In the wake of titles like Danganronpa, the “Death Game” subgenre of Visual Novels seems to be growing more popular by the day. With mystery, horror, and thrilling revelations, it’s easy to see why. Today, NISA takes a crack at the Death Game genre with their very own title: Process of Elimination.
Blood on Who’s Hands?
A killer named the Quartering Duke is quickly amassing a cult-like status for their twisted death games, wherein they ask viewers to vote to kill those whom they deem unworthy of living. The Quartering Duke’s modus operandi is killing those who disagree. Society has fallen into unpredictable chaos as many civilians are now doing their own killings for one reason or another. With this in mind, the goal has become clear: find this Quartering Duke and put a stop to their madness to bring back law and order.
Fledgling detective Wato, a high school student, is but one of the many detectives involved with uncovering the truth behind this series of bizarre events. Sent to a mysterious remote island, he now works among a group of colorful and experienced detectives who go under pseudonyms that denote their quirks. “Techie Detective”, “Armor Detective”, “Workaholic Detective”, you get the picture. As a rookie who has yet to identify his main talent, Wato is given the embarrassingly straightforward title of “Incompetent Detective”.
Despite the story putting some decent pieces in place, the main mystery of Process of Elimination simply never hooked me. The interesting philosophical ideas posed by the main killer belies a surprisingly uneventful story that’s more focused on delivering dull or flat-out poor character interaction. The broad majority of twists are things you’ll see coming from a mile away, and are almost entirely composed of tropes you’ve seen executed far better elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with playing things conventionally, but everything about the game lacked any sense of identity. This is not helped by dialogue that feels like a rough draft.
Any idea of suspense that the writing tries to build up has the rug pulled under it in favor of talking up each detective’s gimmick. It’s to a point where everyone except for Wato feels less like characters and more like caricatures. They embody the idea of something, rather than truly being people with their own agency or motivation. It’s hard to care about them when I have difficulty investing in who they are as people.
Of course, it’s not a game about detectives without long bouts of time spent investigating the nearby scenery. Rather than be presented as a conventional point-and-click adventure game, Process of Elimination instead takes on the form of a pseudo-tactics RPG of sorts. Think Disgaea or Fire Emblem. With a limited number of turns to do so, you’ll drag your characters across a variety of maps, using their particular skills and insights to piece together the mysteries that occur throughout each chapter. This is by far the most novel aspect of Process of Elimination, and I’m almost tempted to say that it justifies the large cast of characters. However, while it sounds good on the surface, it gets the details beneath completely wrong.
For starters, the grid used to navigate the map was something I had a lot of difficulty reading. Squares denoting each space are hard to parse, which caused me many moments of accidentally taking a character to a space that I didn’t intend for them to. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that you can’t cancel character actions or backtrack on any mistakes you may have made in your movement. Given how stingy the game is with the number of turns you’re given to complete a case, this especially strikes me as a mistake.
These issues would be excusable by themselves, but getting down to the brass tax of this mode’s real issue: it’s simply not fun. While the limited number of turns you get to solve a case is meant to evoke tension, it doesn’t. The writing doesn’t carry that since solutions and deductions are generally very easy to solve, and the coveted “eureka” moment never happened since it always felt as though the answers were dangling in front of me. Outside of its general easiness, the mechanics behind this mode were just unengaging. By placing the right characters next to each other, they can deduce things and bring forth evidence that help you piece together a larger picture.
Presenting the investigation process as a strategy RPG is a fresh idea, and one I’d like to see refined further. That said, I’m hesitant in saying that its novelty alone was worth essentially dragging down the rest of the package, especially in regards to the story’s otherwise solid pacing. Strategy RPGs are generally defined by their strong sense of player agency through careful decision-making, which this game has neither of.
Art and Sound
Process of Elimination’s overall presentation is a mixed bag and one I’m left conflicted on. On one end, I find the character artwork and designs to be of praiseworthy quality. Everyone has a distinctive design that wordlessly conveys their skills and what little personality they might have. Furthermore, their distinctive art style gives the game a nice aesthetic that harkens back to the comics and mystery manga that helped to inspire the Death Game genre. That said, the rest of the aesthetic betrays this. Background and CG drawings are of reasonably good quality, but there’s not much cohesion to be found in them a lot of the time. Other assets can look bizarre or be of otherwise noticeably lower quality. It’s hard to say whether this is meant to be intentional, but either way, it ends up killing the mood in more than one instance.
My feelings on the music and voice acting are less confused. That is to say, I don’t particularly like either. There’s no English dubbing, but I found the Japanese dubbing to be of generally subpar quality. Little of the voice acting struck me as bad, but it never pulled me in, either. There’s not a whole lot of inflection or appropriate changes in tone to match the gravitas of a given situation. As for the music, I found it to be quite forgettable across the board. Perhaps I hummed along to some of it in the midst of play, but absolutely none of it lingered.
It’s hard not to get the sense that Process of Elimination is a game that’s only ever content with punching below its own weight. In the moment of play, it can be a reasonably satisfying and fun visual novel that pays great respect to its contemporaries. However, it never becomes more than that because paying respects is all it seems interested in doing. Any genuinely interesting ideas it may have are buried under a cliched, predictable, and rote storyline filled with character archetypes you’ve almost assuredly seen executed better elsewhere. It just never lingers in the mind. This title may wear its heart on its sleeve, but it’s at the cost of any semblance of style or identity.
WAIT FOR SALE ON PROCESS OF ELIMINATION
Many thanks go to Reef Entertainment for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt