NOTE: This review will not include any story related spoilers. General overall opinions will obviously be given, but only an overview of the premise of the game will be explained in greater detail. As the game revolves around discovering the answers behind the mysteries presented in the narrative, the best way to experience the game would be to go in with no knowledge of the scenarios. Screenshots are taken out of context so as to avoid spoiling the narrative of the chapter they are taken from. If you consider images of locations a spoiler however, please proceed with caution.
To say that Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE has some big shoes to fill would be an understatement. Written by Kazutaka Kodaka and Takekuni Kitayama, with music by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, and character designs by Rui Komatsuzaki and Shimadoriru, the game comes from many of the the same creative geniuses as Danganronpa, one of the most recognisable and successful visual novel series to date, making it somewhat of a spiritual successor. After splitting from Spike Chunsoft in 2017, the developers of Too Kyo Games have returned in collaboration with the company once again for a second title, following the release of the live-action interactive adventure game Death Come True in 2020. Is Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE a mystery worth unraveling, or a case better left unsolved?
Rain Code’s story is told from the perspective of Yuma Kokohead, a trainee detective for the World Detective Organisation (WDO) with a highly inconvenient case of amnesia. This is thanks to his pact with Shinigami, a mysterious Death God that only he can see and is forbidden to discuss with others. Of course, Shinigami is unwilling to discuss the terms of her pact with Yuma, and takes a perverse delight in his confusion as he struggles to make the best of the situation. Together the two travel to Kanai Ward, an isolated city under the control of Amaterasu Corporation and their militant force, the Peacekeepers. Their goal, as stated by the WDO, is to solve the various mysteries of the city alongside other Master Detectives, and by doing so uncover the so-called “Ultimate Secret’ of Kanai Ward.
For much of the game, this is all the information about the overarching narrative you will be given, as it throws you into one murder case after another, preferring to focus on the smaller scale mysteries rather than the larger picture. Whilst the setting is completely different, this is a pattern of storytelling that fans of other visual novel series such as Danganronpa and Ace Attorney will recognise, and it remains as good a format for the gameplay experience here as it was with those series. Each chapter of the game is dedicated to a particular murder case that Yuma will need to solve with the help of Shinigami and one of the other Master Detectives in Kanai Ward, and has a clear structure and excellent pacing; you will be taken through events leading up to the murder, an investigation process, and finally the Mystery Labyrinth. Small details surrounding the overarching narrative will be sprinkled throughout, driving you on to the next case in the following chapter.
The focus of Rain Code is almost exclusively on Yuma and Shinigami, and they benefit from this enormously. As an amnesiac trainee detective, Yuma undergoes significant growth over the course of the game, and his banter with Shinigami is entertaining to watch as she teases, torments, and teaches him in equal measure, displaying a surprising depth of character. Whilst her attitude and antics may irritate some, it’s difficult not to feel some degree of affection for her.
Whilst on a chapter-by-chapter basis Rain Code’s approach to its narrative and Yuma’s character development is excellent, it also throws the overall pacing of the game off at times, making it feel less than the sum of its parts. Most major story reveals happen towards the end of the game, making them less impactful than they may have been had more time been dedicated to setting them up in-between chapters. Rather than being shocking revelations that change your perspective of the world and its characters, they seem to come entirely out of nowhere, leaving you to catch up as best you can.
Similarly, other characters feel under-developed, defined by the same tired anime tropes we’ve seen in many other series, many times before now. After the chapter in which they’ve assisted Yuma on a case, the other Master Detectives are quickly forgotten about, making them feel more like vehicles for his character development rather than characters in their own right, and the central antagonists, the Peacekeepers, are similarly discarded. Given their unique designs, excellent voice acting, and capabilities that come from their fortes, this feels like a wasted opportunity.
