Last year, Kadokawa games released Root Letter on the Vita and PS4 together with PQube. This game is the first entry in the Kadokawa Game Mystery series. It mixes a visual novel with an adventure game and uses real world locations as a background. I’ve been playing the game this past month, and though I’m not finished yet, it’s time to pen down my review of Root Letter.
The story of Aya
First of all, what’s the game about? You are cast in the role of Takayuki, a young man that is set to leave for another city to pursue a career. While tidying his room, Takayuki re-discovers letters from his old pen pal, Aya. For some reason one is unopened, and chillingly reads, “I killed someone. I must atone for my sins.” Where most people might let it go and go on to their new life, Takayuki takes a detour to visit Aya’s home town of Matsue. Arriving at the address he discovers that Aya’s house burnt down 15 years prior. And too make matters worse, everyone claims that Aya Fumino died 25 years ago. The mystery is born.
Wanting answers, Takayuki must look to the only clue he has – the information written in Aya’s letters. Every chapter shows you the letter the girl wrote, talking about daily things and mentioning her 7 favourite classmates. She only mentions their nicknames Four-Eyes, Monkey, Fatty, Bitch, Snappy, Shorty, and Bestie. Of course, people change a lot in 15 years, and with everyone denying that they had an 8th school-friend called Aya, Takayuki has a lot of digging to do.
Soaking up Japanese culture
I’ve read that the game should please people who like Ace Attorney and Danganronpa games. I’ve never played Danganronpa, and only a minimal amount of Ace Attorney, so I can’t really testify to that, but it should give you a feel for what Root Letter is about. It’s distinctly Japanese, no question there. The surroundings, the names of places and people, the food that is being served. Nothing got changed to Western culture, which is great. It makes playing the game feel like you’re taking a short holiday.
The story takes place in Matsue, Kadokawa Games created this game while working closely with Shimane prefecture officials. While the story is being told and the game is played, you get to know a lot about the city of Matsue. As you move across the map you can use a guidebook, telling you little tidbits of touristy information about the sights in Matsue. They’ve build the surroundings like in the real town, as these pictures of Matsue Kyomise Shopping District clearly show.
The mascot for the prefecture Simane, Shimanekko, appears in a non-obtrusive way throughout the game. He welcomes you at the station, is depicted on the S.S. Swan and in other places. It’s a clever way to make the game instantly recognisable, like Kunamon is synonymous for Danganronpa games, and Funassyi appears in Tamagotchi games. Both are mascots too for Japanese prefectures!
So while you are soaking up Japanese culture and get to know the sights, you still have fun playing the game. They manage to educate you in a subtle way, it just happens to be part of the overall design of the game.
” Objection!” kind of interrogation
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. After reading the girls’ letter, you visit new places, chat with the locals and check around for clues. When you gained enough information on someone you get to confront one of the nicknamed classmates and call them out on their lies. An Investigation sequence is started, of the Objection kind! As I’m never very good at these kind of interrogations I was glad that the game guides me along and patiently lets me do it over if I get it wrong. Could be though that this is too easy for veterans at mystery games.
It’s not just the questions that you have to carefully choose, the reaction needed to draw the right response out has to be chosen too. You have to make sure you click at the right time when the reaction meter rises. It builds from stay silent to blowing your top, and every stage in between.
You can move freely between locations, talk to people when and if you want and work things out together with Takayuki. Using the guidebook and the overall map of Matsue made me feel very involved. Still, you can’t do the game in another sequence, the game gently guides you to where it wants to go next. And if you’re unsure, there’s always the Think button to help you out.
Five different routes
When you read Aya’s letters, the responding letter Takayuki sent is shown too. It’s your job to choose one of the possible answers, and each will steer you into a direction in the game. This makes for five routes that head off in extremely different directions. Some more mundane, some more fantastic, as throughout the game you’ll see glimpses of possible ghosts or even aliens.
I haven’t been that far yet, but I’ve read that doing the various routes helps you to uncover small details that help you build the bigger picture of everything that happened.
