Root Letter is a deeply engrossing, mysterious, visual novel about friendships past, unrequited love, bad decisions, second chances, lies, forgiveness and the painful transition from teenager to adult. It’s also a love letter to the beautiful Shimane Prefecture of Japan and an exciting first entry in a new series by Kadokawa Games.
The story starts with Takayuki (known as Max) a 32 year-old man in the middle of home renovations and transitioning to a new job who finds a letter he never knew existed from his long distance, high school pen pal, Aya. His friend states that she’s committed a murder and must atone for her sins. Not believing that the girl he once knew could be capable of such an act and filled with a desire to find out what happened to his friend, Max sets out on a journey to find the truth.
Max begins his search for Aya in the place she lived when the two were still corresponding; the Shimane Prefecture of Japan. As Max travels through the cities of Izumo and Matsue, the player is given a detailed, guided tour of a somewhat remote part of Japan. The most exciting part is that the areas you see actually exist in real life and are accurately (and beautifully) illustrated on the screen.
There are 10 chapters in the game which go along with the number of letters that Max and Aya previously exchanged. Each chapter reveals a bit more of the young woman our main character seeks to find as well as who Max used to be 15 years prior. They speak of triumphs, failures, fears, and dreams. They also speak of best friends.
Aya’s 7 best friends are a main part of the storyline and are the characters (besides Aya and Max) that you get to know best. It’s quite interesting to read Aya’s wide-eyed perspective of her friends from 15 years ago and then meet them for the first time via Max, witnessing who they’ve now become. It’s sort of like going to a high school reunion with people you only know from someone else’s descriptions. Some have been successful, others haven’t. Most have aged well but a couple look a little worse for wear. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve now spent a few years in the real world and understand how brutal it can be.
Besides the main characters, there’s a wide variety of other people to meet. One of the standouts is an old codger who always promises to have important information to give you in exchange for doing him favors (like washing his back). He’s an oddity for sure who usually falls short on his promises, but is great for comic relief. Another highlight is a twosome who closely resemble Mulder and Scully from the X-Files, complete with an alien research facility and a story about a sister being abducted.
The gameplay is reminiscent of the Ace Attorney series but with a little less to do (at least at first) and more room for error. As Max, you visit lots of different locales, look for and follow clues, interrogate suspects, and slowly piece together the mystery you’re trying to solve.
The main excitement is found in Investigative Mode. This is where the player (as Max) attempts to pull much needed information from someone, usually one of Aya’s 7 friends. You must choose the right question to ask or item to show and do so in the correct order/ at the right time. You’re allowed up to 6 mistakes, after which, the investigation will end and start all over again. At times, you’ll also be put into Max Mode. Here, you must choose the one statement on a pulsating gauge that will hopefully push someone over the top and make them confess to what they know (or who they are). This part is quite easy as you’re given as many times as needed to get it right.
The game does a nice job of easing you into the mechanics of the game which is great for anyone new to the visual novel genre. However, if you’re a more experienced gamer, don’t be discouraged because, by the mid-way point, your involvement and the intensity of each interrogation increases exponentially.
A huge part of the game’s mystique is its music. As you progress through the game, you’re serenaded by a wide variety of sounds which stir the emotions as only well-crafted music can. The main theme starts off with a soft, somber piano (with wind instruments in the background) then goes into a slightly more powerful orchestral sound that promises adventure and intrigue (similar to the introduction of a PBS mystery). One of my favorite pieces is a cool, jazzy, fun little ditty that pops up each time my favorite minor character, Kogumo Izumi, makes an appearance. No matter what the situation, the music you hear completely sets the mood, enriches the story, and enhances the overall experience.
The graphics of the game are another highlight. They feel like drawings with a sort of watercolor effect that somehow still possess a bright clarity. The outdoor areas are the most fantastic, creating a dream world of green grass, flowers, and peaceful waters. The real-life locales are precisely detailed and look even better than pictures of the real thing. The main characters are illustrated in a way that not only tells us a lot about their individual personalities, but portrays an underlying sadness which goes perfectly with the mood of the game.
Lastly, the story itself is very well written, presenting a complex mystery full of twists and turns. Every detail has been thoroughly thought through and is intelligently executed, with only a few minor flaws. The drama grows as you progress through the game and, like any great thriller, leaves you guessing until the end.
Root Letter is a highly entertaining mash-up of soap opera, awkward high school reunion, Japanese documentary, and detective novel. It’s a triumphant start to a new series. I’m now excited to see what Kadokawa Games has in store for us next.
GC Rating: 8.0
Random Gaming Tip:
In chapter 6, when you’re told by Kogumo Izumi that there’s a new dvd store nearby, it doesn’t show this as a new place for you to go on your map. You will need to go to the Kyomise Shopping Area first and then find it from there.
Who is this game for?
Any adult non-gamer or casual gamer who loves a good mystery and wants to try their hand at a visual novel for the first time.
Hardcore gamers looking for a 10-12 hour visual novel in the vain of Ace Attorney with great characters and a solid story. (You can also play for longer if you wish to try for all 5 possible endings).
How to Purchase Root Letter:
Root Letter is available on PS4 and PS Vita. This one may be a little tough to find in retail stores, but can be found a couple of places on-line.
Pricing (as of 6/8/17):
- Amazon (with Prime) – $24.99 (Vita), $39.99 (Limited Edition Vita), $29.49 (PS4)
- Walmart – $27.95 (PS4)
- Best Buy – $29.99 (PS4 and Vita versions)
Digital Copy (PS Network):
- PS4 – $29.99
- PS Vita- $21.99
A collector edition was sold via pre-orders last year. It includes the game, soundtrack, artbook, Aya’s letter and envelope set, a high quality print, and an Aya handbag presentation box. This edition on either system is pricey and runs about $109-$145, depending on the seller.
Publisher: PQube Developer: Kadokawa Games Genre: Visual Novel ESRB: Mature # of Players: 1