We love our visual novels here at Everybody Plays - games where story is at the forefront of the experience, that are more akin to sitting down with a good book than mindlessly bashing some bad guys. And it's been a good few years for the genre too, which has seen a genre that was originally classed as too much of a niche take the world by storm, with the likes of Virtue's Last Reward, Danganronpa and Steins;Gate soaking up our spare time. Now comes another promising title to add to the growing stable of story-driven titles - Root Letter, a murder-mystery adventure billed as one of the best in its genre, which has shot straight to the top of our wanted list after our introduction to it at last week's gamescom show.
In Root Letter, you play as a faceless, male silhouette. Some 15 years ago, you used to exchange letters with your pen friend, Aya, a girl you've never officially met in real life - until one day, the messages mysteriously stopped. With no reason to suspect anything untoward, you thought little of it, until her final letter drops through your door, fifteen years late. In it, Aya reveals she has murdered someone and is running away - and so it falls to you to try and unravel the mystery, by deciphering the clues hidden in her previous letters and interviewing the classmates she talks about. As you'd likely expect, this is a game that promises a plot full of twists and turns, and the more you dig, the more questions get raised. Who was she, did she really murder someone, and was she even real?
From the sounds of it, there were ten letters you received from Aya in all - but as it was so long ago, your memories of how you replied to each letter were a bit hazy. As you reminisce over each of the letters she sent you, you'll find yourself trying to remember what you wrote to her in reply, with a choice of different answers to the questions Aya asks inside - depending on the answer you choose, you can trigger different branches, steering you towards several different endings, each one giving you a bit more of a glimpse into the bizarre events that transpired in her home town of Shimane. Her letters hold plenty of other clues you'll need to figure out for yourself, too, including the identity of her friends - referred to solely through nicknames in her letters, and now grown adults with their own lives, figuring out who they are is just part of the puzzle.
Described as a 'more serious' Phoenix Wright, Root Letter boasts "more interactivity and gameplay than any other visual novel", with some more puzzling point-and-click style sections to embellish the winding tale. Outside of the story-telling, exploration and investigation will play a crucial role in the proceedings as you search areas for clues, interview suspects and probe Aya's classmates to get them to open up to you about what went on fifteen years ago. Done in a similar style to Phoenix Wright's courtroom stand-offs, you'll need to present the friends with evidence you've uncovered to prove their stories wrong, reveal their lies and weasel the truth out of them. At first glance, it appears Aya and her seven closest friends were involved in something that they'd really rather forget about, with some claiming they never knew her, some saying she died 25 years ago, and some simply refusing to talk altogether - and its up to you to sift through the memories, uncover the lies and hopefully find out what happened to your friend.
As a side note, Root Letter is set in the Shimane Prefecture, a real-life locale of Japan - a mountainous coastal area, whose capital, Matsue, is where Aya lives. Developers Kadokawa games have lovingly recreated the landscape, from famous tourist stops to shops popular with the locals, many of which exist in real life. If you're at all familiar with the region, then there's a good chance that your hunt for the truth behind Aya's disappearance will be a magical mystery tour of places you recognise, which is pretty cool.
As huge fans of visual novels, we're rather excited for Root Letter, which will be hitting Western Playstation 4s and PS Vitas some time later this year - when precisely remains to be seen, however. In the meantime, why not check out the latest Japanese trailer, kindly subtitled into English, below: