Since the divisive conclusion to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the last mainline Danganronpa game, followers of the franchise have been starved for some kind of sequel. Six years later, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, a title co-developed by Spike Chunsoft and Too Kyo Games, serves as that follow-up. The mantle of being a spiritual successor to Danganronpa is one that brings as much excitement as it does expectation from a passionate community – something the game feels aware of.
But it’s also clear that Rain Code stands on its own as a next-generation, dynamic visual novel. It complements brand-new gameplay mechanics with the best parts of its predecessor’s storytelling, all while cranking the volume up by 200%
A City That Constantly Rains
Rain Code is a 3D action-adventure mystery game with heavy visual novel elements. The majority of the story unfolds in Kanai Ward, a gloomy city where the rain never stops, and the only light sources are neon signs and the glow of street lamps and headlamps. You play as Yuma Kokohead, a detective-in-training with amnesia who is being haunted by Shinigami, a death god who guides you to solve crimes with her supernatural powers and dubious morals. Yuma enters the Nocturnal Detective Agency, led by chief Yakou Furio, and is joined with Master Detectives from the World Detective Organisation, who each have their own Forensic Forte, unique abilities honed throughout their detective training.
If there’s any game that relies deeply on going in blind, it’s Rain Code. In the same vein as Danganronpa, the tale of Rain Code is a twisted one, albeit one told through scenario writer, Kazutaka Kodaka’s trademarks – puns, dark humour and absurdist nonsense. Characters play an excellent role in conveying the game’s theme of truth prevailing over lies, but also reign it in with the occasional inappropriate sexual joke or two. The overall payoff is worthwhile, though issues of homicide, self-harm and light horror elements need to be stomached.
Mini Games with Maximum Impact
As detectives (and detective-in-training), your ultimate purpose in Kanai Ward is to crusade through the streets and solve the mysteries that are plaguing the city. To this extent, Rain Code is a departure from Danganronpa’s 2.5D style, with a 3D world that you can actually interact with and explore via a third person perspective. The game rewards a click-happy playstyle, as you’ll gain detective points from talking to everyone, including the vending machine, which can be used to upgrade Yuma’s skill tree.
Exploration aside, Rain Code also leans heavily on another core mechanic of Danganronpa: the Investigation. You’ll examine crime scenes, talk to witnesses and accrue evidence, known as ‘Solution Keys’. These will then come to your aid inside the ‘Mystery Labyrinth,’ which plays out like a court trial on acid. In this alternate realm, the mysteries shrouding the case will materialise as illusions and traps that you must disarm through logical deduction, evidence rebuttal, and fast reflexes.
These mechanics are distinct additions to the world of the visual novel niche. The shift to 3D exploration and the circus of mini-games within the Mystery Labyrinth add a distinctive sense of action to the game – perhaps to feel more approachable to audiences not accustomed to the traditionally word-heavy genre, while still maintaining the thoughtful and zany storyline that the key developers have become famous for. There are slight moments of frustration, as there are only so many games of glorified hangman you can tolerate when you just want to advance in the story, but these instances are thankfully few and far between.
Dark fantasy, lucid-noir
The art style of Kanai Ward follows a similar neon cyberpunk aesthetic to games like VA-11 Hall-A, Cyberpunk 2077 and the more recent Mato Anomalies – an attractive blend of old noir detective tropes with the layered colour palette of pink, blue and purple artificial lightning. The streets are clearly inspired by European cities like Paris and London, while signage is depicted in Japanese, Chinese and Korean, creating a real sense of comfort in its universality.
Danganronpa character designer Rui Komatsuzaki also reprises his role in producing deeply emotive character portraits and impressively stylish outfit designs.
Music comes from another Danganronpa alumni, composer Masafumi Takada, with a mix of fast-paced jazz and melodic themes that can only be described as ‘clarity’ filling the air at just the right points.
Credit too must also be given to the stylistic details of Rain Code, such as an interface that looks just like a gothic fairytale book unfolding, with subtle but knowing nods to games like Persona 5 and anime like Sailor Moon and Detective Conan. Together, the audiovisual elements all come together to shape a world that is melancholic and beautiful.
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code isn’t without flaws – some jokes fall flat, loading screens are abundant and the repeated animations found me utilising the fast forward button more than I thought I would. But the sum of what the game is trying to achieve by pushing visual novels into a more action-forward world, supersedes these minor inconveniences.
Rain Code unsurprisingly excels where Danganronpa always has: it’s a masterclass of storytelling and building anticipation. I laughed, cried and felt betrayed, both in my role as Yuma Kokohead and as a fan of Danganronpa. The story of Rain Code is the video game equivalent of an earworm. It will always be on the periphery of your thoughts, reminding you that the quest for truth is often convoluted and ugly. And that’s all the more reason that it should prevail.
Four Stars: ★★★★
Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
Developer: Spike Chunsoft, Too Kyo Games
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Release Date: 30 June 2023