Rain Code is primarily a visual novel, so as you may expect, much of your time will be spent moving from place to place to watch cutscenes play out. These are all fully voiced in both English and Japanese (which can only be changed in the Options menu at the title screen) and a wide range of well-known voice actors and seiyuu deliver a high quality experience regardless of your language preference. Whilst there were some significant issues with lip-flaps with the English voice acting, much of this has been rectified with a patch, which is available for download now.
After the murder of each chapter has taken place, things become much more engaging with the Investigation phase. During these you will gather evidence, called Solution Keys, about the crime. This is where the other Detectives come into play as each has their own unique forte, affecting the way you gather evidence. You may need to disguise yourself to question witnesses and gain evidence you otherwise wouldn’t be able to obtain, or examine the crime scene as it looked at the time to find things no longer present. This makes each case feel distinct from one another, and prevents the gameplay from becoming repetitive, as you will be gathering evidence in new ways in each chapter.
The majority of the more interactive gameplay takes place in the Mystery Labyrinths, which you will enter after the Investigation. In these you will be presented with a handful of minigames to complete in order to solve the mystery and identify the culprit. Those familiar with the Danganronpa series will recognise the gameplay similarities with Class Trials, although Mystery Labyrinths are more interactive than their spiritual predecessors, and present highly stylised and dramatic scenarios that look and feel as though they’ve been taken straight out of an anime, making them much more entertaining. As Yuma, you will explore the labyrinth’s shifting corridors and rooms, constantly placed in life-or-death situations where the wrong answer will see you meet with an untimely demise.
Fortunately it is extremely difficult to actually get a game over, and failure will usually see you take only a slight stamina loss before you’re placed right back at the moment of the choice, allowing you to try again. The tried-and-tested “pick all the answers until you get the right one” strategy is more than viable in Rain Code, which makes the game more than accessible if any of the minigames aren’t your forte or you cannot arrive at the right answer with the clues presented. Labyrinths are mostly linear and straightforward and do a good job of guiding you to the answer without stating what it is outright, but they also allow you to approach the case in a way that is most comfortable, logical, or just interesting to you, by presenting multiple pathways to take that represent different aspects of the case. For example, in the first chapter’s case, you are required to reconstruct the crime scenes to determine how the murders happened, and can approach them in whichever order you choose after doing one of them.
Reasoning Death Matches are the most engaging of the minigames, and these involve facing down the Mystery Phantom (a neon-punk, exaggerated caricature of either one of the suspects or the Peacekeeper involved) who will throw statements about the case at Yuma, which need to be dodged, repelled, or countered with Solution Keys to refute their argument to progress. Being hit by statements will cause damage, but there is no penalty for attacking a statement with an incorrect Solution Key or failing to find the statement you need to address before the sequence ends. Instead, Shinigami will offer Yuma some advice about what the answer is, and the loop will play out again. This can be sped up by holding the R button to reduce the time spent waiting for the statement you need to attack to appear again, and although this can make evasion more difficult, taking your finger off the button returns the game to normal speed, giving you some measure of control.
Shinigami Puzzle stands out as the weakest and most frustrating of the minigames, as you are given very little time (usually less than two minutes) to correctly identify the missing word of a sentence by hitting letters sequentially as they slowly rotate on a barrel to spell it out. Hitting the wrong letter will decrease the timer, and when the timer hits zero you will see the Game Over screen, forcing you through the cutscene that leads up to the puzzle again, which cannot be skipped, only sped-up. Whereas the penalty for any other minigame is stamina loss and being given the chance to try again, this feels like a particularly bad design choice.
After you have successfully identified the culprit, the Mystery Labyrinth will conclude with two final minigames: GOD Shinigami, and the Deduction Denouement. GOD Shinigami, which was very clearly inspired by Attack on Titan, is an on-rails section where you control a giant-sized Shinigami and are required to jump, kick, and tackle your way through obstacles whilst you destroy the final arguments with Solution Keys. The Deduction Denouement serves as a satisfying conclusion to proceedings, requiring you to piece together the case by filling in missing panels of a manga to play back the events as they happened. Upon completion of this and the Mystery Labyrinth you will be given a rank based on your performance across the entire case and rewarded with Detective Points accordingly, making this a nice bonus that rewards good performance without punishing those who struggle to solve the mysteries.
