Process of Elimination

released on May 27, 2021

The Quartering Duke, an infamous serial killer with over a hundred victims, has thrown the country into chaos with his heinous acts. To bring an end to his killing spree, the “Detective Alliance,” composed of the country’s top detectives, has gathered to uncover and subdue him. However, in a series of unforeseen events, an aspiring yet unremarkable detective named Wato Hojo stumbles into their operations. He joins the Detective Alliance on the mysterious island of Morgue to investigate the Quartering Duke, only to make the gruesome discovery that their target lurks among them! Can these detectives prove their innocence and unveil the identity of the Quartering Duke before the case runs cold?

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NIS has assembled a stellar mix of mystery/thriller and strategy game! We loved the cast, the twists and turns constantly took us by surprise, and the strategy layer was a novel way to shake up the formula (even though there’s far too few levels: we’d kill for a postgame mode that threw in many more challenges, since several mechanics are used only once in the story). Well worth your time, especially if you can find it on sale!

I cannot BELIEVE I've never heard of this game before. I went in thinking that this would just be a Danganronpa clone, but was completely blown away by how well-written, tense, and generally enjoyable this game was. The game's plot is extremely original, nothing like Danganronpa (aside from the closed circle murder aspect). Every second of it was a blast- it's rare for me to like every character in a game's cast, but I truly loved every single one of the Detectives.
The plot twists are incredible, the puzzle gameplay is fun and gets challenging near the end (i was running down to the wire in the later investigations), and the main character goes through an incredible journey of growth over the course of the story. I really enjoyed seeing him develop as a character and detective as I played!
The only reason I'm taking off half a star is because you can't save during the investigations, which really hindered me when I'd have to go do something in the middle of playing. I also had an annoying mishap early in the game where I returned to the title screen to check something, only to find that it had been three hours since my last save. Oops. For that reason, I think this game would have really benefited from an autosave function.
Other than that, though, I don't have any complaints! I am obsessed with this game and I hope more people play it. It's an exemplary mystery game and it's a crying shame more people haven't played it.

This review contains spoilers

[Major spoilers ahead]
To get the obvious out of the way: this game absolutely does not beat the Danganronpa allegations. Sure the core concept of 'group of people trapped in a location start killing each other' isn't exactly unique to DR, but there's so many similarities in characters, events and even plot points that it's really hard to ignore.
Personally I think this game had the potential to be really good, but the writing is definitely Not; several times dialogue blatantly contradicts previously-established facts or treats out-of-the-blue statements as fact with no explanation, the cases themselves feel a little contrived, and in general things are sometimes overcomplicated or poorly explained (chapters 5 & 6 in particular suffer a lot with all the back-and-forth over who died when and how). At one point a piece of evidence is brought up that's not actually visible (both to the player and to the characters in-game), but the game acts like it is and refers to it again later in the case.
The scenario falls somewhat flat as well; even with the eventual reveal of Wato being Ideal, his characterisation as 'low-ranking unconfident novice who grows into his role as Ideal over the course of the game' clashes awkwardly with the way that from the very start the gameplay makes him the most important person in each investigation and the person who actually solves each case, so you have this apparent novice explaining a murder that has seemingly stumped half a dozen of the world's best detectives, who immediately continue treating him like an amateur in the next scene.
The gameplay also doesn't really give you the chance to put together the solution yourself; there's no 'trial' or discussion, so you just skip from the evidence collecting to the 'closing argument' in which Wato has everything already worked out and the player has to catch up.
A few other personal nitpicks: I found it hard to get attached to the characters (though I'm not really a fan of 'one trait = entire personality' anyway), and applying DR-style character writing to this kind of scenario doesn't really work anyway in my opinion. Also at several points the game seemed as if it was building towards having the player solve a puzzle or code and then...didn't, instead just cutting to an 'oh cool we solved it' moment - the only exception being the fight with Renegade, and 'choose the option the game told you three dialogue lines ago' felt almost like an insult at that point.
In all honesty I did like this game somewhat (and wanted to like it more) - this review probably sounds a lot harsher than it should - but as someone who really enjoyed Danganronpa I was frustrated by how much this game ended up falling short of it's potential, and the overarching mystery wasn't really satisfying in the end. But I've seen plenty of other people enjoy it and I can see how they would, if there ends up being a sequel I hope it improves on this.
(Oh and minus points for 'unavoidable fanservice scene with underage character' and for 'trying to restore the Pinkerton name' for some reason?)

