Process of Elimination Review
Process of Elimination is a very unique mystery visual novel full of twists. The story is compelling albeit a bit slow to get started at first. It has turn-based SRPG gameplay that is extremely unique to the visual novel genre. These SRPG sections are never hard and it’s integrated seamlessly into the story. There are many unique characters, each with great character designs, who have plenty of character development and there are some very phenomenal twists throughout the game. The story flows naturally between chapters, leading to an extremely satisfying conclusion though the pacing isn’t always the best. The CG illustrations, backgrounds artwork, and soundtrack are all high-quality as well.
The gameplay is mostly like that of a visual novel, with a first-person view where you see the point of view of the protagonist and you see the characters you’re talking to on-screen in front of you. The voice acting is only in Japanese with English text, but almost all dialogue is voiced with the exception of the protagonist’s thoughts and whenever there’s just narration (the protagonist’s dialogue is fully voiced which isn’t too common in visual novels and is a nice touch).
Over the years we’ve gotten many mystery visual novels. From all the way back with Famicom Detective Club which had inspired many Japanese game developers, to more modern releases such as Ace Attorney, Danganronpa, Professor Layton, 999/Virtue’s Last Reward/Zero Time Dilemma as well as World’s End Club, each game brings something unique to the table.
If I was to categorize this game quickly, Process of Elimination plays more like 999 and Danganronpa, and without spoiling it’s very similar in the sense that the protagonist is trapped in an area and has to solve mysteries with a group of very odd characters. It’s definitely a more adult game as well, with some very horrific bad endings and the premise of having to catch a very nasty serial killer (this is not really a title recommended for kids).
To give a quick synopsis of the plot without spoilers, the game takes place in a dystopia where private detectives are valuable due to the police being overwhelmed with crime. The protagonist is Wato Hojo, who works for the Gunjoji Detective Agency. Wato is a new private detective and makes many mistakes early on until he finds a certain senior detective who offers to mentor him.
His goal is to capture the Quartering Duke, a serial killer who has murdered 22 people. Wato has to work along with a team of 13 of the country’s top detectives to do so. They’re all trapped in a building full of traps and the group of detectives use codenames to protect their identities and families. Wato uses the name “Incompetent Detective”.
Some of the detectives Wato works along with do feel like anime tropes, similar to how Danganronpa had “ultimate” students specialized in various dissimilar fields, but some of the detectives were pretty well written as well. For instance the Downtown Detective was very interesting, her niche was being fashionable but she genuinely did seem like she would be good at working undercover and was very street smart. Though I’ll admit some of the detectives are cheesy like the extremely chivalrous Armor Detective, a lot of them are very interesting. One odd choice was with the Bookworm Detective, who narrated her dialogue as if she was reading a book. It was an interesting choice but it was a choice that could certainly get annoying after a while.
One great feature is that you’re able to instantly display the English text but it makes sure to wait until the voices are finished before the auto-play continues to the next line of dialogue. One issue I had was with the video game World’s End Club, where it’d wait only a period of time before moving to the next line, so for characters who would speak slower would always have their voiced dialogue cut-off partway through. Thankfully with this feature you never get voiced acting cut-off in Process of Elimination, so I could listen and read the dialogue hands-free. The auto-play option gave me plenty of time to read the dialogue the characters were saying and it can be adjusted to be faster or slower depending on your reading speed.
The user interface is that of a typical visual novel. You can save almost anytime (it does prevent you from saving before certain choices and during certain scenes and you cannot save during the SRPG minigame). There are also options to fast forward or skip dialogue. It’s a great game to play on the Nintendo Switch if you’re out and about, you can read and listen to the dialogue while on a bus or train and you can save quickly if you need to quit. Even if you need to quit the game in an emergency, the game lets you skip dialogue, even letting you skip to the next decision choice, so you can get back to where you left off very quickly.
I really liked the character designs in this game, to the point where it was one of my favorite aspects of the game. The characters all have a variety of expressions where the artist redrew their whole body, not just changing the mouth expression. There are plenty of illustrations for important plot events as well.
The gameplay plays more like a visual novel than an adventure game because you don’t directly interact with objects or move around different environments. It’s not a bad thing, but be aware often the game railroads you during the cases. You don’t get to examine crime scenes or bodies directly. Rather, gathering evidence is done automatically as part of the story though you can find more evidence during the SRPG minigame as well. There are also no opportunities for “free time” to talk to characters, all character interaction is done through the main story automatically like a traditional visual novel.
