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Root Letter Review

Root Letter Review

15-years is a long time to go without speaking to someone. It’s one thing when you used to see them on a regular basis, but when you discover an unopened letter from a pen-pal from a decade and a half ago, it’s probably worth shrugging your shoulders and chucking it to one side. That is, unless you are Takayuki, Root Letter’s protagonist, a man obsessed with the past and a woman he never truly knew.

When clearing out a pile of old things during his preparation for a new job, Takayuki stumbles across a collection of 10 letters from his pen-pal Aya, a young and attractive schoolgirl. In reading through the nonsensical teenage drivel, Takayuki finds an unopened letter and curiosity gets the better of him. Instead of more mundane replies it simply reads “I killed someone I must atone for my sins, We won’t speak again, farewell”. Instead of keeping the past in the past and assuming Aya is a bit nuts, Takayuki takes it upon himself to travel to her hometown to discover what on Earth she is on about.

Root Letter 1

This is my main problem with what is otherwise interesting and entertaining ‘detective’ visual novel. Takayuki’s motive is a nonentity. I found it near on impossible to truly get engaged in the story when he was willing to drop everything and travel to another city for an indefinite amount of time in order to find more information about a woman he never met. It screams desperation and insanity. This theory is confirmed when his interactions are literally shoving a photo under the nose of every stranger in Matsue asking them if they know or have seen Aya Fumino. It reminded me of that Family Guy cutaway about Liam Neeson running around asking about his family.

While Takayuki is a one dimensional character, it’s the supporting cast of Root Letter and unravelling story that kept me coming back. Without going into spoilers, talking to different locals and schoolchildren opens up differing stories about what happened, meaning Takayuki must channel his inner Sherlock Holmes to discover the truth. The result is an onion of a narrative that keeps twisting and turning just as you think you’re starting to get the bottom of the mystery - it has ghosts, baseball, a house-fire, late night drinking and intimidation.

Root Letter 3

You might think that intimidation is a surprising addition to the visual novel genre, but how Root Letterallows you to talk to people makes you feel like you’re playing the proverbial ‘bad cop’. These intimidation scenes come in what are essentially the game’s boss battles at the end of each chapter. Face to face with the person you’ve spent the past hour searching for collecting clues and information you start the investigation and have to carve the correct path through questioning or showing the culprit clues. With five attempts before the you have to restart, it genuinely makes you feel like a badass. You don’t want to go straight for the throat or the suspect will run away. Instead, you lull them into a false sense of security before their guard is down enough to ask them what they know.

While refreshing to get more of a choice in dialogue, it was disappointing that investigations as well as Max Mode - a mode where you choose a compliment or insult - only have one correct choice. It felt unnecessary to give you so many dialogue options, yet when it came to it, only one was allowed to be used.

Root Letter

Choice does come in the ability to roam the city for clues. Unlike some more linear visual novels, Root Letter gives players the freedom to return to locations previously visited in order to extract more clues or find new people. Though this rarely happens without prompts, there are times when you’ll return to an environment and discover a hidden newspaper, pamphlet or accessory, key to allowing you to progress.

Root Letter feels like a visual novel plus with its focus on choice and freedom being as foregrounded as the story itself. Well written and beautifully presented, you’ll struggle to find a story more engaging. It’s a shame there wasn’t more choice or alternative approaches to investigations but at the end of the day, if you’re playing a game of this genre, you’ll be playing it for their story, not your own.

7.50/10 7½

Root Letter (Reviewed on PlayStation Vita)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

A fantastic and mysterious thriller-lite. Though the protagonist has non-existent motives and the ‘choice’ isn’t really choice at all, the supporting cast and story arc make this difficult to put down.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Dom D'Angelillo

Dom D'Angelillo

Staff Writer

Dom is an English Language graduate. How does he make the most of his degree? He plays obscene amounts of Playstation of course!

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