Review: Root Letter (PlayStation Vita)

Root Letter: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation Vita 2,747 views 6 likes 15 comments
Reviewed by Prans Dunn, posted Nov 20, 2016, last updated Nov 20, 2016
Nov 20, 2016
  • Release Date (NA): November 10, 2016
  • Release Date (EU): October 28, 2016
  • Release Date (JP): June 16, 2016
  • Publisher: PQube
  • Developer: Kadokawa Games
  • Genres: Visual Novel
  • Also For: PlayStation 4
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Yet another visual novel for the PSVita, a genre that works generally well with the handheld. How does this mystery hold up? Read on as we review the first entry in the brand new "Kadokawa Game Mystery" series.
Prans Dunn

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A Pen Pal

While cleaning up his room one day, Takayuki, the game's protagonist, finds a letter and a picture of an old pen pal of his, Aya Fumino. She became unresponsive after their 10th letter, as such it was peculiar to find an unopened letter from her, one without a postmark at that. As he reads it. Takayuki  learns about a disturbing revelation; that of a murder. Intrigued, he decides to look for her, aided with a 15 year old photograph of her and the last correspondence address she used.

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Upon reaching Aya's address, Takayuki discovers that it is but a vacant lot now. After questioning the locals, he learns that the Fumino residence was burnt to the ground in a fire 15 years ago. After further research, he learns and confirms that Aya Fumino actually died 25 year ago! So who was sending him those letters??? Takayuki  decides to find the root of it all by interrogating the classmates his correspondent mentioned in her letters...

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Unfortunately the latter are very reluctant to share any information regarding Aya. To justify her apparent disappearance they send you on wild tracks ranging from UFOs, yokai to ghost sightings; all so far-fetched that you might even ask yourself if there was a pen pal in the first place... One might be forgiven to have expected an all-serious, film noir-esque general tone of the story given the premise of the game. However I was surprised to experience some unexpected goofiness, vibrant and colorful sceneries and characters throughout the game. 

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Playing by the letter

Root Letter is advertised as a visual novel but it actually tries to break from the conventional trope.  It includes features of point-and-click exploration games and the possible interactions include Move, Ask, Check, Inventory, Think, Guidebook and using your Smartphone mostly for saving and loading anytime during the game. I'd categorize it as a "more interactive" visual novel which is a formula I heartily welcomed as I personally prefer a bit more action than monotonously moving through lines and lines of text.

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As the game progresses, Takayuki reads the letters Aya sent to him and as he tries to remember his replies, the game allows you to choose some answers asked by Aya and some questions you might have asked her. Other interactive segments include interrogating Aya's suspiciously reluctant classmates to squeeze out information from them. His methods are often questionable but he is determined to reach the bottom of this issue.

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The "most important" parts of the game is when you question people and have to ask the right questions, use the right insults and show the right items at the right time. Often these are not intuitive. That's where the Think option comes in handy. But even then it's a hit-or-miss issue. Using Think either oversimplifies the situation by pointing out almost exactly what to do or it is totally unintuitive and you'll have to resort to trial and error till you find the tipping point. If you mess up and the person Takayuki is investigating walks out on him, there's no real consequence to the game whatsoever and you just start the interrogation over again. Once you eventually succeed, the story moves on.

As Takayuki reads through his pen pal's letters and investigates her close classmates, their secrets slowly unfold. After completion, you manage to get answers to your questions, although somewhat disappointingly bland outcome, but then the credits roll rather abruptly... But wait! What has all of those Marvel movies taught you? Stay after the credits as there's a final letter awaiting you! More routes open up after your first playthrough, with 5 possible endings in total. Also, additional responses to the letters unlock which determine which ending you will have.

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Getting to the root of the letters

I really appreciate Root Letter's effort to try something different with a genre that could do with some innovation. The more interactive approach, for me, made for a more enjoyable formula for a visual novel. Moreover, you're constantly moving around, taking to different people at different locations, this breaks from the monotony that plagues a lot of visual novels. Its blended goofiness despite setting a rather serious plot on the outset is also a refreshing change but doesn't always work out. However with a rather disappointing conclusion to your investigation that can take up to 10 hours of playtime, it doesn't really appeal to replay the game to unlock the other endings.

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Verdict
Pros
+ Interesting plot
+ Innovative gameplay approach
Cons
- Rather disappointing ending
- Cringeworthy protagonist actions
- Unintuitive interrogation segments
6 Presentation
Presented as a typical visual novel with the addition of protagonist who doesn't always know how to behave and often some unnecessary goofy events.
8 Gameplay
Root Letter brings refreshing interactive gameplay to a visual novel title.
7 Lasting Appeal
With a single playthrough lasting up to 10 hours and 5 different unlockable endings, the game offers a lot of replayability. However, with a rather disappointing conclusion to the events, many wouldn't find the appeal to do so.
7
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Root Letter aims to be a game changer in the visual novel genre with its interactive segments. Unfortunately its gripping story line concludes rather blandly. Nevertheless it should prove entertaining, provided that you can bear with the protagonist.
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