When it comes to developing a mystery game, having players solve various puzzles, answer questions, and try and deduce the true culprit from evidence have come in many different forms over the years but few, if any, have ever taken Nippon Ichi Software’s approach to the genre. With NIS opting to create their own brand new murder mystery game, the team has fallen back on the type of genre they are most familiar with, strategy RPGs. With Process of Elimination looking to blend SPRG gameplay with visual novel storytelling, is this mystery one that can be solved or is this strange combination too much for even the greatest detective?
The serial killer known as the Quartering Duke has been terrorizing the populace as they publicly broadcast their murders with over a hundred victims to their name. With normal police having no luck in tracking the killer down, it is up to the illustrious Detective Alliance to try and solve the case. Wato Hojo is an unskilled detective that has spent more time cleaning his mentor’s office than actually tracking down clues but he soon finds himself recruited into the elite group of detectives and whisked away to their headquarters on the secluded island of Morgue.
Every detective that is a member of the alliance does so under a codename that best matches their investigation or personality style, such as Rowdy, Booky, or Techie, with their true names being hidden from one another for a number of reasons. With Wato appearing amongst the group with little explanation and no investigation history, he quickly finds himself deemed the “Incompetent Detective.” While this codename may be bad, things are far worse than anyone can imagine as the few assembled detectives find that not only have a large number of their team been murdered upon their arrival to the island, but the most prestigious of them all has gone missing. With it quickly becoming evident that a traitor is amongst the group, the Detective Alliance must discover the truth behind the Quartering Duke before it is too late and with Wato’s skills at handling the group, they may just have a chance.
Although Process of Elimination may take a little bit to get going, it hooks players quickly thanks to the interesting personalities of the colorful detectives that make up the Detective Alliance and only gets more interesting once the story begins to develop and the numerous mysteries come to light. This includes a number of rather shocking twists and reveals that will have players eager for the other proverbial shoe to drop, even if it takes hours to do so. As players progress through the game they will need to uncover how certain events transpired as well as how they might be tied into the Quartering Duke with a number of entertaining and gruesome cases that must be solved and some truly unique twists on familiar concepts. There is nothing better than slowly uncovering how something happened and putting two and two together. Of course, since this is a mystery game with very little in the way of deviation, once players complete the game once and uncover the mysteries there isn’t too much to come back for in the main storyline, especially since the ending itself feels a bit lackluster, however there are some new pieces of content, Residual Thoughts, that are mostly only accessible the second time through the game that not only provides a lot of extra context for certain events but also takes advantage of Process of Elimination’s greatest strength, it’s characters.
The detectives that make up the cast of Process of Elimination are a true delight, thanks in part to some incredibly well done localization by the NIS America staff that has handled the intricacies of the cast quite well with their English translation here. Despite the fact that most characters’ personalities are simple enough to derive from their names, watching this eclectic group of sleuths interact with one another is a constant delight throughout the game, be it them quarreling during a tense moment or having plenty of light banter during the game’s many moments of downtime. It is a bit of a shame that quite a bit of backstory and narrative about a lot of the cast is hidden away in profiles or collectables, especially since revealing this information often paints a far more elaborate picture about what is happening on the island and how this group of detectives are intertwined with the machinations of the Quartering Duke.
When Process of Elimination is described as being a mystery visual novel with strategy RPG elements it must be said that the balance between these two elements is rather extreme with the visual novel portions easily taking up 85% of the game while actual puzzle solving with the game’s investigation mechanics takes up the remaining 15%. In fact, players will spend over an hour and a half before even touching upon the gameplay elements before having an even longer visual novel section between the first and second chapter. This isn’t too much of a negative since, as mentioned before, the character dynamics and interactions are wonderful but it would be nice to see a bit better balance in this regard, even utilizing small sections of gameplay to handle scenes that are otherwise done through text.
That being said, once players need to investigate a crime, they will actually be given control of nearly every detective on the case with the detectives having their own choice of action that players will then “intervene” with orders of their own. Every map takes place on a grid system with each detective having their own unique stats regarding movement, inspection, assistance, inference, and analyzation though players can use a Map Move system to move a detective anywhere on the map at the cost of them taking no other action that turn. Every map that players must investigate has certain mystery points that contain clues to the mystery and these locations must be analyzed by detectives capable enough to deduce the clue, either solo or as a team. For example, Foodie may not have enough skill to identify something on her own but pairing up with Doleful will provide enough points to reveal the clue.
Some of these clues then must be analyzed by the team, with Techie often being the best around at identifying how exactly the clue plays into the mystery. With the exception of characters moved with map movement, characters can often move and take an action during one turn and players can even opt to take “preliminary investigations” to trigger certain commands early before choosing to move or making another action afterwards. While simple at its core, there are some extra little mechanics here and there that make investigations a bit more interesting. These involve optional keywords that are often placed away from required locations that reveal more information about the world and characters as well as the fact that players will need to complete investigations within a certain period of time or instantly fail. Along with this time limit players will need to pay close attention to various clues and how some events play out during investigations as there is a multiple choice quiz after every one that goes over the clues, with players needing to build trust with correct answers to get the best result.
While the game will initially hold the player’s hand a bit during investigations they will quickly find themselves able to do things on their own and often tackling most obstacles as they see fit, though players will need to be careful as later locations can involve dangerous traps that will immediately end the game or feature other difficult challenges. These sudden deaths, combined with the length of some investigations and how simple a lot of the mechanics are, make it incredibly strange that there is no way to actually save during these gameplay moments as the only place to save is during visual novel segments.
Visuals & Audio
With Nippon Ichi Software being the team behind Process of Elimination players should already know they are in for something of a treat as the character portraits are handled exceptionally well with a fitting art style for a visual novel such as this. The unique designs for all of the cast, including Armor, have a wide range of expressions and the game also has a large number of fairly detailed CG scenes as well. This level of detail is unfortunately lost a bit during gameplay where characters are relegated to something akin to board game pieces that vaguely resemble their character outside of interactions and analysis screens that, once again, slip into visual novel format.
With the amount of dialogue in Process of Elimination it comes as no surprise that this fully voiced visual novel has been released in the West with only the original Japanese voice track, especially since the voice actors all portray their characters’ personalities wonderfully and thankfully the English localization is handled quite well. The soundtrack features a number of fitting tracks though a bit more variety may have been nice during some of the longer visual novel segments.
Process of Elimination tells a great detective story with some outstanding twists that are both surprising and rather brilliant in how they are handled in the grander mystery, even if there are some elements that could be better explored. With an excellent cast of characters serving as the initial hook, players will find themselves eager to find out what happens next, even if the gameplay as actual detectives is rather simple and takes a backseat to the visual novel elements.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.