Process of Elimination is a game that wastes no time setting up its stakes. It opens with a broadcast from a serial killer, the player must pick one of his two victims to die, and they explode in a shower of blood. This serial killer is The Quartering Duke, a mysterious figure who streams their crimes, yet evades capture every time. They go on to kill over a hundred people in a year. Police need a drastic solution.
This is where the Detective Alliance comes in. It’s a secret group containing the finest detectives in the world. Each member of the Alliance has their own specialist skill, which they must combine to bring down the Duke. To maintain secrecy, each detective is known only by an alias that represents their skills. Techie Detective is brilliant at analysis. Downtown Detective is a social butterfly who can read people. Bookworm Detective draws from a deep encyclopedic knowledge, and so on.
You are a new recruit to the Alliance and don’t have a specialist skill, earning you the slightly harsh title of Incompetent Detective. You and the rest of the Detective Alliance head out to a private island with a manor house and a research lab to conduct your investigation. However, the fourteen detectives soon learn that things aren’t what they seem. Some of them start turning up dead, meaning there may be a traitor among them.
Process of Elimination is a game that is primarily a visual novel, albeit with a unique twist. Investigation gameplay takes place on a grid system where detectives can be moved around like chess pieces. It’s Fire Emblem with fingerprints, basically.
The maps all contain clue squares and Mystery Points, which reveal truths behind the mystery. Mystery Points can’t be interacted with until clues have been found and analysed, and these are all marked with a number that must be reduced to zero. A typical investigation involves knowing which detectives are best utilized for finding clues, which can analyze them, and figuring out who can reduce the Mystery Points numbers fastest.
For example, Techie Detective has a poor range for finding clues and is rubbish at tackling Mystery Points, but he is unmatched when it comes to deep analysis of clues that others have found. By contrast, Doleful Detective is much better at finding clues due to his ability to sense danger.
Detectives can also be instructed to aid each other, which boosts how effectively a Mystery Point can be dealt with. For example, Bookworm and Gourmet Detective have 6 points in their Inference skill, so they can reduce that much from a Mystery Point on their own in one turn. However, bring in Armor Detective and his Assistance skill of 9, and this goes up to a whopping 15 points. Knowing who is best at what and positioning them efficiently is key to success.
While Process of Elimination’s gameplay system is pretty simple, some levels in the game introduce complications. Trap squares can cause an instant game over if a detective is standing inside their radius at the end of a turn. One stage features invisible assailants you must detect before you can defeat them. Another stage features a character pursuing one of the detectives, and you need to keep all your detectives away from the attacker.
It has some problems though. Early stages have a lot of automation, with the plot reason that you can’t order certain detectives since they don’t trust you enough. This can lead to some levels feeling almost like they’re playing themselves. The mechanics are also a little too straightforward considering the storyline. In gameplay, every clue is useful, and detectives are always telling the truth. Then you get into the final debrief and reveal the killer, and it’s someone who you used to find most of the clues. It’s a huge disconnect to see the perpetrator casually hand over evidence of their own crimes.
A good mystery story is full of misdirects that obfuscate the truth. Therefore, I would have loved to see more misdirects and red herrings. The killer planting false evidence to throw you off the scent would have upped the challenge considerably and made it more narratively exciting.
There’s an obvious comparison with the Danganronpa series in Process of Elimination, as the games have a similar premise, after all. There’s a closed-off group of people with specialist skills (except the protagonist) all threatening to murder each other. But where Danganronpa loves to constantly shift suspicion around in each trial, Process of Elimination lines up its clues much more obviously. It’s a lot less satisfying when each clue points a big neon arrow at exactly one person in the line-up.
There’s also a huge problem with pacing. The game front-loads itself as a visual novel first, a strategy game second. Problem is, so much of the marketing hinged on the strategy elements that the opening ends up feeling frustrating for anyone desperate to get their hands on it. It takes two hours to reach the tutorial level and then no less than five hours after that to reach the second stage. In reality, that makes seven hours before you get to do something on your own, which is absurd.
This is made more frustrating with how often the team launch an investigation and you’re left to just watch them. Looking for secret passages in the manor? Disarming a trap corridor? Figuring out how to escape a trap? All these feel like perfect opportunities to slap everyone onto a grid and do some Sherlock chess. However, it doesn’t happen within those opening hours. Later chapters do have sequences around these things, which makes it even more baffling that they don’t bring them in earlier.
This isn’t to say Process of Elimination’s story isn’t worth it. The central mystery is interesting, with the Duke and the Detective Alliance’s history turning out to be disturbingly intertwined. It also goes into some unexpected directions, with more sci-fi elements than I expected. Some of the killers turned out to be real surprises once discovered, and the slow realisation as you find the clues is extremely effective.
I also really liked the cast. Every detective was unique, from the haughty Posh Detective to the helpful yet timid Doleful Detective. Armor Detective was a highlight, with his out-of-place presence as a chivalrous medieval knight deliberately played for laughs. Another character was so charming that I personally felt betrayed when they turned out to be a killer.
On the whole, I enjoyed Process of Elimination. The story kept me guessing like a good mystery should and it had some brilliant ideas. However, my frustrations with it all came from feeling it could have pushed those ideas into even more exciting territory. Mystery enthusiasts will definitely find something to love here. But those looking for a meaty strategy experience may feel a little disappointed.
Process of Elimination launches on PS4 and Nintendo Switch on April 11, 2023 in North America. It releases in Europe on April 14, 2023.