Rain Code in a way he never really did with Danganronpa's angry students. Sure, Danganronpa characters were often memorable, sometimes even likable, but the games tended to treat them in rather insensitive ways and you rarely felt really involved in their dramas. Not so in Rain Code. All the bizarre twists and turns eventually build to a surprisingly heartfelt, character-driven conclusion. I will admit that there were a few moments that rightfully hit me in the feels, showing real growth in Kodaka's writing skills.

Mater Detective Archive: Rain Code's more concrete world is bolstered by much improved presentation. Unlike the simple, largely static visuals of the Danganronpa games, Rain Code offers an intricate fully explorable overworld. This isn't Cyberpunk 2077, but Kanai Ward offers a surprising level of detail and some flourishes you don't often see on Switch, including some pretty eye-catching reflections. Meanwhile, Mystery Dungeons delivers plenty of thought-provoking visuals, with the landscape bending and morphing around you as you proceed. These impressive images sometimes come at a cost to performance, but occasional frame rate issues aren't too serious or distracting. Sound is a bit of a mixed bag, as the game's soundtrack is perhaps a little too similar to Danganronpa, but that's largely offset by consistently excellent voice acting.

Of course, good world-building wouldn't mean much if Rain Code didn't serve up quality mysteries. Fortunately, it does. This is probably the best, most consistent set of cases Kodaka has delivered to date. There are no duds here, as each mystery is clever, tightly plotted, and feels unique. Most of the cases are plays on classic mystery tropes – death on a train, a series of murders in locked rooms, a theatrically themed case full of behind-the-scenes drama, and so on. Kodaka takes on the mystery paperback classics and spins them in fun and unexpected ways.

Rain Code's elaborate mysteries are well served by gameplay that feels similar to Danganronpa, but has been polished to a much greater degree. Each chapter begins with an investigation phase, where players explore the overworld and investigate crime scenes to gather clues (or "Solution Keys") that will later be used in Mystery Dungeon. Sometimes these parts of the game can be a little long, but Rain Code keeps the player engaged in some unusual scenarios. From chapter to chapter, you'll find yourself doing some tricky undercover work at an all-girls school, exploring a secret lab as a disembodied spirit, and more.

Mystery Dungeons is essentially an updated version of Danganronpa's class tests, with players presenting clues and countering arguments in a series of minigames. The most common challenge you'll face is Reasoning Death Matches, a refined version of the non-stop debates from Danganronpa that task you with literally dodging an opponent's statements and countering lies with the correct solution key. Other recurring mini-games include Shinigami Puzzles which task you with spelling a keyword, God Shinigami Rush where you bash your way through the culprit's last defenses, and Deduction Denouement where you must lay out the details of a case in the pages of a graphic novel. .

While it's not really possible to get lost in a mysterious maze, the presentation is more engaging than Danganronpa's class tests, which weren't as visually exciting and could feel repetitive. The Mystery Dungeon format also allows for more innovation, with each one usually having a unique twist. In one chapter you have to recreate mysteries in locked rooms step by step, in another you have to fight against your own doubts, ect. In general, the writing and construction of the Mystery Labyrinths is just tighter than previous class tests. There are fewer moments where logic doesn't make sense or you're forced to take questionable moves.

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code's twists and turns aren't as wild as Danganronpa's, but they make more sense, and are ultimately more satisfying. And don't get me wrong, Rain Code goes to some very dark and surprising places. Kodaka has built the world of Rain Code brick by brick in a very careful way, and it's hard not to admire the craftsmanship. And a lot of handwork has been done! The game is at least 30 hours long, and those who aim to clean up sidequests and collectibles can spend close to 40 hours. Expect to spend a lot of time combing through these archives, mystery fans.

This review was based on a copy of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code provided by Nintendo and publisher Spike Chunsoft.

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Master Detective Archives: Rain Code may tame Danganronpa's anarchic spirit a bit, but it also greatly expands and improves its formula with a more developed world, bold visuals, refined gameplay, and the best collection of whodunnits writer Kazutaka Kodaka has delivered to date. This is, simply put, one of the best, most ambitious visual novels of recent years. Get in on the ground floor, because Master Detective Archives has all the makings of a killer franchise.

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