Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE is a new detective adventure game from Spike Chunsoft, the same company behind developing and publishing the Danganronpa series, the Zero Escape series, and AI: The Somnium Files and its sequel Nirvana Initiative. So they know their way around this genre pretty well, based on everything I’ve hear;, with this game specifically taking a lot from Danganronpa. I confess I have only played a small amount of the first Danganronpa and AI: The Somnium Files, but they are both very high up on my backlog of games. What can I say? I’m in my detectiving phase. However, there was something about this game that called to me. Couldn’t tell you what it was, but here I am, chugging away at it with no second-guessing. So with all that said, here are my first impressions after finishing the Prologue and Chapter One!
Graphically, the one big change from Danganronpa that Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE does make is go 3D and third-person as opposed to the previously used 2D style. While this doesn’t fundamentally change the gameplay loop, it does just plain feel better; a little less janky. It controls more like an adventure game now as opposed to a dungeon crawler game ala Etrian Odyssey. This also opens the game up to have more experimental and fully realized environments, an opportunity that the developers do not waste. The art style will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar to Danganronpa with similar character designs and coloring that somehow manages to be ominous and foreboding with just enough warmth and brightness to offset the stressful environments. This is most obvious in the larger world of Kanai Ward, which is largely reminiscent of Blade Runner 2049, big bad corporation and all. It is constantly raining for a story reason I have not discovered yet, but the neon lights and bright graffiti littering the streets add a nice personality to what could otherwise be a purely gloomy and boring world under the pretense of “story reasons!” The streets are also perfectly populated; enough people outside for the world to feel lived in but empty enough to be a constant reminder that no one wants to be there.
The story takes off with the amnesiac main character Yuma Kokohead waking up and rushing to board a train owned by Amaterasu Corporation headed to Kanai Ward, also apparently owned by Amaterasu Corporation. So much so that the actual government has ceded control of Kanai Ward to the company. As previously mentioned with “no one wants to be there”, the politics are not subtle here. Amaterasu Corporation is a big bad capitalist entity with a privatized and highly corrupt police department, known as the Peacekeepers, and all the poor people hate it and struggle to live inside it, while the rich people don’t look past how shabby the poor people look. The prologue mission takes place on said train and then the main game really takes off when you arrive.
You join a very small group of Master Detectives from the World Detective Organization, an organization that is at odds with the Peacekeepers in Kanai Ward. The head of the WDO then requests that your small group, of which you are the lowest rung as a trainee, discovers the truth of “Kanai Ward’s Ultimate Secret”. As you solve major cases along this path, you can opt into side quests that further the anti-capitalist/anti-corporation politics. The first two optional side quests involve letting a robber go free after retrieving the stolen item because handing the thief over to the Peacemakers seems evil in and of itself, while the other one involves confronting a ghost who is kidnapping kids because the ghost genuinely does not want kids to have to grow up in such a corrupt city. Again, none of the politics are subtle here.
The characters in Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE are diverse in personality, with one specific standout for me. It’s a main crew of 6 with Yuma being the trainee, Yakou Furio the chief, and 4 other Master Detectives. One, Vivia Twilight, stands above the rest for me, but that’s because I have a morbid sense of humor and Vivia is super depressed and never skips a chance to make morbid jokes! Otherwise, you have your hotheaded young boy in Desuhiko Thunderbolt, your cute and ditzy rich girl in Fubuki Clockford, and the aggressively independent and condescending detective in Halara Nightmare. I’m not super far into the game so the characters haven’t been expanded upon a ton, but outside of the main progression of the game, the game has collectibles out in the world to open up “Gumshoe Gab”, which operate as memory shards for the side characters, so I do expect these characters to have a bunch of depth into them past the initial stereotypes put forth in the introductions.
All of this is on top of Yuma Kokohead’s struggle with his amnesia and therefore continuing personality crisis. I think anyone would second guess why they are in the most depressing city ruled by an autonomous corporation trying to solve crimes under the table due to a privatized and corrupt police department when they can’t remember why they even applied to be a detective in the first place.
Last but not least, we have Shinigami. Shinigami is a shinigami (death god) that Yuma signed a pact with prior to the game’s start that effectively erased his memory but ties themselves together forevermore. Her design in the waking world is a long-lost cousin from Mario’s Boo, but she transforms into a very sexualized woman, who I can only describe using the old meme of “she breasted boobily” (the Danganronpa games had a brand of cringe that only continues here), and whisks you away to Mystery Labyrinths. The dynamic between Yuma and Shinigami is fine, with Shinigami providing a solid foil to Yuma, but I can’t say she’s my favorite character by any means. With that said, I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative as I’d argue that having differing opinions on a character and their foil might even add to the dynamic.
For the gameplay itself, the one word that dominates my thoughts is “inspired”. Traversing the map, the sidequests, all the moment-to-moment gameplay are as standard as they come, but the meat of the main quests and the detective work is very creative and different from anything I’ve played before (read: Phoenix Wright trilogy). You uncover clues through the tried and true method: walk around and hit A when a prompt over an item pops up. It’s what you do with those clues that goes totally off the rails. Once you’ve collected all the clues in the waking world and the story is ready for it, Shinigami takes you away to her Mystery Labyrinths where the clues, now known as Solution Keys, effectively turn into ammo to be used to solve various minigames. There are quite a few various minigames with more being added to Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE in successive chapters but there seem to be 3 main ones.
