When I get tickets to an escape room experience, I expect a single-room experience. Yet in reality, I find myself crawling through dark rooms, climbing up ladders, and freeing a woman who’s handcuffed to the ceiling. In other words, Paradiso: Chapter 1 is the traditional escape-room experience…on steroids. Brace yourself.
My first few minutes are confusing. The meeting point is a karaoke bar, and the hostess doesn’t seem to understand what Paradiso is. One server thinks I’m trying to book a booth, although I keep saying I’m going to the “the escape room game thing.” The show’s host has to shout over the bar’s blasting music. So far the show lacks the mysterious, creepy vibe it’s going for.
Things start to get ominous once we are brought into the lobby of the Virgil Corporation, the fictitious organizer of the game. Our hostess stares each of us down and forbids us from talking. The lights flicker, and the sound of a ticking clock plays on loop as we fill out a personality test. For the rest of the game, I wonder when these personality tests are going to come back. (They basically don’t.).
Actors interact with us as we move through the rooms. After a while it becomes clear that they are mostly there to distract us. While this makes the game interesting, it also makes it hard to tell when someone on the staff has genuinely messed up. For example, an actress keeps asking if we were assigned one of the seven sins before the game started. (We weren’t.)
Be warned– if you’re a stickler for solving puzzles sans clues, Paradiso is not for you. One of the actresses in the game actually solved one of my group’s puzzles herself, and told us exactly what to do. While this helped us move on to other stages in the game, it did feel like there was a lot of hand holding.
The last room that my group enters is my favorite. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that there is a dead man, and I put my arms in his stomach. Arms. Plural. Get excited. Yet despite this bravery, my group doesn’t solve the puzzle. We can’t figure out the code to one of the doors in time.
I’m curious how much of the game was left– but no one tells us. In fact, we are immediately herded out of the room by a man who looked exactly like Draco Malfoy and put into the elevator. And that was it. No last big scare. Paradiso just ended. It’s unclear if this was simply the director’s choice– to have participants walking around the streets of Koreatown, waiting for something to pop out at them– or if the actors were rushing to get the next group of players in.
From their website, it seems like the team at Paradiso wants to pack a lot of story into the gameplay. Yet in reality, I miss most of it because I am busy trying to solve the puzzles. If the creators want the audience to connect with the experience more deeply, they should add story elements to the karaoke bar that everyone waits in before the game begins. That way, players aren’t watching Japanese music videos or staring at their phones– they’re learning about the experience they’re about to walk into.
Despite my complaints about Paradiso, I will say one thing– it is truly immersive. Meaning you can put both arms inside one of their actors. If that’s not an unforgettable theatrical experience, I don’t know what is.