Root Letter, developed by Kadokawa Games and published by PQube, is a mystery/romance visual novel that tells a story of two pen pals who lost touch 15 years ago. When the protagonist realizes they never actually lost touch, and instead never read one of his pen pal's letters where she confessed to having killed someone, it spurs an adventure of travel, investigations, and social conflicts. Experience a story that goes beyond life and young love as you travel throughout authentic Shimane prefecture and interact with the people and culture authentic to the area.
You can buy the game on PlayStation Store for $59.99.
The game starts in the player/protagonist's room at his parent's house. He recently just quit his job at a design firm where he worked for 11 years so that he can pursue a new job. After a quick tutorial explaining how to search and investigate scenes, you find a stack of letters from Aya Fumino, a woman who responded to your magazine ad seeking a pen pal 15 years ago. He expresses she helped you through a few stressful times and little by little you began to fall for her. After assuming she lost the personal connection when you never received a reply to your 10th letter, you find an unopened one at the bottom of the pile. No postmark, no date. Opening it reveals that she killed someone and needs (needed) to disappear.
From here you dive into a mystery that needs solving, questions that need answers, and people who need interrogating. You figure the best way to find the answers you seek is by tracking down 7 girls who once went to school with Aya. You're only using nicknames (rather rude ones that show Aya didn't get along with them very well) so it's going to need true investigation and dialogue finessing to find out who they really are. They each have a shady side; wanting to avoid association to Aya in the past as well as anything that might have happened. Find clues and key points that you can use against them to get what you need, and find out what happened 15 years ago with Aya.
Again, the game is a visual novel, meaning much of the actual gameplay will be reading loads of text, but there are a few mechanics outside of just reading. The other two main gameplay mechanics that you'll be doing much of are investigations and conversations. When investigating a scene you're given a cursor to move around. The opening scene will teach you the basic controls (the left analog moves the cursor around and the right analog zooms the camera in and out). When there's something of importance or interest the cursor will turn red, allowing you to interact with it. You'll come across many scenes and locations, and when prompted to investigate, it's essential you be thorough as you'll need it all in time.
Conversations take on a big role in the game as they are the true key moments of pure intensity and story. After investigating and stacking up some information or evidence to use on the girls, you'll want to converse with them one on one to extrapolate answers. You can fail in these scenarios if you are not able to effectively use your findings, but it's nothing too terribly difficult, you just have to keep a watchful eye and pay attention to when the windows open for you to use them. Several missed or wrong moments in the conversation will mean you need to try it again. The diversity of characters and personalities is extensive; learning each character's personality will assist you in effectively breaking them down.
Occasionally you'll find you need to use a system called "Max Mode" where responses will be listed, and a moving selector will rotate between them, requiring you to time your selection just right in order to respond how you would like. I had mixed feelings about it as part of me couldn't help but feel it was extremely useless to implement a mini-game like that in those moments, but somewhat understood the direction the developers were taking with it. If you have to be alert and attentive to hit the response you want, then perhaps it may build more general tension for the conversation. Either way, it's a part of the game that you'll need to participate in whether you prefer it or not.
Sound and Graphics
While the game has been localized into English text, it doesn't come with English audio, but instead, keeps the original Japanese voices. The text translations aren't horrible (although I'm not at all proficient in Japanese), just from reading, everything makes sense and captures the emotions and importance behind every conversation. I'm sure somewhere along the way a few things may have translated a little weird, but nothing ever stuck out as obviously unfit. The music and other audio are well made to suit every one of the emotional undertones going on during moments. It more than does its job helping set atmospheres and settings for every scene it needs to.
Graphically the game is beyond beautiful looking. It's full of still pictures instead of any moving animations (visual novel) but every one of them looks amazing. There was an incredible amount of attention put into the art aspects and it shows tremendously. Not only is the quality of the art itself top notch, the angles and ways nearly every one of them captures the streets, rooms, landscapes, and all other environments you'll see, really immerses you.
Root Letter hits a positive stride on multiple facets. It provides a very compelling story that wastes no time grabbing you from the start. Within 5 minutes you've found out that there's a big mystery to be investigated. The fact it has 5 possible endings means you'll find a good amount of replay value with it as well as you explore the potential outcomes.
The game builds good tension during conversations, and although it makes some questionable choices in the design of it, it does more than a good job making you feel as though you have control over every response. Graphically the game is gorgeous and the soundtrack compliments it perfectly without feeling over the top dramatic. In total, the game hits its mark on being both an entertaining and thought-provoking visual novel.
|+ Beautiful and colorful art design||– Max Mode conversations are debatably annoying|
|+ Compelling mystery story with multiple endings||– Gameplay is a little too simplified at times|
|+ Thoughtful dialogue|