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