Root Letter (stylised as √Letter) is a game which calls itself “a young adult suspense thriller”. It is available on both PS4 and PS Vita. For this review, the PS Vita version of the game was used.
This visual novel has you trying to solve a mystery from 15 years ago. The story revolves around finding out what happened to your childhood pen pal, a girl named Aya Fumino. The intro of the game lets you know that something is wrong; hinting at what kind of story awaits. In the intro movie, characters quote conflicting information about Aya, which seems to give quite a lot away about the upcoming mystery. This did seem as though the game was basically giving spoilers for itself, but you quickly get absorbed into the story which unravels as you play.
The intro movie tells us that the game is “set in Shiname, the Land of Marriage”. It uses real life locations for fictional purposes, primarily based in the town of Matsue. Using your trusty Guidebook, you can learn all sorts of facts about the real-life locations you visit in-game. The game acts almost like a tourist guide to Shimane, teaching you about local places, traditions, and folklore. It puts across an accurate representation of a rural/suburban location in Japan.
The art style is gorgeous, and the renditions of the real locations are incredibly accurate and detailed. Both the static and animated sections look great, and the main characters have distinctive, but relatively realistic appearances (aside from a couple of hair colours). Some of the one-time only characters have re-used portraits, and it would be nice if that wasn’t the case, but as you only interact with these unnamed individuals briefly, it doesn’t matter all too much.
The game has Japanese voice acting with English text. There is a lot of voice acting – even minor characters that are only encountered once are voice acted. Only the protagonist is not voice acted, allowing you to imagine a voice of your own for him. There are also occasional sound effects where relevant, but the main sound is the background music. This background music is well suited to the tone and setting of the game, and makes for pleasant listening as you search the streets of Matsue for clues.
Root Letter is a very linear game. Most of the way through, the game holds your hand, telling you precisely where to go and what to do next. When asking characters’ questions, the game will progress as soon as you ask the ‘correct’ question, which is often one of two choices. This makes the game very simple in terms of gameplay, as there are limited options available to you. It would be nice to have a little more freedom in the exploration and mystery-solving. However, as far as the genre goes, there is quite a bit more interaction than some of your typical visual novels.
It takes a while for the story to really unfurl, and in the first few chapters the information you get seems pretty contradictory, and doesn’t make much sense. This is actually a good thing, since mystery is the name of the game here. However, the game does tend to be a bit repetitive. Each chapter follows the same basic process – find out information about one of Aya’s friends, work out who they are, and then confront them with an “investigation” phase.
These investigation portions have you question certain characters. You ask specific questions, and use items that you’ve collected from your inventory as evidence to back up your statements (similar to the Ace Attorney series). At certain points you use “Max Mode” to press an individual, where you choose from statements of varying intensities to press the character. With these investigation sections you have a handful of ‘lives’. If you ask the wrong question the character will get annoyed, losing a life, and if you lose all your lives they will leave. However, you can’t fail. If you don’t choose the right options, it just puts you back to the start of the investigation sequence.
It is a shame that the Vita version has no touch controls, as it may have felt more natural to select items in the world environments by touching them, rather than navigating with the analogue stick. Aside from this, the games controls are nice and simple. The only option which is not immediately obvious is how to use “Auto” and other modes for progressing through text. This requires you to use Triangle to cycle between “Auto”, “Force Skip” and “Skip Read”, then press R to activate it. Unfortunately, this deactivates anytime you have to select anything on-screen, meaning you have to reactivate whichever mode you’ve chosen after any conversation choice.
These text options become particularly helpful later on as, typical to the visual novel genre, the game has multiple endings. To get all endings you will need to replay the game a few times. Luckily, the “Skip Read” and “Force Skip” options make this a much faster process that it would otherwise be. You also have the option in subsequent playthroughs to skip to the next chapter at any point that you can access your smartphone (which is frequently). These multiple endings are very interesting and add new layers to the story with each one you unlock.
Overall, Root Letter is a nice addition to the visual novel genre with gorgeous graphics and a novel storyline.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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