Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Review – Blame It On The Rain Play4ever

I have to hand it to the development staff of Rain Code: They are very skilled at completely upending your expectations from the get-go. I certainly expected to be shocked and surprised, given that these are the minds behind the beloved Danganronpa series–they know a thing or two about throwing players narrative curveballs out of nowhere–but even I wasn’t expecting what happened after about 30 minutes of introduction. I wanted to put the Switch down and give a little “Well done!” clap. It’s a bit of a shame, though, because after that, none of the other cases ever reach the same high, despite some great moments. That’s Rain Code in a nutshell: It can’t quite reach the greatness of what came before it.

Rain Code begins with a young man waking up in some sort of storage room. All he can remember is that his name is Yuma Kokohead and he’s got to catch a train that’s headed to Kanai Ward–a corporate city cut off to most of the outside world, shrouded in perpetual, neon-lit darkness and rain, run by the Amaterasu megacorp, and controlled by the militarized Peacekeeper force. It’s not long after he boards the train that he finds out why he’s going there: He’s part of the World Detective Organization, which is sending several agents in to investigate Kanai Ward’s ugly secrets. He also soon discovers why he has amnesia: It turns out he made a deal with a death god for special powers and offered up his memories in exchange.

Now Playing: Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE Character Trailer – World Detective Organization Pt. 2

That death god, Shinigami, mostly hangs around in the form of a tiny ghost that only Yuma can see. It reads his thoughts and makes sarcastic comments until there’s a mystery to be solved, which is when Shinigami stops time and transforms into a buxom demon maiden to whisk him away to mind-palace Mystery Labyrinths where things get buck-wild. Here, he must battle logic monsters, evade dastardly false-solution traps, and unlock doors with Evidence Keys that Shinigami barfs up in a shower of rainbows. And also maybe crush thought barriers riding Shinigami as a giant kaiju. And play Pop-up Pirate with her in a barrel on the beach. Yeah, it’s all just a little weird.

Much has been made of the fact that Rain Code’s development team helmed the beloved Danganronpa adventure game series, which you’ll see (and hear) clearly in the character designs, music, and delightfully outlandish character concepts. The similarities are more than skin-deep, however: Rain Code’s gameplay structure is clearly modeled after those games. Each of the game’s six lengthy chapters has a plot-heavy setup, a murder, an investigation, and then a collection of minigames to catch the culprit–only, instead of a mass trial run by a malevolent bear-thing, you’re braving an extra-dimensional detective dungeon. Even the Logic Deathmatch battles you fight in the dungeons are essentially a remake of Danganronpa’s contradiction-hunting Nonstop Debates, but with a sword instead of gun to cut down falsehoods.

Yuma, being both a detective trainee and an amnesiac, has some big hurdles to overcome. Fortunately, the other WDO members–a motley crew of quirky weirdos with love-or-hate personality traits–all have a unique supernatural ability of their own, ranging from sensing life energy or revisiting a crime scene from when it was first witnessed in the past, to separating soul from body or phasing through solid walls. Yuma soon finds he can share these special skills with their wielder, and they become crucial during the course of investigations to gather clues and evidence. For example, Yuma can use obnoxious would-be casanova Desuhiko’s disguise ability to infiltrate an elite private school where a suspicious murder has occurred in the drama club. Getting to use these abilities is a neat twist, though the times you can actually play around with them are very limited.

As host to all of the dark happenings, Kanai Ward itself is a key element of the game: a moist, murky, and foreboding place lined with neon lights and winding passageways. A lot of thought has been put into the art design of the city and its assorted regions, and most chapters offer you a portion of time to explore and admire the various parts of the city freely and talk to NPCs. Unfortunately, that’s about all you can do; there aren’t any shops or activities to be found here. You can take on some side quests to build up your Detective Rank (and learn helpful Mystery Labyrinth skills via a skill tree), but these quests are universally bland, with bog-standard fetch-quest objectives and wholly unmemorable NPC dialogue, ultimately feeling like needless padding.

In contrast, the Mystery Labyrinths that Shinigami creates to close out each chapter are very well-designed and feature plenty of intriguing twists and turns, along with charming banter (and plenty of downright bizarre physical interactions) between Yuma, Shinigami, and other characters who get sucked in for the ride. The portrayal of a logical puzzle as a physical dungeon is an enjoyable conceit that allows the artists and puzzle designers to create some really memorable traps, solutions, and liminal spaces to travel through. While the Switch sometimes struggles with muddy-looking textures and slowdown, the overall art design is a high point, as are the variety of obstacles and glammed-up enemies Yuma must overcome. The variety of obstacles and puzzles is great, too. At one moment you’ll be fighting a literal battle of words against a Mystery Phantom opponent who shouts attacks at you, and the next you’ll be reconstructing crime scenes or playing a QTE-type event where you need to correctly answer a question quickly in order to escape danger, only to then be faced with Shinigami in a rotating barrel you throw swords at to make a phrase, followed by a finale in which a massive Shinigami must crush all mental barriers that stand between you and the truth… among other things. The mechanics in each of these sub-sections differ but are very easy to understand and get the hang of, making for constantly shifting gameplay that keeps you on your toes.

As cool and wild as many of the character designs are in Rain Code, there’s simply not enough character interaction for you to feel a strong connection or animosity towards anyone. Both friends and foes alike tend to get a designated chapter to show off their abilities and personality quirks, only to be relegated to minor supporting roles afterwards. Instead, most of the in-game interactions are solely between Yuma and Shinigami, who do have a very entertaining rapport with one another. You can see little side stories with other major characters through finding collectibles, though this requires extra legwork and still doesn’t remedy the issue.

This lack of character development and attachment is one of the main reasons why Rain Code doesn’t hit the same sweet-spot that the Danganronpa games did. Danganronpa games were extremely character-driven, and that fed into the forever-tense, emotional atmosphere: At any moment, a character you really liked could wind up killed horribly, or–perhaps worse–turn out to be a cold-blooded murderer. That fear and inevitability of loss was pervasive and powerful, making every moment feel weighty.

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Rain Code doesn’t have the same tension and urgency. The victims of the murders are characters you barely know, the threat of a tyrannical mega-corp’s unethical experiments is mostly indirect, and some of the big story revelations just don’t hit as hard as they should. I also felt like the Mystery Labyrinths, as enjoyable as they were, tended to drag out their conclusions. I’d usually figured out the who and how by around the halfway point in each, meaning I only had to puzzle out how the game wanted me to put everything together. The result is a narrative-driven game with a story that lacks impact where it needs it most and leaves you saying, “Wait, that’s all there is?” (An ending that wraps things up just a little too nicely given the messy revelations of the final chapter doesn’t help, either.)

But even though it’s not quite as good as Danganronpa’s dizzying roller-coaster highs, Rain Code is a solid detective adventure that entertains and engages for the majority of its runtime. It’s got an intriguing concept, enjoyable dialogue, an interesting and plenty of bold, outlandish strangeness to hold a player’s interest. I, for one, certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of Shinigami’s sublime snark.

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