The first main one is called “Reasoning Death Match”, which involves dodging false statement projectiles spewed forth by culprits or their associates and using Solution Keys as ammo for your Solution Blade to slash through specific statements that provide a contradiction. So it’s a bit more involved than yelling “Objection!” and preventing evidence. Because you get to use reaction timings to score higher and then use a sword. It’s fun and also a very strange way to be a detective. The other main minigame, called Shinigami Puzzle, involves throwing your Solution Sword at specific letters on a rotating barrel with Shinigami in the middle. Have no fears, they didn’t go so far as to have a naked lady waiting to be uncovered. Instead, when you spell out the missing word in the sentence, the barrel fires Shinigami into the sky where she uncovers another part of the truth and opens up more of the path.
What is this path, you ask? The Mystery Labyrinth is a dungeon that mostly involves running in a straight line that constantly unfolds. You just keep running and running and it just keeps adding more distance between you and the final door. Every now and then, you’ll be put into a room where you have to choose between two options to further deduce the truth and there’s also a part where you use a mining cart to race along tracks and have to again use proper deduction techniques to keep the cart on the right track or else run into a dead end. There is a health bar that is damaged every time you choose a wrong option or are unable to dodge a false statement or run out of time for the rotating barrel game.
The final minigame, GOD Shinigami, involves Shinigami becoming a super giant and rushing towards the culprit to ultimately defeat them, having to kick away cannonballs or tackling through castle walls or jumping over spike traps to get there. This minigame is a bit pointless, as the movement is so fast that you don’t even see the false statements. You hear them as the culprit yells them at you but ultimately, this is purely a reflex minigame as opposed to really having any thought put into it as with the Reasoning Death Match, outside of the very sparing occasional wall that you need to use a Solution Key to break through.
After all this, the mystery has been solved completely and the only thing left is the Deduction Denoument, in which you use all the clues and deceptions that you have uncovered to fill out a picture book that details the timeline of the mystery. Once that is complete, you have officially finished the mystery and the story can progress. This prologue mission was not the most engaging of mysteries, which is fine because it is the tutorial, so luckily, the first chapter is a bit more involved to figure out. The detectiving and the thought process behind solving the mystery feels different from how to play the Ace Attorney game, as though the truth is your shield as you sometimes quite literally dodge misdirections and falsities levied your way. It’s less about pressing the culprits and their accomplices into tripping over themselves and exposing them, but using Solution Keys to make sure that the truth does come through. It’s also a nice change of pace within the game itself, as it’s an escape from rainy and depressing Kanai Ward and just running around and talking to people.
I do have a few complaints about the gameplay and the game overall, however. Two big ones stem from the fact that it is 2023. How any game that heavily involves text doesn’t have an option to read the text log or any game that heavily involves running around doesn’t involve a sprint button is beyond me. These are basic quality-of-life things, please implement them. Please. There are also minor stuttering issues within the Mystery Labyrinth, which somewhat makes sense with the constantly unfolding and therefore constantly loading portions of that area. They weren’t major issues but they were enough to be noticeable. I’m not THAT picky with this stuff, so it’s not ruining my experience by any means, but they were there enough to be mentionable. One that I’m apprehensive enough about but haven’t necessarily encountered is what happens if the fun of the minigames is eventually not enough to hold up the weakness of the actual mystery deduction part of the gameplay loop? However, I am very not far into the game so this is purely speculation as they do seem to be adding new minigames in with two new ones being shown in the first chapter and not repeating all the ones from the prologue, with Reasoning Death Match and Shinigami Puzzle seeming to be the mainstays.
With all this said, it is admittedly unfair to judge the difficulty balance on a prologue mission and maybe I should just try to think things through instead of mixing and matching Solution Keys and abusing the incredibly generous health bar for experimentation. Finally, as I said before, there is a specific brand of cringe to these games that might not be for everyone. I’m rather ambivalent about it, can’t say I’m a fan but also not turned away by it, but I understand why some people might side-eye Shinigami repeatedly mentioning how soft and jiggly her boobs are or how horny she is. Repeatedly is a bit of a strong word, as so far, it’s only three times but I think once was more than enough myself.
Overall, I can’t say I’m disappointed in my impulse to get Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE yet. While I absolutely adore Phoenix Wright, the wildly different gameplay loop of this detective game is something I was looking for to keep my interest fresh. The graphics and aesthetic are nice and appropriate for what the game is going for and I also adore the politics the game is going for. I’m a simpleton, I don’t think too deeply about content, so when the surface-level politics are this openly aggressive, I enjoy them all the more. The complaints I have about the game are all too minor for me to really say they’re a strong knock against the game, but one of them is an apprehension that if it comes true, will be a pretty big detraction. However, until that apprehension becomes a potential reality, I’m enjoying my time with this game and I’m excited to dig deeper into it, ruin Amaterasu Corporation and liberate Kanai Ward from the late-stage capitalist dystopia they find themselves in.