The detective is a well-worn trope that appears throughout the media landscape. From old classics like Sherlock Holmes to more modern characters like Batman and Inspector Gadget, audiences have long had a fascination for the life of an investigator. Video games are no stranger to detectives either, with many less combat-oriented games like Disco Elysium and The Wolf Among Us choosing to use crime-solving as a driving narrative and mechanical device.
A fun twist of this trope is the kid detective. Lacking the age, experience, and respect of their adult counterparts, kid detectives encounter their own special set of challenges above those typical for a detective. Often they are new detectives, only just being forced into the profession by unfortunate circumstances like the death of a loved one, or the realization that the adults in their lives won’t give them the truth they desire. Just like your average detective though, they come in many flavors and have been explored in many games over the years.
5 Luke Triton – Professor Layton Series
The Professor Layton series is a great collection of puzzle games that mostly find their home on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. With consistently good performance, the series has earned a strong place amongst Nintendo’s tertiary intellectual properties. Luke is a bit more of a junior detective than a fully-fledged one, but he’s still more than dedicated to the investigative arts. Acting as the Robin to Professor Layton’s Batman, Luke, is a mainstay in the Professor Layton series. While Layton himself takes the starring role, solving mysteries and puzzles galore, Luke is always by his side, seeking to not only learn from Layton’s keen intellect but also his gentlemanly aura.
Luke contributes plenty to the unfolding investigations himself though. Whether it be helping look for clues and carry out stakeouts, or using his unique ability to speak to animals, Luke is always ready to pursue a good mystery and a good puzzle.
Ayumi is a name some Nintendo fans might remember, but do not fully know why. She hails from the Famicom Detective Club games, a short series of detective games mostly released on Nintendo’s Famicom (NES) system in Japan. However, the original duo did recently receive remakes on the Switch. With the player taking the role of a nameless protagonist, Ayumi ends up being the most recognizable face of the series. She’s a detective just like the protagonist, specifically spurred on to investigate the death of her friend. After that experience, the protagonist and her eventually go on to join a professional detective agency, seeking to further their careers.
Ayumi also famously appeared as a trophy in Super Smash Bros Melee, and as a costume in Super Mario Maker. She was reportedly considered to be a playable Smash character, but never got the chance due to her lack of popularity outside Japan.
3 Max Caulfield – Life Is Strange
Life is Strange has quickly become one of Square Enix’s mainstay series. Since the original game in 2015, the series has seen 4 more entries, with the latest one, Life is Strange: True Colors, coming out in 2021. Max, however, only plays a part in the original game and its prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Formerly a normal high school girl, when Max witnesses the murder of her best friend Chloe, she inexplicably develops the ability to rewind time, allowing her to save Chloe. This acts as the first game’s main mechanic, allowing situations to be replayed and new information used to change old situations.
Max’s detective streak arises when she decides to investigate the disappearance of Chloe’s friend Rachel, using her newfound time manipulation to aid the investigation. All this while the premonition of a great disaster hangs over their town.
2 Naoto Shirogane – Persona 4
Persona is a series many are familiar with, especially after Persona 5 exploded the series’ popularity. The Persona games are no stranger to giving teenage characters the responsibility of investigating strange occurrences, but nowhere is this stronger than in Persona 4. This entry sees the main cast investigating a series of serial killings in their hometown. Among these young detectives, Naoto stands out as the quintessential detective character.
Descended from a family of famous detectives, Naoto lost her parents at a young age, increasing her desire to live up to her family’s legacy. Due to her age and gender though, she was often underestimated as a detective, leading her to adopt more masculine styles and a more adult presentation. Through her bonds with the rest of the Persona 4 cast though, she manages to grow out of her shell and develop into a much more self-confident detective.
1 Kyoko Kirigiri – Danganronpa
Danganronpa is a series built on amateur detective work. The twisted death games at Hope’s Peak High School see the school’s numerous ‘Ultimate’ students encouraged to kill each other in order to escape the school and return to their normal lives. After every murder, the remaining students are tasked with investigating their classmate’s death, in order to locate the culprit and save their own lives. The protagonist of each Danganronpa title plays a key role in bringing these investigations to their rightful conclusions, often being the only thing standing between the killers and their victory.
Despite not being the protagonist for the series’ first game though, Kyoko is easily the most iconic of Danganronpa’s detectives. Although her classmate Makoto Naegi takes the role of protagonist and player character, Kyoko is instrumental in finding him the evidence needed to make it through each class trial. Living up to her family history of detective work, even outside the trials, her secretive efforts to reveal the mastermind behind their imprisonment eventually leads to the student’s victory. Even after escaping the first death game, Kyoko continues to be a leading force in the effort to restore Danganronpa’s world to a peaceful state.