You'll love it if:
- You’re a fan of Danganronpa
- You love murder mysteries
- You prefer story over gameplay
Not for you if:
- You don’t like a lot of dialogue in your games
- You expect a challenging detective game
- You prefer games with serious stories
Creating a spiritual successor to the Danganronpa series was always going to be a challenge. It’s a beloved series with a distinct art style, atmosphere, and storytelling approach which is equal parts visual novel as much as it’s an adventure game series. However, developer Too Kyo Games and publisher Spike Chunsoft decided it was time to retire Monokuma for a while and focus their efforts elsewhere.
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a 3D murder mystery game that doesn’t hold back. It aims to make an impression with its vivid art style, its captivating story, and its charming ensemble of detectives. But does it do everything right or does it fumble a bit as a first entry in an ambitious new series?
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is an excellent step in the right direction for the Danganronpa developers at Spike Chunsoft. Despite it being a detective game, however, it’s very on rails and more akin to a visual novel than to an open-world adventure. It’s still very much worth your time, especially if you love anime, mystery stories, and quirky, eccentric characters.
Story – An Amnesiac in a Strange World
The story of Master Detective Archives: Rain Code picks up in media res. You play as Yuma Kokohead, an amnesiac who found himself on a train travelling to the Kanai Ward, a city controlled by a private corporation known as the Amaterasu Corp.
He can’t remember his past but is dressed in the uniform of a Master Detective of the World Detective Organization. We know this because the train is filled with others who are dressed just like him and are confused about why he’s on the train since no one knows who he is.
To add to that, Yuma is haunted by a Shinimagim, a Death God, who only he can see and who clues him in on what’s going on, bit by bit. It’s an intriguing premise that unravels very quickly and pulls you in with its intriguing twists and revelations. But right off the bat, it’s clear that Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a spiritual successor to Danganronpa. It’s one half visual novel, one half adventure game.
This means you’ll spend a lot of time reading, listening to dialogue, and otherwise being on rails. The story is neatly split into chapters, each of which represents a different case you’ll solve in the Kanai Ward. This makes Master Detective Archives: Rain Code an easy game to pick up and play for a few hours before putting it back down for a few days.
It Holds your Hand More than it Should
Unfortunately, you won’t really be doing a lot of “solving” of said murders in Master Detective Archives: Rain Code. The game tends to hold your hand to a fault to ensure that you’re always on the right track with the clues to your next objective.
Mystery Labyrinths, which serve as the game’s “dungeons”, are very similar to Persona 5 and its Palaces. Unlike Persona 5 however, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code contains no RPG elements such as extensive combat or item management. Instead, you’ll work closely with your trusty Shinigami to unravel the mystery of every case in a very step-by-step process.
Every piece of evidence will be presented to you multiple times and every clue will be examined and reexamined more than it should be. Games like L.A. Noire took a more hands-off approach to letting the player solve cases on their own terms – Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is more concerned with keeping you moving forward. While this will be a positive to some, it’ll be a major negative to others.
Gameplay – Solving Murders Across the Kanai Ward
From a gameplay perspective, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a mixed bag. That is if you’re expecting it to be an open-world adventure game. The game is quite linear and you’ll rarely have a chance to stray from the intended path. There are collectables and side conversations you can engage in, some light exploration, but that’s about it.
The main focus of the experience is on following the story and getting to the bottom of Kanai Ward’s biggest mystery – the constant rain. With rain, crime rates increased, and Master Detectives had their work cut out for them. To help them, Yuma and his Shinigami will pick up cases to solve so that they don’t remain “mysteries” because mysteries are powering whatever is happening in the Kanai Ward.
Minigames for Every Occasion
In terms of actual player interaction, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code relies on mini games. Thankfully, there are plenty of different mini games which are thematically appropriate. You’ll mix and match clues, solve word puzzles, make logical conclusions based on collected hints, etc. This makes it a great companion game to Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective if you’ve already played that game recently.
It’s all wrapped in a healthy dose of anime fanservice because the Shinigami transforms into a pink-haired busty lady and calls Yuma “Master” (of course it does) whenever you’re in a dungeon. In this aspect, the Shinigami is this game’s substitute for Monokuma who became so intrinsically representative of Danganronpa games over the years.
The closest Master Detective Archives: Rain Code has to actual “combat” comes in the form of “Death Matches”, where you face off against suspects in a game of…words. While it’s presented as a one-on-one battle, what really goes on here is that you’ll match certain statements to your deductions and thus win or lose the argument. It’s a very simple “Simon Says” mini game masked as a combat mechanic, but it does the job.
