On September 4, 2020, the world was graced with the release of Paradise Killer, the debut title of UK-based indie studio Kaizen Game Works. It is an open-world, murder mystery simulator in which you assume the role of Lady Love Dies, a maligned investigator who’s been called out of exile to solve a murder. As soon as the game starts, you’re quite literally thrust into a world of scandal, the occult, and a wholly unique cast of characters. This all comes on the heels of an amazing City Pop, Jazz Fusion (+more) influenced soundtrack composed by Barry “Epoch” Topping.
What makes Paradise Killer stand out among other titles of its kind is its aesthetic. At first glance, it is quite apparent that the title is influenced by the Vaporwave subculture of the early 2010’s. As you explore the 24th Paradise Island, you’ll find many Vaporwave design staples:
- Checkered Floors
- Roads and beaches littered with busts and statues
- The background music literally chops and screws itself throughout the game
- Extreme feelings of isolation (represented through Paradise Island)
- An Island-wide jingle that plays every morning/night, inspired by Japan’s “5 o’clock Chime”
Among these design references, there are also the scattered relics of Paradise Island’s former civilization. Many of them are direct references to the tropes of Vaporwave. However, the Vaporwave influences in this game do not end at just its aesthetics.
The world of Paradise Island is quite reminiscent of the underlying politics at the heart of the Vaporwave subculture. Vaporwave is often defined by its hauntological reverence of early internet culture, 80’s/90’s design trends, and Japan. But what many people don’t realize is that Vaporwave is also very much a counter-culture in that it is used to launch critiques at Capitalist society.
The criticism that Vaporwave lays against Capitalism is that in the pursuit of self-interest and corporate greed, there will be an absence of creative expression. In a consumer-capitalist society, art becomes shallow, mass-produced bunkum meant to grow the bottom line. How Vaporwave visual artists represent this is through the conglomeration of different, often clashing, artistic influences. For music artists, their music is often over-produced, heavily processed, highly repetitive, and heavy on samples, leaving no room for original production.
Juxtaposition is a key element in the political and artistic representation of Vaporwave aesthetics. Album art in the genre typically paints the picture of idyllic landscapes, of utopian societies, but is contrasted by the shallowness of the music itself. Vaporwave music videos will often feature commercial footage from the height of Japan’s Bubble Economy (Also referred to as the “Lost Decade”), a period where the Japanese real-estate market flourished before collapsing, causing economic stagnation lasting for over a decade.
Much like the Vaporwave themes that inspired it, Paradise Island can only be considered a paradise when looked at from an extremely superficial perspective. It’s a beautiful island, full of color, gorgeous landscapes, and a devout community. It is when you look beyond those outward appearances that you discover the horrors and destitution juxtaposing that idyllic visage. What Paradise Island actually is is a hyper-capitalist dystopia established on the backs of zealotry and human oppression, where self-interest is the governing law and the very fabric of reality is not as it seems.
The world that Paradise Killer offers you to explore is a world where humans are treated as expendable pawns to further the goals of the elites, where the player is rewarded for their unrelenting consumerism, and corporate propaganda is ubiquitous. Cosmic entities, gods and demons, exert their influence over the populace. The Island’s deceased cannot even rest in peace here.
Paradise Island is a paradise for whom?
As Lady Love Dies has been in exile for 3 million days, corruption has gone unchecked, and there are no shortage of mysteries for her to solve once she touches down in Paradise Island. You will find contradictions and conspiracies all around you. Paradise Killer features a non-linear exploration system, and it is entirely up to the player to decide if they want to cast a light on all the realities of life here. This is a game that will reward those who love exploring in video games; there’s something behind every corner, in every shadow, waiting to be discovered. Fans of the mystery sim genre will feel right at home, and newcomers may be pleasantly surprised at how easily they become immersed in the world.
The world of Paradise Killer is so enthralling, so unique that you cannot help wanting to discover everything about it. There is lore for days in this game and none of it feels thoughtlessly created. The world crafted here is so expansive and rich with history that it is hard to believe this was Kaizen Game Works’ debut title. This world is too good to be used just once, hopefully we see the return of Paradise Island in a future title.
Paradise Killer is a very lonely game, giving off strong feelings of melancholy, as is the case with any Vaporwave media. Oddly enough, this melancholic, almost nostalgic, vibe is what makes the experience so impactful. Kaizen Game Works has been able to replicate the attitudes and feelings of Vaporwave in a video-game, and they are the first to do it to such great effect. Paradise Killer is an immersive glimpse into what it would be like to experience an actual Vaporwave dystopia, and I can’t recommend it enough.