By Josh Di Falco 15.02.2017
While he is packing up his apartment as he prepares to move because of a new job opportunity, Max stumbles upon letters from a pen pal that he corresponded with 15 years prior. Upon discovering that his pen pal, Aya, confessed to killing someone, he sets out for her hometown to try and uncover the many secrets buried deep within the city of Matsue. Root Letter is a stylistic visual novel developed by Kadokawa Games, and the sense of mystery thickens as the story progresses. Based in a real city, Max must interrogate Aya's high school class mates in order to uncover the truth about the events that led to her disappearance 15 years ago.
When the game opens up and illustrates the base narrative from which the rest of the story would unfold from, it felt a bit rough. Being a visual novel, the narrative script and dialogue between the characters is important, and fine tuning these drafts can either make or a break the overall story. While Root Letter started off with awkward dialogue and an apparent uncertainty of how to proceed, it quickly finds its feet in figuring out where the story wants to go. While it's an unfortunate way to start, this is a story that is engrossing across the ten chapters.
The main play area features a screen that displays a location, with beautifully drawn backgrounds that bring to life the curious city of Matsue. To the right of the scenes is a series of options that move the story along, and they are really quite explanatory and easy to get the hang of. The 'Check' option involves dragging a cursor around on the scene and interact with the points of interest, while 'Ask' involves asking the on-screen NPC a question or series of in order to learn new information or clues. 'Inventory' allows using any of the recovered items to be used when selected, while the 'Guidebook' acts as a great primer that briefly details historical information about each and every location in Matsue. 'Think' causes Max to state what the current objective is, and is a good reminder to stay on the right track.
Each chapter focuses on one of the letters that Max and Aya exchanges. Aya likes to end her letters with post scripts, which asks a specific question for her to get know Max better. This results in a series of responses, and Max has to think about what he had written. While odd at first, these post scripts bear the weight of the how the game comes to its frantic conclusion. Featuring multiple endings, this is the only reason to go back and replay the story; however, the process to get there just feels like a chore.
While Root Letter offers a variety of dialogue options that threaten to change the course of the game, there is only ever one correct response to continue the story. Choosing any other will just place the scenario back at the start of the previous question asked. While this evidently means that Max cannot fail his quest, ever, it does take away from the overall suspense of the game, due to the lack of consequences. For those wanting a casual story to play through, this is the perfect option to spend a few hours.
Where the true consequences come into play is during the 'Investigations' that Max undertakes. These occur when he begins to question each of the characters who had known Aya from high school. Max can only make so many mistakes and wrong choices before failing the 'Investigation.' While these moments can be tense and equally riveting, the entire charade loses all sense of 'Investigating' when failing just resets the entire sequence, so Max can have another go. Coupled with a special dialogue mode called Max-Mode, where a circle fills with various colours prompting a different response, these are probably the most exciting parts of the game.
While the story is a riveting and gripping tale that uncovers the deepest and darkest of mysteries plaguing the town of Matsue, the egotistical protagonist Max does make the game unbearable at times due to his awkward dialogue responses. With a pretty neat and silly dialogue wheel called Max-Mode, plus the way he conducts his 'Investigations' into each of his pen pal's high school friends, Root Letter does have a great story to tell. While the opening sequences plays out quite forced, with Max awkwardly needing a reason to begin exploring, the game gets a lot better once it gets going. With no real gameplay required, this is, at the end of the day, a visual novel that works well at times, though some head scratching moments disrupts the flow of the game.