June 30, 2023
Danganronpa is perhaps one of the most bizarre games series of all time. Its unique blend of mystery, dark comedy, dating simulation, and horror elements created something truly strange and unforgettable, and I have sorely missed its absence in the past 6 years. The developers behind the series have formed their own studio called Too Kyo Studios, and Mystery Detective Archives: Rain Code is one of their first brand-new IPs. You can tell at a glance that the game is heavily inspired by its predecessor, and in many ways, it is a lot like the first Danganronpa: it’s an entertaining mystery thriller with a bombastic twist that could nevertheless use some improvements.
The world has been united under a single world government, all except for a tiny isolated city called Kanai Ward, which is controlled by the Amaterasu Corporation. Concerned by what is known as “Kanai Ward’s Ultimate Secret”, the World Detective Organisation sends a team of ‘Master Detectives’ to investigate. The protagonist Yuma is a young detective-in-training who finds himself whisked along for the ride, and the game follows him through six chapters each containing a standalone murder mystery, as well as an overarching plot.
Danganronpa by another name
Gameplay-wise, Rain Code could almost be called a spiritual successor to Danganronpa. In each chapter, Yuma stumbles across a murder mystery, and there is an investigation stage followed by a portion where Yuma and friends puzzle out the truth of the matter from A to B. In Danganronpa, this consisted of a group of teenagers arguing with each other in a circle with the occasional minigame thrown in. In Rain Code, things are turned up to eleven as Yuma and his plucky ghost sidekick have to physically overcome a magical labyrinth to solve each mystery.
Instead of simply arguing things out, Yuma and co. must run through corridors and navigate crazy set pieces to solve the mystery. Mine cart rides, crumbling floors, falling bombs, and more… But these set pieces are just backdrops for multiple-choice questions and quick time events. It’s certainly a step up in terms of spectacle, but it is, in essence, the same gameplay from Danganronpa: there is some dialogue, then a minigame, then more dialogue, then a different minigame.
Once I noticed this, the mystery labyrinths lost a lot of their luster and the various minigames began to feel like wasted time. You know, I don’t need colorful distractions and constant input to enjoy a mystery story; that’s why I’m playing a visual novel. There are some good ideas within, though; there are some points where the physical space of the labyrinth is used to good effect, such as when several winding paths of a labyrinth are revealed to be parts of the same path, which in turn reveals a clue to Yuma that helps him understand how a murder was committed. There are also some very cool uses of the mystery labyrinth in the final chapter, but I wish there were more examples in the earlier chapters too.
“Rain Code could almost be called a spiritual successor to Danganronpa.”
The action and set pieces would be more enjoyable if the graphical fidelity was clearer. During gameplay, the 3d models of the character look blurrier than they should for a 2023 game. The 2D illustrations that accompany dialogue boxes are crisp, clear, and detailed, so it’s a very noticeable contrast. The lip-syncing isn’t perfect either, at least not playing with English voice acting, despite a patch that was intended to fix the issue. I also encountered a few graphical glitches and frame rate drops at certain points. As expected of Too Kyo Games, the 2D illustrations and character designs are fantastic.
Shinigami is the busty goth anime waifu that serves as Yuma’s sidekick. When out in the real world, she is a cartoonish ghost visible only to Yuma, but inside the mystery labyrinths she transforms into a collection of the developer’s thinly veiled fetishes. To be clear, I am not immune to sexualised anime women; I do enjoy the lovingly animated cutscenes of her striking suggestive poses, complete with jiggle physics, although they start to outstay their welcome when they repeat in each chapter.
I want to like her, because I certainly like her design and concept. The fact that she is so…. much… is clearly part of the joke, one that I can appreciate. But she too often interrupts dialogue scenes with unnecessary commentary and unfunny quips. Worse, her attitude is horrendous toward any female character who dares to talk to her ‘master’ Yuma. She calls them “sluts” and “skanks”, and makes comments about their bodies using astounding levels of sexism. The game expects me to find this humorous. I do not. It’s frustrating because if you take away these stale tropes, she’s otherwise a compelling supporting character capable of genuine emotion.
Case by case
Kanai Ward is covered in never-ending rain, which forms part of the game’s main mystery; what is going on in this place? But it’s also a place of unsolved mysteries, which is the game’s excuse for Yuma can’t help but stumble into murder mysteries every week. Each chapter focuses on a different murder, and while I certainly like some more than others, none of them are what I’d call a dud, which is more than I can say for the Danganronpa series.
There are a host of other Master Detectives for Yuma to meet, but they are introduced at a reasonable pace so you don’t get exposition overload. Yuma meets 5 of them in the first chapter, and then another batch of characters in the following chapters, and the game has a good method of making sure that only a few of them feature in any given chapter so that you can get to know each one properly.
Each Master Detective has what’s called a Forensic Forte, which is a unique supernatural ability that is designed to help them solve mysteries. Yuma is able to use these Fortes during the investigation segments, which keeps each chapter from seeming too similar to each other. Not to mention, it’s fun to learn more about each of the kooky cast as each chapter goes by.
Exactly as I hoped, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code finished with a big, dramatic, last-chapter reveal that Too Kyo Games is known for. Is there a name for a twist that is so over the top and melodramatic that it’s actually good? Well, Rain Code achieves it. Part of the twist was so charmingly cliché that I couldn’t help but smile at it.
I liked the world and characters of Rain Code a lot, and if the prefix title Master Detective Archives is any indication, Too Kyo Games and Spike Chunsoft might be planning more. If they manage to improve on the Mystery Labyrinth mechanics, it might replace Danganronpa in my heart… okay, unlikely, but who knows?
- The overarching mystery has just the crazy, unexpected, yet enjoyable twist I was hoping for
- Each chapter's murder case are satisfying bite-sized mysteries
- Art style and soundtrack are both great and fit the atmosphere
- Contradiction-smashing gameplay is fun, if a bit slow-paced
- Mystery Labyrinth is a bit too much 'style over substance'
- In-game graphics look a little blurry
- Shinigami's sexist antics get tiresome fast
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is an easy recommendation for fans of the Danganronpa series. It’s got the same dark humor and an unapologetically weird premise, and it features a slightly different take on the contradiction-smashing gameplay that made the former series stand out. There’s some room for improvement in what’s been added, but if you can stand some stale anime tropes and imperfect graphics, Rain Code is a crazy enjoyable ride full of twists and turns.