I really wish they'd make 1 visual novel where the villain isn't just a dumbass who thinks he's doing good by doing bad.
Also, the villain's motivations are really stupid, which make it impossible to sympathize them, as it's hard to imagine someone could do something so stupid while wanting to do good.

Real Saiharabros will recognize this main character. The one difference is this one can't speak english, as there only is japanese voice-over!!! yamete!!
Ok. This game naturally draws comparisons with the Danganronpa series, so let me mansplain why this one is more of a flop. Imagine the cast of characters is like an ice cream menu (yummy). In this game, when it tells you that you're getting strawberry and chocolate ice creams, you're getting exactly that. In the case of Danganronpa, you get that with added whipcream and sprinkles. Hope it helps.
I admit it did get better. I grew attached to these goofballs; this work has high highs and high lows, turning it unpredictable. If there is a sequel I will be there.

First things first, and this is a visual novel with a HEAVY emphasis on the novel part. There are traditional bits of gameplay throughout in the 'tactics investigation' sections but they are short and infrequent. Be prepared to read your ass off. Really, the lack of a thorough editing pass to shave off fully 25% or more of the word count in most sections is the greatest fault of the game – I suggest adapting to it instead of frustration but that's a personal matter. The wordiness isn't always negative though; where many other VNs i've played perhaps cut too much from pivotal scenes where the pacing NEEDS to slow down and gain gravitas and detail, PoE at least gets to put a lot of weight behind those scenes, and that helped build its relationship with me a lot.
Similarly, the art style and presentation of characters with the (nearly) fully-voiced Japanese lines is sublime. Even with over-exaggerated localized dialogue quirks you may expect from this kind of thing, just about every character won me over eventually, despite my initial hesitancy on many of them. The joyous character art and VA delivery definitely helps tide you over while the prose slowly works its way in. The main exception to the cast quality is the murder robots, which are very weakly executed overall, but even as someone who should be allergic to that kind of ... machina ex machina, they were managed OK enough that I didn't feel that they were a huge stain on the work. Even after I finished reading this mammoth thing, I was compelled enough by my favorite characters to replay the investigations for bonus scenes and the extra scraps of dialogue that come from the fact that basically any of your detectives can do any investigative action and they all have their own lines for each one.
The game will win zero originality awards, and yet where it could have been banal, hacky, and derivative, I feel it ultimately was written with love, wit, and deftness. There ARE original ideas, and what's more, the shortcomings of its forebears are recognized and often resoundingly corrected. The execution with this tempering ends up being as solid as a brick shithouse. This is something that really warms my heart about PoE: that it is clearly responding to its influences in this niche field, (relatively) big and weighty author names like Kodaka and Uchikoshi, and loves their work like I love their work, but affirms my conclusions on the attached games' structural shortcomings. Even with a clearly strained budget in places – you're going to see sooooooo goddamn much of a certain L-shaped hallway background with some different lighting fixtures, there are some puzzles that keenly feel like they were made for a breakout minigame section that isn't there, et cetera – there's good priority on which parts of the work have the biggest impact from dev resource allocation.
The tactics investigations are low key brilliant. They're never too long, so if you got way ahead of the mystery-solving, you're not too far from getting to prove it and progress; but they also present evidence and info in a novel-enough way for folks behind on the mystery-solving to follow along with the ride while they catch up. Additionally, controlling a whole group of detectives actually sells the feeling of you putting the case together as a team, and dovetailed well with the protagonist's confidence arc. Plus the sections have novel enough mechanics for it to not feel like completely unrelated, derivative minigame filler.
Finally, I think objectively this is more like a 4 or 3.5 but I fell in love with it so fuck the scale. The main reason I have to rate this so highly is that it has the best macro plot & villain resolution of any of these type of games I've played – there are so many of these psychologically-minded VNs where the ultimate conclusion is just "some people are Evil Ahhhh Oooohhhh!!! Mean!!" and that's THE inciting incident. Even some of the best ever are marred by this anticlimactic cop-out reasoning. PoE doesn't not have some of this in a character or two, but ultimately the villains' motivations are really not that and are instead rooted in some complex and fucking real places with the bonus scenes actually giving you further shading on them. And after having just played Kodaka's RAIN CODE a month or two back which is another incredibly back-and-forth-quality-level script of his style, I feel pretty confident in saying that yeah, the folks on Process of Elimination truly surpassed their influences in some really vital ways. It may be long-winded as fuck, but that wind is astute and confident. Also I wanna slap Doleful Detective's gay little ass fr