A mysterious letter from your high school years sends you on an investigation through Japan’s Shimane Prefecture to get to the root of a web of secrets and lies. Supposedly, that’s why Kadokawa Games named their mystery visual novel Root Letter, now available in English for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. As you explore the lovely scenery of the real world location of this game you’ll delve into an intriguing plot about a group of high school students from fifteen years ago.
Root Letter blends visual novel style dialogue with point and click clue finding for an engaging experience. The art style is lovely, succeeding in conveying each character's distinct look and personality. Music for the game is nice but can get rather tedious as it loops over and over again during a conversation. Audio is in Japanese and subtitles are in English with minimal grammatical/spelling mistakes. Although the dialogue was relatively well translated, the humor did not make the trip completely. We’re repeatedly told the protagonist is a “funny guy” but the jokes just didn’t land.
The pretty scenes of Shimane and the characters that live there are portrayed in still images with a few simple animations and cutscenes. The visual display is livened up with comic book-esque panels that rotate, zoom in and highlight various expressions or clues and keep the otherwise stagnant screen engaging. The user interface for the game is also well designed, giving players a selection of menus and commands to choose from the side of the screen in an easy to navigate layout.
The point and click elements of the gameplay are done well, letting players explore the scene before them with a cursor that turns red and makes an alerting noise when you’ve found something of interest. Finding the right clue will often help you progress the story and if you’re not sure what to do there is a “think” command. At first choosing to ‘think’ seems like a hint button but sometimes it’s literally the only thing you can do to initiate the next part of the story. Forcing players to do a very specific, seemingly arbitrary action to continue the game can seem confusing at times, and also railroads players. Often you as the player have figured out what to do, where to go, or whodunnit before the game's protagonist has and you have to wait until you’ve chosen the right command for the game to let you proceed with what you already know you need to do. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be stuck trying to figure out what the game wants you to do for very long thanks to the simple interface and ample hints you’re given.
Root Letter gives players the choice of multiple endings, more of which can be unlocked with multiple playthroughs providing plenty of replayability. Different endings are achieved primarily through your letter correspondence with a pen pal from 15 years ago and not your interactions with people in the present. This game, as in many games with consequential dialogue, suffers from misleading conversation options. Players are presented with short phrases or words that will lead to lines of dialogue that they likely did not expect would spawn from what they originally chose. However, the game is very forgiving when it comes to mistakes. Going to the wrong location or choosing an offensive dialogue option can always be remedied by simply trying again without losing any progress. Players will not need to be very judicious with their save files when playing this game.
Interrogations are where things really heat up. The music is intense, you can only make so many mistakes before you have to start over again from the beginning and a unique mechanic the game calls “Max Mode” is used. Playing bad cop will allow players to catch their subjects in lies and then pray on their weaknesses until they answer your questions truthfully. In the end, it boils down to presenting suspects with the right evidence and lines of questioning in the correct order, so if you make a mistake and have to start over or play through after beating it once, you can memorize the right order to present information in.
The strangest part of interrogations and the entire game for that matter is Max Mode. Max Mode is a timed challenge in which players must use their hand-eye coordination skills to select the correct dialogue option before it disappears. Figuring out how to succeed in Max Mode is difficult and there aren’t any patterns or clues to help you figure out what the right choice is. Once the correct choice was to take no action and let the time run out. Clever or confusing? I’ll let each player decide for themselves. However, Max Mode’s reliance on physical skill is a jarring juxtaposition against the otherwise slow and contemplative nature of the game.
As far as mystery tales go Root Letter does a fine job of presenting an interesting and suspenseful story. There are plenty of red herrings and plot twists but the ending doesn’t come out of left field resulting in a satisfying conclusion. In addition to getting to the bottom of the mystery, seeing the progression of each character’s journey from teenager to adult is a strength of the game and is why you’ll want to get to the end and then play it again.
Root Letter provides a fun and engaging experience for those that enjoy the mystery genre, pretty art, and interesting character development. There are misleading dialogue options and Max Mode is just strange. Overall this game is about experiencing the story that’s put in front of you and it does that well, in an engaging way.
Root Letter was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation Vita.
Root Letter provides a fun and engaging experience for those that enjoy the mystery genre, pretty art, and interesting character development. There are misleading dialogue options and Max Mode is just strange. Overall this game is about experiencing the story that’s put in front of you and it does that in an engaging way.
- Nice Art
- Smooth Interface
- Interesting Story and Characters
- Misleading Dialogue Options
- Max Mode