There are dialogue choices you make throughout the game and some do lead to bad endings that were genuinely scary. I actually found myself purposely not following the characters’ hints to go for the bad endings to collect optional event illustrations and it even revealed more about the plot to me as well because I would see another side of the plot you wouldn’t see if you had only done the good route.
The punishment for the bad endings weren’t too bad either, and it would just return me to the choice that led to the bad outcome. There weren’t many bad endings, one big one happens near the beginning. The game will generally prompt you to save before big events where you can get a game over so always take the opportunity if offered. I do wish there were more route splits or character endings though.
One of my criticisms is that some scenes can be poorly paced. Early on there is a lot of introductions to all the characters. Some scenes will take over an hour where the characters are just standing in one room discussing a murder. It would’ve definitely been better to have some kind of input from the player like how Ace Attorney has investigation days. Although the beginning of the game and some cases are slow, the plot pacing certainly picks up once you get going.
The main difference that sets this game apart from other mystery visual novels is the SRPG mini-game taking place in each case. This is what the game did really well. It’s tough to explain, but this is where a lot of the clues and deductions are made rather than examining a crime scene or dead body. It’s not a bunch of generic mini-games like in Danganronpa either, Process of Elimination has this unique SRPG mini-game for each case.
You control characters on an isometric map. It’s turn-based, and you can take actions each turn with each character and you have to collect evidence and solve the mysteries before the turn limit is up. The punishment for losing isn’t harsh, you can just restart the mini-game and it’s always a fixed map with fixed evidence locations, so you can memorize what you have to do faster if you have to repeat it.
You control most of the detectives, and this is where each detective’s niche comes into play. They each have stats which include Inference, Analyzation, Inspection, Assistance, and Movement.
Movement is self-explanatory, you normally move a set amount and then can take an action, but you can also choose to use infinite movement though you won’t be able to take an action until the next turn.
Mystery Points are glowing parts of the map containing evidence, but they have a certain number of Mystery Points or MP you need to get down to 0 to solve, which uses the characters’ Inference stats. Some evidence have high MP, so you need to have detectives investigate it together. Some detectives have high Inference on their own, but some detectives are imbalanced such that they have low Inference but high Assistance (like the Armored Knight). For characters with a high assistance stat, you would generally want them to assist someone with high Inference to gain a big bonus.
It sounds confusing, but when you do it it makes more sense you’re essentially teaming up to uncover mysteries and once it clicks for you it’s a really addicting mini-game with a great deal of plot relevance.
There are more twists as well with the minigame. Not all detectives will obey you, and they’ll have symbols over their heads representing what they’ll do. If you see uncontrollable detectives heading to a certain area, you can control the playable detectives to search other areas instead so you don’t have everyone searching the same area and performing redundant actions. As you uncover more mysteries, more detectives will obey you unlocking more possibilities.
Some evidence have locks, so you need to find other evidence first. Analyze is when you examine evidence closely to get more information from it, usually it’s a scientific character who is good at this and there may be a stat-check involved. The Techie Detective is extremely competent at analyzing evidence for instance. Inspecting is for Event Points, they’re similar to Mystery Points but without a stat check.
There are also general points of interest. Some are in the form of red sparkles that give extra information that is optional, but some unique points can only be inspected by the protagonist which are a character’s item that reveals memories significant to the story and actually playing out cutscenes. There are 11 of these unique items. You can see 6 of them on your first playthrough, and you can see another 4 on your second playthrough.
You can carry over all progress from a previous playthrough, allowing you to clear the SRPG segments much faster on subsequent playthroughs. If you collected all 10 items on a playthrough you can see the 11th item’s memories. They’re generally bonuses because the story is mostly wrapped up once you finish a playthrough. The unique items just reveal other points of views and other small gaps of information but it was still a great extra detail the developers added to the game.
After you win the minigame you need to wrap up the case. Near the end of the chapter there’s a “trust level”, where you need to answer a certain amount of questions correctly regarding the case to continue. It’s generally very easy if you were paying attention to the case and the game often nudges you in the right direction.
The gameplay loop generally involves investigating, playing the mini-game, and then summarizing the case. I may have made it sound repetitive but it’s definitely not, and there are many extremely interesting reveals. It’s only the first parts of the chapters that were a tad boring until a big plot event happens.
Without giving spoilers, some of the cases become extremely whacky (like how in Danganronpa someone “fills a bathing suit full of sand and clobbers someone”), but it’s just meant to be a game with interesting mysteries and puzzles to solve, not necessarily the most realistic.
