The newest title from creator Kazutaka Kodaka, mostly known for the Danganronpa series, goes in a different direction than previous titles, homing in on the mystery aspect of the genre. Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE (MDA) is a visual novel, following the amnesiac protagonist Yuma Kokohead, as he’s sent to Kanai World to expose the many unsolved mysteries it harbors, with the help of other detectives, specifically, Master Detectives. These are detectives who possess a Forte, meaning, they have special abilities which aid in an investigation, like Audial Aptitude which can sense every sound within in a radius, even a heartbeat, or Spiritism, which allows the detective to use their own body as a medium to summon the victim’s soul. The premise is intriguing and you’re immediately drawn into the many mysteries not just surrounding Kanai Ward, but also Yuma’s past, the other detectives Forte’s and many more.
Gameplay is divided into two sections: Investigation and Mystery Labyrinth. Half of the game will be spent wandering Kanai Ward, gathering information, or partaking in events which might lead to a crime which needs to be solved. Evidence needs to be gathered from scenes, and you will do so with the aid of the other Master Detectives and with Yuma’s partner, Shinigami, a death god which has signed a contract with Yuma, lending him her powers in exchange for his memories. Once the crime scene has been thoroughly investigated, Yuma heads into the Mystery Labyrinth, where the crimes have a fantastical manifestation. To solve it, Yuma has to forge his way through its many puzzles, questions and even opponents, to hopefully arrive at the truth, or otherwise be forever trapped inside the Mystery Labyrinth.
If you think the premise of the game sounds absolutely bonkers, you would be absolutely right. MDA revels in its weird absurdity and instead of working against the game it compliments it wonderfully well. The imaginative and artistic designs of the Mystery Labyrinths themselves helps further sell this point, there is no lack of creativity on display within this realm. Albeit Kanai Ward being rooted in more realism, it stands as an intriguing contrast, and a town that is always a joy to explore whenever you gain access to new areas. The gameplay loop can be repetitious, but luckily due to the changing locale, and the mysteries and characters you interact with, it never grows thoroughly stale in the games approximately 30 hour run time. Every Mystery Labyrinth is unique, as it’s constructed by minigames which guides you towards the truth. Sure, you see the same minigames, but they always have a new solution, and the main minigame “Reasoning Death Match” is the most exhilarating one, with a banger tune, and are always a joy to solve.
But what a visual novel lives and dies by is its story and characters. I’m happy to say that MDA lacks in neither department. Every character is lively and filled with personality. Honestly, I would love to spend some more time with them, and have them interact more with one another. Usually each chapter is devoted to a single Master Detective, and although this allows us greater insights into their strength, weakness, trials and tribulations, I would love it if the cast interacted more. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of interactions between the cast, they don’t just stand alone in the spotlight, but for such fun characters, I would have loved for the game to share it more.
The overarching story is a fun ride with twists and turns, however I may been spoiled by Kodaka’s previous work, but it’s not his strongest story. It does exactly what it needs to, a detective story with a hint of the macabre, but it never quite reaches the heights he’s been able to attain before. Which leads my next point, the game is very easy, few encounters actually had me stumped on how the crime was committed or who was the culrpit, it all comes together quite easily as every Mystery Labyrinth is almost a straight line to the truth, not often do you encounter twists or turns despite the tutorial hinting at it. That’s not to say the cases aren’t enjoyable, because they were, however, I went in knowing Kodaka’s ingenuity in creative murder mystery and expected a bit more. Every case has something unique, but not enough to be as mindboggling as previous titles he’s written.
Which leads to another criticism, the first chapter of this game is one of the worst first chapters I’ve played in a visual novel. The pacing is incredibly weird, too many introductions without merit, drawn out conversations and expositions, and to top it off, the worst Mystery Labyrinth of them all. Seriously, after playing through it, I was actually dreading to explore another Mystery Labyrinth, but luckily, after the second, a breath of relief left me, it only gets better from here. But it starts with a sour experience, a hurdle that needs to be overcome before continuing with a great game.
What did not drench my experience was the voice acting. The voice actors really put their all into every single character. Almost every line of dialogue is voice acted and there isn’t a single dud, special shoutout to Yomi Hellsmile’s voice actor though, he did such a phenomenal job. The soundtrack is good too, not too many standouts, but those which stand out, they slap in every brilliant way.
Visually, the game is gorgeous to look at, the vibrant neon colors mixed with the drabness of the city makes it pop in the best way. The character design is fantastic as well, every character interesting in their own way and brought to life with a portrait which heavily borrows from the Danganronpa style. However, while walking in bigger areas, the game occasionally drops FPS, and the loading screens are obtusely long for a game that can’t be too heavy for a Switch. Since it’s a visual novel, it doesn’t affect gameplay too much, but when it stutters during some conversations and scenery, it takes away some of the impact. And long loading screens are just annoying.
A visual novel never really had too much replay value, once you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen almost all of it. MDA have some sidequests, which are a fun distraction, but a bit disappointing, as instead of fueling too much into an overall narrative, they’re more like busywork to extend the game time. Some sidequests seemed to lead to a side plot but were never picked up again. You can also find blue orbs which unlock certain character interactions you can watch. They’re a novel thing, but most likely not something you will go back to the game to see. Consider a visual novel like a book, you can never reread anew, but maybe you’ll pick it up again in some years to read a great story again.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE is a great visual novel that is hindered by some slight missteps which rains on its parade. The game is a bit on the easier side and could have benefitted from stronger mysteries and overarching story, and a much better paced beginning. Some framerate stutters and slowdowns also bring a downpour on the experience. However, once those rainclouds clear, what is left is a still compelling story with fantastic characters and unique and fun gameplay mechanics that will reel you in. It’s an experience I recommend and just like a good book, it’s perfect to play on a rainy day.