A long time ago, I played a game called Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. The game became iconic as a detective fiction version of battle royale where you had to sleuth out who killed your fellow schoolmates and an evil teddy bear would punish the culprit. I bring this up due to the relevance of the art direction and story formula being used for this game being almost identical, as Master Detective Archives was made by the same publisher directly after the success of those games. The marketing gave out strong vibes of being a spiritual successor to Danganronpa and used that to its ultimate benefit. As an RPG and Visual Novel hybrid, this game has some seriously good integration of both genres. I would argue that it is better than its predecessor.
But make no mistake. This game is well aware of its production similarities, to the point that it will use these preconceptions against the player. As a consumer, you’re being conditioned from the moment you watch the trailer. You’re meant to think, “this is just like Danganronpa.” The game bases some of its biggest twists around things you will already take for granted.
One of the worst points of detective games is figuring out what happened prematurely during the exploration stage. In this game, you have to brute force your way to the truth, being given a handful of evidence and having to piece it all together through very small details that you narrow down and inevitably use the mystical properties of a mechanic called the “Mystery Labyrinth” to determine if your deductions are sound. This Labyrinth is a spiritual realm conjured by unsolved mysteries, and getting through it is how you reach the truth of cases in this game.
This game actively manages to keep you engaged throughout the entire process. That’s the nature of this game. Sometimes, you have to make absurd leaps in logic to find the true path forward. You can’t really use typical detective game tricks to make it to the end goal in this one.
You play as Yuma Kokohead, an amnesiac short person with a cool hat. Confused and bewildered, you begin only with a note telling you to get on a train. From there, you become embroiled in the politics of the World Detective Agency, being commanded into scoping out various mysteries in one of the world’s most secluded and high-security communities.
Local law enforcement hounds you at every turn, treating detectives like rats scurrying about their city. So, as good detectives, it’s up to you to unravel the city’s most intriguing mysteries, all while under the fear of being arrested, tortured, and quite possibly killed as a result of your sleuthing.
And then, once everything is over, you murder the culprit after working out who did it. This is one of the unique parts of this game. Your mascot companion, Shinigami, will kill the criminal at the end of the case. See, your character, Yuma, is only a detective trainee, and she’s a death god you made a pact with in return for your lost memories. She acts as your apathetic guide, teaching you how to become a good detective and reaping the souls of those you catch.
Your character’s relationship with her is an absolute highlight, going from your typical fanservice mascot to an unexpectedly deep and understanding character. Believe me, the ethical consequences of your actions are explored to their fullest.
The game takes place in Kanai ward, in what I can only describe as “Anime North Korea”, you must find its “Ultimate secret”. From the moment you step onto the train, you’re forced into a train of ethical dilemmas while solving seemingly impossible murders. Other detectives will often show themselves as much more capable than your character during his growth, allowing for an amazing supporting cast who get their share of the limelight.
All detectives in this world have a signature ability, which can range from almost useless to absolutely insanely powerful. Let’s compare talking with only small animals to being able to turn back time. The disparity is clear to see and fleshes out the world quite splendidly.
The town has a unique and somber feel, being engulfed in eternal rainfall. The essence of the place screams noir detective stories while maintaining the neon but dismal appeal of a cyberpunk setting. A fully open and highly detailed world will come to have you both become increasingly skeptical but warmly attached to the people of this abnormal place. Upon finding kind citizens and understanding their daily lives, you realize that the corporation that owns and runs the place is the cause of all their troubles. Opening up to direct conflict between your detective pals and the peacekeeper’s force who control most of the corporation after a long-running civil war within the company.
Your companions are mostly quiet, troubled souls with their own origins and reasons for being there with you. All detectives, in their own right, boast incredible powers that will help you through your investigations. The game also has a hidden collectibles system, which once found, you can view Yuma’s conversations with each of them to reveal bonding and backstory should you wish to know them better.
I don’t want to spoil any of the cases, given that I really want you all to play the game yourself, but the essence of the cases you’ll solve in this game are strange but logical, deep but simple, and every case in this game has a gimmick. Whether it be ghosts from the past, intricate political reasoning, or even trying to get off a train. You will find this game has plenty to appreciate if you love detective games, and especially if you played the Danganronpa games, you will get a massive kick out of playing this game.