By Steve Baltimore / December 12th, 2016
|Release Date||November 10th, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Vita|
I’ve always been a fan of a good mystery, so I’ve wanted to check out the Ace Attorney series but have not found the time to actually do it. When I saw that PQubed Games were localizing Root Letter I thought this would be a great chance for me to check out a visual novel in a similar style. Since I went into this completely blind, the question is did I find another visual novel style I really love or something that feels like a Saturday morning cartoon? Let’s find out!
The story follows protagonist Takayuki Nakamura, an average 33-year old living and working in Tokyo. 15 years ago he had a pen pal named Aya Fumino, whom sent him many letters during his senior year in high school and he grew close to her. This came to an end when he didn’t receive a response to his tenth letter and he soon became distraught with Aya. This interest in his old friend would soon be rekindled however, as he finds a mysterious, unpostmarked eleventh letter. He sets out for Matsue in Shimane Prefecture to see if he can discover Aya’s fate and perhaps even find the love he’s been searching for all along.
While the art style of this one is not as bright and colorful as a lot of other visual novels out there, the quality here is outstanding. The environments are super detailed, and my guess is if I ever visited Japan I could find some of these places in real life. One of the gameplay aspects is searching each area for clues, which is probably why there was so much effort put into them, and it pays off. The character art is just as detailed and top quality. This all comes together to make you really feel immersed in this mysterious town where you feel like anything could happen at any time.
The music found here is top quality as well. There are a variety of musical styles found throughout the game. Some of these are happy-go-lucky tunes that accompany light-hearted scenes, while others are darker, more mysterious themes like you find in The X-Files to give the reader a sense of unease. The outstanding work by the Japanese voice cast adds yet another layer to this already fantastic package.
While the production values of Root Letter are outstanding that doesn’t mean the game is without flaws. The core of the game is to figure who the seven friends are in Aya’s letters and question them about her fate. Each friend is given a nickname in the letters such as Fatty, Bitch, Four Eyes, and Shorty. You do this by clicking through several menus. There is the travel menu, which allows you to move around Matsue’s dozens of locations, and then another menu when you are actually at the location which allows you talk to people, search and other things. In order to progress the story, sometimes you will have to examine a certain area of a location using the magnifying glass icon, say the right thing to a character, or just use the Think command. The Think command will also give you a hint if you are stuck.
Once you have your suspect cornered, you will have to get them to admit they are the person in the letters. You do this in Investigation mode. Here you will have to present them with items and facts in order to break their spirit and admit who they are. However, too many wrong answers will lead to a game over. I found this part of the game very interesting because the items and dialogue used to get the characters to confess are simply over the top. The presentation here is nice as well, with those text graphics like what is found in Ace Attorney popping up to build the intensity. The thing that felt out of place here was Max Mode. This mode was basically a meter which, as it fills, allows you to say different things to a suspect. Quite honestly it just felt like an extra step that could’ve just as easily been done in a dialogue choice box.
I would have to say for the most part I was very satisfied with pacing in the story. Each person’s identity you uncover and the clues they give keep you guessing till the very end, and it felt great to figure out what was going on. Although, I thought it was kind of odd the protagonist would still call the characters by the their nicknames even after figuring out who they were. Don’t get me wrong. It’s funny seeing “I need to go see Bitch,” but I’m not sure that’s what they really should’ve been shooting for. There is also some unnecessary travel in the latter parts of the game which felt like it was just dragging things out a bit. I do like that the endings are all very different. This adds some replay value to the game, and it needs it since it is kinda short. The problem is that the endings are determined by your responses to Aya’s letters and it’s honestly hard to tell which responses will net you a certain ending.
Overall I cannot say I didn’t enjoy my time with Root Letter. The story is well written and the characters are engaging. It is very easy to get caught up in the mystery quickly. The Max Mode is pretty pointless and there is a bit of slowdown towards the end, but these things are not deal breaking. The price point is what makes this game tough to score. The game is around 7 hours long for one playthrough and you could probably tack on another 5 hours if you wanted to see all of the possible endings. The Vita version retails for around $40 and I think this is a fair price for a title with the production values found here, even with the shortened playtime. However, the $60 price tag for the PS4 version is a bit steep in my opinion. If you’re looking for an engaging mystery with great artwork and music, Root Letter will likely scratch that itch, but if you wanted to snag this for the PlayStation 4 you might want to wait for a sale.
Review copy provided by Play-Asia. If you would like to snag a copy for yourself please use the affiliate link below.
Kodakawa GamesPlay AsiaRoot Lettervisual novel