It’s Extremely Difficult to Fail at the Game
While solving crimes and unravelling mysteries may sound exciting on paper, it’s a very linear experience. The game does its best to guide you along the right path and it’s very difficult to get a “Game Over” screen. This means that the plot is constantly moving forward and that you won’t be stuck solving a puzzle or trying to find the right clue by yourself.
On the other hand, there’s very little in terms of a pure sense of accomplishment here. While there is some light levelling and skills to unlock, it’s all surface-level stuff. This makes Master Detective Archives: Rain Code very approachable as a game since anyone can pick it up and enjoy it. But it also means that some of its potential was squandered to ensure that everyone can finish it.
So, if you’re looking for a cosy, immersive story to pass the time during the hot summer months, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a great choice. Just don’t go into it expecting an experience similar to the Microids’ Still Life series–think of it as an interactive anime series.
Graphics – Oozing with its Rainy Atmosphere
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code relies on Unreal Engine 4 to bring its world to life and it shows, both for better and worse. The game’s world is very lively and vivid, despite its rainy atmosphere. Besides that, its characters are all distinct and you’ll quickly grow fond of certain detectives you’ll meet in the Kanai Ward. But, because it uses Unreal Engine 4, the choice to restrict the game to the Nintendo Switch is somewhat curious.
The game plays best when in docked mode, because only then can you truly appreciate all the hard work the developers put into making Master Detective Archives: Rain Code feel alive. Likewise, UI elements, text, and mini games all simply work better on a bigger screen, even though the game looks gorgeous in handheld mode, especially on the Switch OLED model.
Spike Chunsoft’s Jump to 3D
Over the past few years, Spike Chunsoft has released several 3D games such as their AI series and Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness. Their approach to 3D game design has been gradually improving, and Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is the next step in their style’s evolution.
The game is practically dripping with atmosphere and it has a very distinct visual style that makes it stand apart. Despite that, however, it’s somewhat held back by the Nintendo Switch. The game struggles to maintain a stable framerate at 30FPS and suffers from frequent, long loading times. Mixed with cutscenes, mini games, and hands-off sections, these loading times can sour the experience a bit.
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code would benefit greatly from being ported to the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S which may yet happen down the line. Keeping this game a Switch exclusive would be a shame because, with increased texture resolution and improved loading times, the game would be even better than it is now.
Audio – Ghost in the Shell Mixed with Cowboy Bebop
Another area where Master Detective Archives: Rain Code understood the assignment is its soundtrack. The game’s soundscape is amazingly fitting of its setting. It features tracks composed by Masafumi Takada who famously worked on the Danganronpa series as well. It’s suitable then that he would show his growth as a composer in the developer’s new IP which gave him an opportunity to flex his skills further than Danganronpa ever allowed him to.
The combination of synthetic and instrumental soundtracks really lends itself well to its world and story. You’ll hear everything from upbeat tracks to hype you up for a new mystery to more melancholic and brooding music as you walk the streets of the Kanai Ward. Apart from an excellent soundtrack, the sound design in Master Detective Archives: Rain Code is a standard affair. Very few studios have come close to the level of Hideo Kojima in his UI sound design for example, and that’s OK.
Anime Voice Acting is What You Expect
There are two choices when it comes to voice acting in Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, English and Japanese, so it’s a standard affair on that front. However, the game seems to gear toward Japanese as the preferred choice. Pre-rendered cutscenes are lip-synched to Japanese only, meaning that English comes off as strange and out of sync.
And with that, the English voice acting sounds like what you’d expect from an early 2000s anime dub. The Shinigami will especially make or break your enjoyment of the game due to its character. It’s a very eccentric and loud character that’ll comment on anything and everything you come across in two ways: excitement about murder and horny remarks.
Other characters you come across are much more down-to-earth and believable however, but Shinigami is the second most prominent character in the game. Again, it comes down to your expectations going into Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, as well as personal preferences.
Conclusion – Should you Play Master Detective Archives: Rain Code?
Going into Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, you should know what to expect from the experience. While the game does open up bit-by-bit as you progress, it never really lets you play around by yourself and solve mysteries without a heavy hand guiding you along. Likewise, this isn’t a JRPG like Shin Megami Tensei V for example, nor is it trying to be.
Think of it as a visual novel with bits and pieces of gameplay sprinkled in and you’ll have a much better idea of what to expect. If that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code will be a blast during its 25-30 hour runtime. The game is currently available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. However, we see Spike Chunsoft porting it over to other consoles, similar to how they handled the Danganronpa games in the past.
Huge thanks to CD Media for providing us with the review copy.