In between solving the chapter’s main cases you are given the opportunity to explore the various districts of Kanai Ward and undertake Requests, which are helpfully marked on your map. These are unfortunately little more than busywork, as each involves talking to the request giver, talking to one or two people somewhere else, and then returning automatically for a few Detective Points. They help to make Kanai Ward feel a little less empty, and are a nice slice-of-life break between the text-heavy, life-or-death murder scenarios that make up the bulk of the game, but feel extremely mundane for their lack of a tangible reward or character development for Yuma and any of the major NPCs who may be involved in them.
Of more interest are the Gumshoe Gab segments, which let you view a memory of one of the game’s other major detectives. As they are largely forgotten about after their chapter is over, this is a nice way to give them some much-needed character development. Unfortunately, the location of each of these is hidden behind frustratingly obtuse clues in the menu, and whilst you may stumble across one or two just by exploring, and may be able to puzzle out a few more based on the description provided, they are not the easiest things to find.
Rain Code features some light RPG elements in the form of Detective Rank. This can be increased by earning Detective Points, which you will gain for doing practically anything in the game. The amount is proportional to the task; talking to an NPC or examining something will earn you less than completing a Request or a Mystery Labyrinth. Upon rank up you will earn skill points, which can be used on abilities to make your time in Mystery Labyrinths easier through things such as increasing your stamina pool, Yuma’s movement speed during Reasoning Death Matches, and (most helpfully!) removing incorrect letters during Shinigami Puzzles. These cannot be refunded once spent, but are a nice way to customise your experience, and the game is generous enough that you will be able to acquire several skills during a playthrough.
A factor that will unfortunately turn many people away from the game are its visuals and performance. The Switch often struggles to cope with the level of detail present in Rain Code’s environments, and the constant rain in Kanai Ward unpleasantly blurs your surroundings very frequently, with textures noticeably loading in and out as focus shifts. This is especially prominent in handheld mode, particularly in Mystery Labyrinths where the shifting corridors become an indistinct mess. There is also noticeable stuttering even in pre-rendered cutscenes, which are of a much higher quality overall than the in-game graphics. At times the visual effects come through cleanly and capture the ominous, perpetually gloomy atmosphere that permeates all of Kanai Ward’s districts, and the otherworldly yet familiar nature of the Mystery Labyrinths that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, but much of the time they fall short of expectations.
It is worth mentioning that the first patch has improved the quality of the visuals to some extent, and a future patch currently scheduled for July has already been promised to further improve things, so players who are sensitive to performance issues may want to wait until this arrives so that they can assess the results for themselves. As it stands upon release, Rain Code often falls short in quality, even though it makes up for this in variety and creativity. Far from being bad, it often feels as though Rain Code is simply overly ambitious in its scope, and attempts to display a visual atmosphere that is incompatible with the hardware.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE exudes a personality and style that differentiates it from its peers, and each individual chapter is brilliantly written and highly entertaining. Despite offering very little variety in terms of gameplay, each Mystery Labyrinth you’ll enter over the course of the game feels fresh and enjoyable thanks to the excellent storytelling and presentation. It is fortunate that this is what makes up the majority of the game, because the overarching narrative surrounding the mystery of Kanai Ward is often an unwelcome distraction from the case at hand, leading to a conclusion that is less satisfying than it could have been had more time been spent on setting it up over the course of the game. The blurry visuals and occasionally erratic performance can also occasionally break immersion in the fantastic set pieces on display in Mystery Labyrinths and the gloomy ambience of Kanai Ward. But even with those caveats, Rain Code is still a mystery adventure that is more than worth your time to solve.
A copy of Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this review.