The game looks good with artwork from Love Plus character designer Mino Taro. The combination of visual novel and mystery reminds me of Hotel Dusk, which is a good thing. The connection to real life Matsue and all the Japanese culture I can soak up through the game makes it even more fun for me. The mystery is still unraveling for me, but the characters feel real and believable for me, which is important for me to enjoy a game. The game manages to set an atmosphere that I like, although I do realise this game might not be for everyone. But isn’t that the same for every game out there?
I do want to add that the original price of EUR 39,95 would have been too much for the game. I got the game at the January sales at EUR 19,95 which is a perfect price for it. There are some typos in the texts, and its not a very long game. Overall though, I think it’s a good game.
I’ve been following this game somewhat, and it does look like I would enjoy it as a huge fan of Ace Attorney, Danganronpa, Hotel Dusk, and mystery visual novels in general. It also looks like it has a time-related spin to it, which I also love in media. Great review! I shall let you know if I ever get this one!
Thanks! I do think that as an Ace Attorney fan you’d like it. I’ve had it confirmed that I’m not very good at the logic, as I had to do several interrogations over again as I failed the first time. Still, a good game. And I like the tie into real Japanese culture too.
This game sounds amazing! I need to get it! I love the plot of the story, and the fact that is so different from most games, I think the plot is intriguing, and imaginative. I don’t think I have ever heard of anything like it, finding a letter of an old pen pal, and people claiming that she died that long ago. Wonderful review!!! 😀
Thank you Maggy! So you’re an avid gamer too? Do you own a Vita? Although I do think the game came out on PS4 too. I do think the game was too expensive for the regular price, but finding it in a sale is great!
Hello Yvonne! I will have to borrow the PSP from my brother, but I don’t think I will find the game, I do love the review though! I mostly play ANCL, and Magical World, I just love immersing into such worlds!!! all the characters are so alive, and wonderful! I think someone needs to make a virtual rehab for these 2 games, I’d be the type of person who brings doughnuts XD!!! what do I do when I’m away from the game? Read about it!!! XD
For the longest time I wondered why it is that no one could make a game quite like Animal Crossing. There are others that are good, but none reaches the AC standard, don’t you agree?
Magical world is good too though, but you have to be in the mood for Mickey and friends. But despite what people think, it’s quite a difficult fighting game too. In the first one, I never made it past the boss fight in Alladins cave!
I completely agree! I have tried so many thinking that it would be like AC, but maybe the reason why it’s so hard it’s because it’s such an old game. Since they have been around for so long, little by little in every release they would add more content to it, and made it more alive. I love Magical world, because I love Disney, but it’s true that the fighting gets harder, and harder. I passed Aladdin’s cave because I kept going, I died so many times that I started fishing in the cave! LOL they have good stuff for recipe. I became a recipe addict, my biggest struggle was constantly trying to get the ingredients for new recipe for the cafe.
I just love AC because it feels so alive! I love the interaction you have with the villagers, even though sometimes it gets repetitive, some other times it surprised me, because I would see them talk to one another, get into a debate, and then ask me who I agreed with XD! I feel like the game is so comforting, it always makes me smile. I have been so itchy for a new Animal Crossing, but sadly they didn’t announce it even for the nintendo switch, not even for next year. Instead last year they announced Animal Crossing for mobile, but it’s rather disappointing 🙁 I don’t really like the whole app/cash shop scene I feel like it kind of ruins gaming for me. Animal Crossing has always been free, I don’t like the direction they are heading, even though the Amiibo update is really nice, it’s a shame that in order to get extra content, and villagers you have to pay so much.
I read a website where someone summed up how much it would all end up costing if you wanted all of the villagers, and it totaled to over a thousand dollars! I love AC so much, but have to ignore most of the villagers, instead I have to focus on the ones I like most, but they don’t sell it to the US, and ebay has obscene prices. I do wish there was a game that could reach AC standards though!
I do agree that it’s a pity that they didn’t even give us an AC game for the WiiU, and no word yet about a title for the Switch. It sometimes feels like nintendo don’t see how many fervent AC fans there are out there. But, I’ll stay positive and hope that the mobile title will surprise us!
This game looks really good! I definitely want to play it at some point!