Monday, June 5, 2017

Root Letter (Vita)

Root Letter is an adventure visual novel and it is surprisingly more interactive than your typical visual novel.  It has remnants of a classic point and click adventure as you will select which places to travel, investigate areas via moving a target on screen and select various replies to letters and people.  It has elements of the Ace Attorney and Danganronpa series via the Investigation Mode.  During each chapter, you will question characters to obtain more information and reveal a bit more of the mystery.  You have to pick the right evidence or right responses at that point in time.

During Investigation Mode, if you select the incorrect thing for five times, you fail but this just means you start the Investigation again.  As you play further into the game, the answers become harder to guess and it ends up breaking the flow of the investigation when you selected the wrong response yet again.  Within the Investigation Mode is also a minigame called Max Mode where you select one of four answers, each ranging from a different emotional intensity.  Unfortunately, you have to end up guessing which is the correct on since it is not clear and they all seem to be unrelated to the question.

In Max Mode, you can keep retrying again and again if you get it wrong since there is not penalty, making it somewhat useless and superficial.  Apart from those, the rest of the game is reading the story so there is a lot of text to devour.  The game handholds the player quite a bit, there's even a dedicated hint system to assist the player in what to do next or where to go.  Root Letter has a fantastic story that hooks you from Chapter 1 and doesn't let go.  It nails down the atmosphere with its aesthetics and serene background music.

The plot starts with the protagonist, default name being Max, clearing out his old stuff and coming across a bunch of letters.  He then remembers that 15 years ago during high school, he had a penpal with a girl called Aya.  To his surprise, he finds a letter among the pile that he hadn't realized that he had, which is coincidentally also the last one received.  Upon reading, Aya informs him that she has killed someone and is saying goodbye.  Feeling a huge sense of nostalgia and longing, Max decides to travel to the city Matsue to find Aya.

The mystery deepens when upon arriving and digging around a little, he finds that no one knows who she is, saying that the Aya they knew died in a fire 25 years ago.  These witnesses provide suggestions to Max to help explain his confusion ranging from his imagination to ghosts to UFOs.  Max steels his determination and sets out to find the truth.  To help, Max realizes that in her letters, Aya spoke of her band of friends and he targets tracking down them instead based on Aya's descriptions.  The small twist here is that people change and as you learn of their backstories, surprisingly, they have a strong emotional impact.

Root Letter isn't immune from typical visual novel tropes of some odder characters and moments, as well as leaps of logic and convenient coincidences.  However, the plot is acceptable as a whole.  The graphics, which consist mostly of artworks and backdrops, are excellent.  They are made more visually interesting with animated scene transitions, making the visual novel seem more dynamic and exciting.  In the later chapters, the game likes to waste your time via getting you to go to various locations and then say that the person you wanted to find wasn't there.  You then go to the next place that the game tells you to only find that they're not there either.

Like most visual novels, there are multiple endings.  In Root Letter's case, there are five endings which unfortunately, the first eight chapters remain exactly the same.  Only the last two chapters are unique to each ending but you are given the option to skip the first seven completely after clearing the game once.  While you can't completely skip the eight chapter, you can use the text skip option instead.  The ability to skip whole chapters is welcome and is a sorely needed feature in very other visual novel.  Root Letter takes the approach of having each ending being unrelated to each other, and also in a completely different world.

Each ending spins the mystery of Aya into a different direction that's mutually exclusive to each other.  It kind of sucks that the developers went down this route as a few of them feels abrupt and unfinished.  Endings range from normal to the supernatural, and from bad to good, each has a completely different flavor.  Then again, once you've seen them all, it's quite clever how the developers thought of a different reason behind the mystery each time making it much more intriguing.  The true ending was naturally the best although somewhat predictable.  It truly warms your heart seeing the people you've met, rejoining as their group of friends.

Root Letter is a short game with your first playthrough taking approximately 7-8 hours depending on how fast you can read.  You can skip most of the early chapters on subsequent playthroughs such that you can skip straight to reading the unique endings, which will probably take another 4-6 hours in total.  Overall, Root Letter is a fantastic visual novel with an excellent premise.  The various endings which are each vastly different in terms of direction is a pleasant surprise.  Coupled with the beautiful artwork, serene music and strong storytelling, Root Letter is highly recommended for visual novel fans as it is one of the best ones available on the Vita and PS4.


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