It’s been quite a time for both strategy games and narrative-driven adventures over the last few years. So when the demo for NIS America’s Process of Elimination popped up the other day, its premise grabbed my attention. On the surface, it’s a blend of the two, combining puzzling strategy with a traditional visual novel format.
After playing the roughly two-to-three hour demo, my curiosity is even more piqued. What Process of Elimination actually plays like is a little difficult to dissect at first, but that loosely knotted-together genre blend is what makes it compelling too.
The set-up of Process is that you play Wata Hojo, an aspiring sleuth where detectives are in high demand. Crime is on the rise, spurred on by the actions of the Quartering Duke, an enigmatic serial killer who captures people and quarters them on illicit broadcasts. Some of the early dialogue around the Duke made me wince a bit, as the villain makes a joke about “getting canceled” on social media at one point.
It picks up a bit soon after that though, as Wata is kidnapped and brought to an island. There, he joins with members of the Detective Alliance, a who’s who of the investigate world, as a sudden surprise inductee to the Alliance. Suspicion abounds, murder ensues, and the game is afoot.
My Detective Academia
As you’ll quickly note, every detective in the DA uses a pseudonym, usually embodying either their particular skill-set or defining personality trait. Some, like the Bookworm Detective or Armor Detective, are fairly straightforward. Others are a little more broad or esoteric. The Workaholic Detective was particularly endearing to me, as he gives off big “Larry from Pokemon Scarlet / Violet” energy.
For each of these detectives, their traits might define them, but their dialogue is still pretty good for the most part. Where the earlier Duke talk was grating, I enjoyed the overly online Downtown Detective, and other caricatures like the chivalric Armor Detective and Wednesday Addams-esque Bookworm Detective add some character to the unraveling mysteries.
Which si good, because there is a lot of dialogue. I didn’t mind it so much once the action picked up, but you should certainly keep in mind that Process of Elimination is very much in the same field as Danganronpa or Zero Escape. There will be a fair bit of reading in-between the gameplay bits.
Once the investigation begins, though, it feels like being transported into an entirely different game. After a murder occurs, the detectives set out to investigate on their own. These detectives aren’t just elaborate stereotypes, but also deeply fallible; they can’t always figure things out themselves, but also don’t want to admit they need help. That’s where Wata comes in.
With the help of the DA chief Ideal Detective, Wata—and by extension, the player—can give out suggestions or orders to the detectives. This turns the murder scene into a tile-based grid, with points of interest and possible clues highlighted in different rooms, and a timer ticking down to the trail going cold.
It is, essentially, a strategy game. Each turn, unless you intervene, the detectives will follow their hunches and probably get nothing done. You need to herd the cats and get them to work together, in order to discover the truth behind the case.
On one turn, you may move a detective next to another, in order to boost their ability to investigate a singular point of interest. Or you can send them off in different directions, hoping to cover a broader area. While one detective might be great at finding clues, another might be better suited at analyzing and drawing conclusions from them, so you’ll need to pair their skills up.
It feels very confusing at first, and to be fair, the systems don’t help a ton. A lot of UI and numbers gets tossed at you, and menus use similar-sounding terms for different actions, like “Infer” and “Investigate.” It takes a moment to click, even with the tutorial walking you through every step.
Once I got a grasp on Process of Elimination though, I felt like I started to see the potential. This is a strategy and puzzle game, but with no enemy aside from the clock. It’s all about resource management and careful movement. Moving between areas can take up precious time, so keeping detectives in hot zones is important. Pairing one sleuth with another got me the Mystery Point unlock I needed, but the ensuing personality clash meant that all my suggestions were now left-on-read by one of them.
Seeking the truth
It’s a really interesting system that, strangely enough, reminds me of the Nintendo DS era of development. Sure, it has some big Zero Escape vibes, but it’s also got that curious mish-mash of genres that I remember fondly from that time. I could so easily picture a dual-screen version of this game, with an investigator’s stats on bottom-screen and the tile-based map up top. That’s the kind of feeling I get when playing Process of Elimination, and it’s one that makes an impact.
The story of the demo ultimately gets pretty good, even if the final deduction stage is fairly straightforward. This isn’t the type of open-world, find-your-answer mystery game that Paradise Killer or Return of the Obra Dinn was; it’s much more in the Danganronpa style where you’ll have what you need to advance, and need to solve the puzzles and make deductions to advance.
But for those eager to find a little bit of mystery, possibly with a tinge of bending, warping narrative and clever gameplay twists, this might be it. (It’s worth mentioning demo progress carries over to the full game, too.) Process of Elimination has quietly snuck onto my radar, and I’m curious to discover just what the full game holds when it arrives for Switch and PS4 on April 11.