July 31, 2019 at 10:30 AM #967
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Unraveling a mystery from one forgotten letter.
Visual Novels are very much an under-represented genre in today’s gaming landscape, but they still come over to consoles in the US every now and again. Root Letter is a prime example, being a (newer) visual novel title brought over in late 2016. Being a fan of these types of games ever since Phoenix Wright, I just HAD to give it a try, so after playing through it five times let me share with you exactly what you can expect out of Root Letter.
The story revolves around a young man (nicknamed "Max") who had a penpal named Aya Fumino in high school. One day while cleaning up before a move (ugh, moving…), he finds her old stack of letters. One is unopened however, and once you read it you find your penpal’s confession: she claims to have murdered someone and will never contact you again.
Max is nothing if not curious however. Where you or I would probably just… get on with our lives, Max decides to head to where Aya grew up in Matsue (in Shimane Prefecture) and tries to find out what happened to her 15 years ago by tracking down the friends that Aya mentioned in her letters. This turns out to be harder than you’d think as Aya’s house is a vacant lot and we’re told Aya died over 25 years ago…
With any visual novel, the story is by far the most important thing (followed perhaps by visuals, depending how much actual "game play there is of course). The story presented here is thoroughly a missing person mystery and is mostly unraveled (for the first eight chapters anyways) by finding the classmates Aya talked about in her letters. Past that, the story splits into five different endings based on how you replied to Aya’s letters (all done via "memory" of course), which all vary dramatically from one another.
All in all, I found the various stories to be told rather well. The stories here are not the best in the genre: I personally prefer the tales in, say, Steins;Gate and Danganronpa to this story, but it isn’t bad and kept my attention until the end. It should be noted that there are a few joke endings and the (debatable) "True" ending of the game is only unlocked after you play through it once. So while there’s many other visual novels I’d recommend over Root Letter (Danganronpa series, Zero Escape Series, etc…), if you’re a fan of the genre and are looking for something new this is an easy pick.
OK, onto the game play! There isn’t a lot of actual game play in the game, but there’s a bit. This mainly comes up when you track down one of Aya’s classmates from the past and need to force them to tell the truth, which means presenting evidence you’ve gathered and asking the right question at the right time. Fairly standard stuff, but you can mess it up. I have no idea what happens when you mess up though, as one of the game options is a "Think" command that basically tells you what to do at any given time. You can use this to know where to go as well (which I definitely used liberally). There’s also "Max Mode" which you use to reply to people when interrogating them which is literally a meter that changes your reply as it fills up. A bit weird, as only one reply works but missing this doesn’t count against you for some reason.
Between these interrogations the rest of the game is just moving from location to location to advance the story, occasionally showing people the correct items to continue. Not much to it game play wise and you’re not very likely to get stuck thanks to the "Think" command mentioned earlier.
One area the game does shine is the graphics, which are undoubtedly top-notch. Granted, these are mainly 2D scenes of Matsue and character profiles, but everything looked fantastic. Matsue itself is just picturesque and simultaneously down to earth. I read that while making the game, the team worked with Matsue officials to help faithfully recreate famous locations of Matsue, and after looking at Matsue on the internet it looks like they did a fantastic job. All in all the graphics in Root Letter are top-notch.
The audio in the game is quite good as well. The game’s voice acting is all in Japanese with English text, so no dubbing here but I found all the acting to be well done and each character’s voice fitted them well. The game’s soundtrack was solid throughout as well. The main them is iconic and nostalgic, helping to lend the story some (much needed) emotion. A lot of tracks have that nostalgic feeling actually with slower, drawn-out tunes that are good for exploring or try to lend some emotion. Still, there’s nothing here, audio-wise, that I’m going to find myself thinking about or humming months afterwards, mainly due to the story just not hitting enough high-points. This makes the audio solid, but while it does its job well it doesn’t reach the level of being memorable.
As I mentioned earlier, the game has five different endings, a few of which only unlock after beating the game once. I can’t stress enough just how different these endings are from one another. Chapters 1-8 are about the same in each play-through, but Chapters 9 and 10 really change things up all based on your choices when you reply to your penpal’s letters.
Thankfully, the game recognizes the repeated content here and allows you to SKIP chapters from your second play-through onwards, which really helps when it comes to seeing all of the game’s endings. There’s a couple of "side quests" that get unlocked as well once you beat the game that you can choose to follow when you play it again. Completing these unlocks extras in the game’s main menu, such as various galleries and sound test modes. A nice addition, for sure. The game also has a full trophy list that includes a (fairly easy) Platinum Trophy, if that is your thing. All in all, if you try to do everything there is to do in this game, you’re looking at around 12-15 hours of play time (if you use the chapter skip option).
In the end, the arguably lack-luster story holds Root Letter from being a real player in the visual novel genre. The game play doesn’t help either, as it is standard at best and rarely used. As pretty as the game is graphically, it can’t overcome a weak story and game play.
Still, if you’ve ran out of good visual novels to play and are desperately looking for another story to sink your teeth into, Root Letter fills that role admirably and should fill most of a weekend for you easily. Just make sure you’ve given the better games of the genre the time of day first! Hopefully this review has helped you out in some small way! Have fun and keep playing!
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