I am a huge fan of games like Phoenix Wright and Danganronpa, mystery games so to speak. The formula for these games has been fairly standardized at this point. You wander around a crime scene until you get all the evidence you can find, then you automatically progress to a trial where you are confronted with a series of statements you have to refute one by one. It’s a delightful puzzle-solving experience, but it’s very linear.

Lucifer Within Us decides to take this formula and open it up a little. At its base, you are still doing the same thing, using evidence to find contradictions in testimonies. However, the way you go about doing this is more up to you and less determined by the story.

There’s been a murder

Each level of Lucifer Within Us drops you into a map of a crime scene, a recent murder to be specific. You are free to wander around it all you want and pick up whatever evidence you want. It’s important to note, however, that not everything you can pick up is important. There are some maps that filled my pockets with 10+ items but were solvable with only three.

You’ll also find all of the key suspects at the scene as well, thanks to the local authorities. Speaking to these suspects will allow you to hear their testimony. This leads us to one of Lucifer Within Us’ most interesting gimmicks, the timeline. Each testimony plays out like a video, showing you a visual representation of what the suspect was doing at the scene of the crime.

At the bottom of the screen, each section of their testimony is laid out back-to-back, like blocks of footage in a video editor. Each block can be questioned for more info, which might possibly chop it up to smaller more specific blocks. In addition, each block has a status window that shows possible inconsistencies in the testimony. Is it too vague? Can anyone else corroborate the statement? Does the evidence match up?

Solving the crime

Here’s the cool part. All testimonies you come across will be put on the timeline, one after another. So you can play a video composited of all suspect testimonies, switching between them as you go and finding inconsistencies as you do. You will actually see the videos change as you pick them apart, one by one.

But no matter how many inconsistencies you find, the chapter doesn’t end until you solve the crime. To do that you need to establish the means, motive, and opportunity for the murder.  You do this simply by presenting evidence to your suspect. Means will always be a physical piece of evidence, the murder weapon so to speak. Motive will be an emotional piece of information, the desire to kill. Finally, the opportunity will be a time block on the timeline, a space where they could have killed the victim without being seen.

All suspects will fight back tooth and nail to try to exonerate themselves, so unless you can absolutely prove that they did it, you’ll just hit brick walls. This means you can chase down some hefty red herrings only to find that the last puzzle piece didn’t fit and you were pursuing the wrong suspect the whole time.

What I like about this system is that you can come about solving crimes in multiple ways. You aren’t just rubbing everything on everything else until the crime is solved. For example, I solved a crime simply by psychologically pressuring a suspect until she broke. However, I could have also solved the crime by examining the victim’s body for evidence of how it was killed, by cross-referencing the testimonies of bystanders, or by catching her red-handed by the murder weapon.

The thing is, I was able to skip all of this evidence and solve the crime my way, through my hunches based on her behavior and her testimony. You don’t need to simply raise flags and flip switches until the chapter ends, you have to actually come to a conclusion yourself and present this irrefutable conclusion to end the chapter. It feels a lot more like real detective work than Phoenix Wright.

Welcome to the tech spirit world

There’s actually one more thing you need to figure out before you solve a crime: what daemon possesses the culprit. Lucifer Within Us has one of the most interesting and enthralling worlds in any mystery game. It takes place in the far future where we have evolved into a cyberpunk style society. Here, religion and technology have become one. We worship gods through technological means, altering our brains to achieve union with higher principles of virtue. However, this also means that daemons also exist, and are also technological.

These aren’t his paranoid daemonic possessions of the witch hunts. These are real, extant, malicious code that sleeps in the human subconscious and manifests within people who would do unspeakable wrongs. To handle the daemons, the church employs exorcists, like you, who are a combination of priests and detectives with the ability to draw out daemons from a corrupt individual once you have made them confess.

The world of Lucifer Within Us is so very interesting, and it gives me something I always kind of wanted from Phoenix Wright and Danganronpa, world-building. Phoenix Wright just sort of takes place in a Japan-ified version of America where spirit mediums and superpowers exist… I guess. Danganronpa takes place in a post-apocalyptic world whose entire nature only exists to fuel twists in the plot. However, Lucifer Within Us feels like a real, vibrant, living world with traditions and philosophies behind the actions of each character, and this makes the mystery-solving process feel so much more important.

When you say it’s tradition to burn the victims of daemonic murders but the abbot says the body needs to be preserved instead, you start putting pieces together. Is it true that burning a beloved figure will cause riots or is there something more nefarious afoot? You can answer these questions and find out more about the world of the game at the same time. Nothing exists just for a plot twist. Everything feels organically tied into the central plot.

Not much time

The biggest problem with Lucifer Within Us is its length. It’s short. Criminally short. You only have a handful of cases before the game wraps itself up, and it doesn’t wrap itself up in a particularly fulfilling way. That’s the double-edged sword of world-building that is this compelling in a small indie game. Just when things start to come to a crescendo, when you are dying to know more, the game ends. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger really, it just feels rushed.

But other than that, Lucifer Within Us is a genuinely fantastic game. Its world is amazing (and a perfect fit for spooky Halloween times), its characters are interesting, its gameplay is a fantastic riff on the standard mystery formula, it’s everything you could want at a budget $20 price tag. If you are a fan of the mystery genre, you should really check it out.