I will say that the game really peaks during chapter 2, which has an amazing investigation and conclusion. It’s the only mini-game that has two floors where you have control of many detectives, whereas you never get any cases with two floors in the minigame ever again. The summary of chapter 2 was amazing too where it looks like nobody believes you until you start showing off evidence and making deductions.
After chapter 2 the pacing suffers a bit until the final cases, which has an amazing reveal and ending. A lot of the game can get cheesy, but the payoffs are definitely worth it and does have foreshadowing. This game has a well-resolved ending, compared to Danganronpa V3’s very polarizing ending.
I do think I would’ve preferred if the game had more environmental settings rather than being trapped in one mansion, such as how in Ace Attorney you get a variety of cases in a variety of regions. I would’ve loved just taking on cases for the protagonist’s detective agency solving real-life cases rather than another killing game or escape room kind of game. But don’t get me wrong, this game still is amazing with great characters and cases.
I just found it odd because the SRPG segments in the second chapter are the hardest (which isn’t too hard) and most intricate, but afterwards those SRPG segments only get easier as you progress.
The game introduces enemies (and invisible enemies) in those SRPG segments but the areas to explore get smaller and smaller in contrast to the lobby of the big mansion you see in the earlier cases. Near the ending of the game the SRPG segments are just finding and analyzing evidence in the most efficient manner and the areas do get blander and smaller.
The SRPG parts later on mostly involve purposely walking into an invisible enemy to detect them and then defeating them and collecting the evidence around the map. I think the mentality from the developers was that they didn’t want to make it too difficult but I really wish that the mini-game segment was more like that in chapter 2, multiple wide floors with many reveals where you had to be careful of how you moved your characters rather than just small tight areas with enemies.
The introduction of enemies were scary in the SRPG sections and having almost any character in range of one would result in an instant game over which is why the developers made those levels smaller and tighter. If you do find the sections hard, the maps are always fixed so you can memorize enemy spawn locations.
Although I stated a few cons, they definitely don’t outweigh the pros of the game. Process of Elimination is an engaging game that blends elements of visual novels and SRPGs into a one-of-a-kind experience. The SRPG minigame is a lot more fun than the generic minigames in Danganronpa.
The game’s premise is simple yet intriguing: you’re trapped with a group of detectives in a mysterious mansion and need to find who the serial killer is. The game’s 2D character artwork and soundtrack are great. The creepy mansion background sceneries also capture the uneasiness and mysteries behind the scenes. The characters are well-written and diverse, each with their own personalities and quirks that make them stand out from one another, sometimes it can be overbearing and cheesy but it is helpful to easily categorize their traits, such as one techie detective who you’ll always be using to analyze evidence or an armored detective who is not the best at solving mysteries himself but is amazing when assisting someone. The gameplay is great as well, the writing is good though I would’ve enjoyed it if there were more routes such as having more bad ends or even route splits.
Some of the cases you solve are genuinely amazing if not a bit over the top like some of the cases found in Ace Attorney or Danganronpa. The SRPG mini-game is really unique and fun, and it offers a nice break from the tense and dramatic story. There’s also new game plus exclusive content to offer more replay value, and although the new game plus content is definitely not much in quantity it’s certainly a welcomed addition. It’s not always the best at what it does, as the pacing can be slow even for visual novel standards, but the reveals are some of the best I’ve seen and there are amazing payoffs by the end of the game. I was honestly just expecting another generic horror visual novel with people stuck in a room killing each other, but I was pleasantly surprised with the unique gameplay and the cases in the game had good logical puzzles such as locked room murder mystery scenarios. I could even go as far as to say this game is a homage to some of the cases in the Sherlock Holmes books such as The Adventure of the Speckled Band, and one of the characters in this game even reveals their actual name to be Holmes. If you’re a fan of mystery or horror visual novels, Process of Elimination is a really great new IP you’re sure to enjoy.
Process of Elimination
- Very amazing writing. The cases are very fun to solve and there are plenty of great plot twists and reveals.
- A variety of well-written characters with great character designs. The characters have many expressions as well with re-drawn portraits when they’re shocked or sad.
- The SRPG segments are very addicting once you get the hang of the mechanics. The game is front-loaded and introduces a lot to you at once, but once it clicks it’s really fun and one-of-a-kind.
- Pacing can be slow at times, even for a visual novel.
- The SRPG segments are amazing in the second case, but they get easier rather than harder as you progress.
– Brandon Harris
Reviewed on Playstation 5
The limited edition version of the game can be pre-ordered on the NIS America website.