Monday, November 28, 2016

Pocket Review - Root Letter

Root Letter is set in the real-world town of Matsue, with players visiting a number of actual locations in Matsue. The thirty-year-old protagonist, nicknamed Max, is currently between jobs and living in Tokyo with his parents when he happens upon his old correspondence with a pen pal named Aya from Matsue from his high-school days fifteen years back. In addition to the ten familiar letter, however, he finds one without a postmark, with the contents indicating that the writer killed someone hence. With some time on his hands, Max decides to visit Matsue to investigate what exactly happened fifteen years ago.

Root Letter offers a bit more engagement from players than many straightforward visual novels, with the meat of the game being somewhat similar to the investigative sections in Ace Attorney. There are a few more places to visit with things being a bit more linear, and the game's "Think" option always available to tell players exactly what to do next. Specific sections will need to be completed in an interrogation style series, having to ask the correct things or show the correct items. A very small number of correct choices are a little arbitrary, but these are the only areas where failure is actually possible in the game and even then option of save scumming is happily provided. These bits also include "Max mode", where he simply decides to chew out the recipient of his attention, though players are thankfully allowed infinite attempts on these as it's not very clear which one is actually correct.

The story has ten chapters, and early on in each Max will read through one of the letters sent to him by Aya and then give players the opportunity to decide how he responded. These responses determine which ending players get, which takes up the final two chapters. Outside of this, the first eight chapters remain the same, however, once the eight hour or so first playthrough is done players can start skipping chapters, making it easy to see the remaining endings. There is a huge spectrum in how the endings play out, with the story impressively managing to even switch genres (e.g. horror, romance) between them while working with the same lead up material.

The writing has its issues. Due to the nature of the endings, the hooking conundrum of a letter being sent by someone who everyone claims died ten years ago and their claim of killing someone ends up more at the backburner as Max instead focuses on the slightly less interesting endeavour of finding Aya's friends. The weird nicknames that Aya used for them are bizarrely mean ("Fatty", "Bitch", etc.), and Max's continued use of them makes him come off as rather a jerk. That said, it's still a generally engaging story to experience and keeps things going along at a good pace without getting bogged down in any specific sections.

The level of detail in recreating Matsue along with nice character art leaves Root Letter looking pretty throughout. All the buildings are based on real places, impressively accurate in their recreations. Strong background music and Japanese voice acting further helps add to the experience.

With the resurgence of visual novels, it's good to see more of them heading onto Vita, a system that really works well for them and is easily my preferred visual novel platform of choice. Root Letter may not quite manage to fully follow through on its strong hook à la Steins;Gate, but the compelling experience of wandering about a beautiful Japanese town while searching for what happened to Aya is a pleasant step away from a lot of other recent titles and one I very much enjoyed taking.

TLDR An enjoyable investigation in a faithfully recreated Japanese town
Enjoyed By? Anyone who likes to relax and enjoy watching the characters and setting provide the atmosphere.

This game was played on Vita and was purchased by the reviewer.

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