What is Root Letter?
Root Letter is a visual novel-type game in which players step into the shoes of Takayuki, a guy who travels to the picturesque town of Matsue in search of his long lost penpal, Aya Fumino. Having stumbled upon a kind of sinister unopened letter from her, in which she confesses to having killed someone, his curiosity leads him to try to track down the seven classmates she talks about in her letters, in the hope that he can find out what went on all those years ago. Multiple endings depend on the decisions you make along the way, and all entwine to reveal the truth behind his pen pal.
How do you play Root Letter?
Essentially the game equivalent to one of those choose-your-own-adventure novels, each chapter of Root Letter starts with the main character re-reading one of the letters his former pen pal sent, and recalling what he wrote back to her. When "remembering" his reply, you'll have a choice of several different things you can say to Aya, answering her questions about your hobbies, what kinds of girls you like and your dreams - and asking your own in return. Depending on the responses you pick, the game will branch into one of five different endings, all of which uncover a little bit more about who Aya was, and what happened to her.
The friends Aya talks about in her letters are the key to getting to the bottom of the mystery of her disappearance - but she doesn't make it easy for you to figure out who is who, referring to each by their school nicknames of Four-Eyes, Monkey, Fatty, Bitch, Snappy, Shorty and Bestie. It's up to you to use the clues in the letters, and whatever else you pick up along the way, to figure out their true identities. By talking to other townsfolk, examining your surroundings and picking up all kinds of potentially useful items along the way - a la an old fashioned point and click - you'll be able to corner the key characters and force them to tell you what they know about Aya.
In these 'Investigation' scenes, you have a finite number of 'lives' in which to prove the classmates' lies wrong, although the puzzles here are mostly pretty straightforward - like using a cat-patterned to prove a character likes cats. You'll need to use each item, or ask a question, at the correct moment in the Investigation sequence, or else you'll lose a life - lose all five, and you'll have to restart from the beginning of the scene. At certain points, you'll enter what is called 'Max Mode', where you'jj need to press the X button at the correct time to stop a wheel that's cycling through potential replies, although messing up here thankfully won't cost you lives.
How easy is Root Letter to pick up and play?
Generally speaking, the logic involved in these Investigation scenes, or indeed the game as a whole, is fairly straightforward - providing you're following what's going on in the story. Occasionally, things can be a little obtuse, but by and large the game does a good job of walking you through the story, with many of the inventory descriptions giving you hints at what the item can be used for, such as strawberry jam that looks like blood, or an agate rabbit model that can apparently let you communicate with UFOs. Should you find yourself stumped about where to head next, or what to do now, it's worth using the 'Think' command, which will give you a hint at what to do next - or, in some situations, is required for the protagonist to be able to connect the dots himself and move on.
As it's a visual novel - a game which is entirely story-driven - Root Letter is extremely text heavy. This means reading is very much a requirement, as there's little else to do in the game outside of reading through scene after scene, talking with characters and interrogating the classmates to find out the truth. There's also a fair few references to Japanese culture thrown in, which may go over the heads of some of the younger crowd, whether it's talk of enka singers, references to Japanese festivals and traditions or items on a restaurant menu.
- "There's a fishing boat on the surface of the lake, making gentle ripples on the water. Weird how such a simple thing is so calming. Is it nostalgia, or deja vu?"
- "It's named after the eight-headed serpant, and the Yamata no Orochi soba is a giant serving of cold soba with thick slices of eel on the side."
- "There is someone I like, but I've never talked to them. Aya, is there anyone you, you know, like?"
Classed as a 'young adult suspense thriller', Root Letter tends towards the more 'adult' end of the spectrum than some other games. One of the central elements of the story is that of the suicide of a young girl, depicted in still images holding a blade to her wrist, while another shows a pool of blood on the floor, as the description talks about the blood spurting and her collapsing to the floor, with blood spreading from her body.
Suggestive material crops up from time to time too, such as a still image of some female pole dancers in revealing outfits, or a boy pinning an unwilling girl to the floor and forcibly kissing her. Root Letter also runs the gamut of bad language, and includes everything from sh*t and f*ck to p*ssed off, a*s and p*ssy to name but a few. One of the classmates' nicknames is Bitch, and she's referred to as such throughout the story.