Disclaimer: This review was conducted on PS4. A code was supplied by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
There aren’t many entries into the visual novel genre on console in general and much less so on PS4. Seeing as how the PS4 has only been on the market for a few years and has barely picked up steam in Japan, the slow trickle of visual novels isn’t exactly surprising but it is a bit discouraging after seeing the attention that the PS3 was getting towards the tail end of its lifecycle.
Hatoful Boyfriend and the western made One Way Trip – which I reviewed fairly recently – sit among the short list of visual novels for console gamers to peruse. And, aside from the anime inspired Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness, there isn’t exactly a big hitter for fans of the genre to jump in to.
Enter Root Letter.
Root Letter isn’t exactly a traditional visual novel, however.
It lives in the space between puzzle games and visual novels. You could liken it to something like the Danganronpa series.
Side Note: I know a lot of people who are super into visual novels but will never touch Danganronpa because any elements of puzzle are blasphemous. Whereas others, myself included, actually enjoy pace-breaking freshness that investigations or mini-games can bring.
So, if you’re one of the block-headed traditionalists, you can stop reading now because you won’t enjoy Root Letter in the slightest.
Root Letter is the story of Takayuki, a man in his early 30s who goes on a journey to find his penpal, Aya, from 15 years ago after finding a disturbing, unmarked letter in which she revealed that she had killed someone.
Curious Takayuki takes this into his own hands (I mean, who would go to the proper authorities right?) and sets off to find the truth – the root of this letter.
The story, while starting fairly slow, becomes extremely engaging and despite its plot-holes, was able to fully capture my attention through the entirety of the relatively short playtime. All in all, my first route took me close to 9 hours to finish. While the ending felt pretty forced, it was clear that I didn’t get the “right” ending – especially considering the game literally tells you that “you don’t know the whole story.”
Thankfully, the game is divided into chapters which you can skip through (after you’ve made the appropriate decisions to throw you onto a route) having unlocked at least one ending.
I went through the game a second time, which took me all of 30 minutes, and got the “good” ending which surprisingly enough, felt less interesting than my first ending. I stopped there.
The game is obviously inspired by Danganronpa seeing as how it’s “investigation” sequences are almost beat for beat recreations of what “trials” feel like. But, unlike Danganronpa, Root Letter isn’t as interesting. While the story as a whole is near-great, the endings lack the same grandeur or scale that Danganronpa captures time and time again.
The obvious reason for this is the multiple endings. It feels as though less time was given to each ending resulting in a less polished yet more diverse array of conclusions than what would have existed had the scope been limited.
Therein lies Root Letter’s main flaw. It tries too hard to do too much leading to a depressing lack of polish where it should have focused its limited resources.
And that’s really all there is to talk about when it comes to Root Letter. There are a few small typos and mistranslations here and there leaving you the user with a sense that Root Letter is a lower quality game that what it truly is. The music is the same royalty-free quality elevator music that you’ll find in any visual novel.
The visuals are very beautiful but frankly it’s hard to find a visual novel that is lacking in that department given the limited amount of work going into other systems. The trophy support is great, there’s a platinum that is rewarded once you unlock everything, including every ending and all of the mini-games.
Overall, Root Letter is an great entry into the visual novel genre that could have used more time, more resources or a smaller scope. The story is definitely worth experiencing even though the endings feel lacking and abrupt. But, Root Letter won’t change your mind about visual novels. If you’re not a fan of reading for hours or don’t enjoy the style of investigations found in visual novels like Danganronpa, Root Letter will be a miss for you. Everyone else should at least give it a shot.