I had never heard of Root Letter before so I had no idea what it was about. At first glance, you’d think it’s another dating sim where you just try to pick the best choices to win a girl’s heart. However, I went onto read the story which was about Takayuki Max who wrote to a girl named Aya as a penfriend. One day one of her letters wrote, “I killed someone. I must atone for my sins. This is farewell.”
You play as Takayuki 15 years later since Aya stopped corresponding and he decided to track her down by going to her home town. However, all her classmates deny knowing her and the strange thing is, they say she had died long before she became Takyuki’s penpal… Could she have been a ghost? Takayuki intends to find out.
So, the mystery piqued my interest.
You spend each chapter prying the truth out of Aya’s classmates and the story slowly unravels whatever mystery branch you’re heading down. It does a good job of creating atmosphere but, most of the story doesn’t change very much, much like Psycho Pass until you get to the endings whereas something like Steins;gate has very diverse branches. Writing feels a little indecisive… Like deciding to wrap-up but then suddenly having second thoughts. In fact, the game lets you skip whole chapters because there isn’t that much variation once you’ve finished it once.
Most of the time it doesn’t feel like you have any choice just like in Ace Attorney… There’s always a right or wrong before you can advance the dialogue. Something doesn’t work, pick something else be it a certain action or picking a certain item from your invent.
While most visual novels involve reading and the odd multi-choice, RL actually borrows from the popular Ace Attorney series where you interrogate (“investigate” in this case) characters and have so many tries to find contradictions so that they lose their cool and confess.
However, RL dumbs down the difficulty a fair bit since you can easily select “think” every time you’re stuck for a hint which pretty much gives away what you have to select next unlike AA where you have to think for yourself. There’s few extra items lying around (pun intended) to throw you off the correct choices.
However, it also has its own original elements such as where Max recalls old letters and you get to decide how he replied. Some of the choices are quite odd such as talking about ghost hauntings and alien abductions but it might why the scenarios seem to try to cover all sort of grounds.
There’s also a “Max Mode” where you need to pick the correct phrase from a number of different ones that cycle through on the screen within limited amount of time. It feels pointless and gimmicky since you’re forced to try again until you get it right. Might as well just have been a regular multi-choice.
It’s a short story but if you like horror there are enough bad endings to give you the chills… At least for me!
In some ways it kind of resembles KokoSake (AKA Anthem of the Heart) or AnoHana where a group of grown-up classmates are stuck in their past.
Character designs are by the same person who did Love Plus, the virtual highschool girlfriend that made quite a story on the DS. As with most visual novels, the background art is very soothing to look at most of the time and is set in the real area of Shimane, south of Japan. It actually looks nicer than Ace Attorney but if you’re expecting quirky characters and hilarious script then you’re not going to find any. It’s serious all the way.
There are also the few cutout Anime cutscenes to watch which shows how low budget this short visual novel is.
Characters don’t have many expressions or any animation either, no lip syncing, blinking eyes. There aren’t any event scenes either even though most visual novels have them for viewing later in an gallery.
Root Letter is a very low budget visual novel but, if you’re looking for mystery horror visual novels that plays like Ace Attorney then you could it a try. Just don’t expect a lot of quirky characters and funny scripts.