Have you ever picked up a book and found yourself so captivated that you don’t want to put it down? Well, that’s exactly how I felt whilst ‘playing’ Root Double: Before Crime * After Days – Xtend Edition (ROOT√DOUBLE). There are so many stories, agendas, events, and separate narratives at play, all interweaved through multiple perspectives and timelines – the entire experience was one of the most intriguing and impressive visual novels I’ve played for a while.
Root Double (as it’ll be known from now on) was first released on the PC and Xbox 360 back in 2012 by developers Regista and Yeti. In 2013/14 it was re-released as an ‘Xtend Edition’ for the PS3 and PS Vita, with the English edition launching in 2016 on PC via Sekai Project. It then came to the PS Vita in America back in 2018, with the EU following in 2020 (digitally). However, a few weeks ago this incredible visual novel launched Worldwide on the Nintendo Switch, again via Sekai Project, meaning I finally had the chance to play my (spoiler) GOTY visual novel.
So, why did I love this game and why should you drop what you’re doing and go and buy it right now if you’re a fan of mystery, sci-fi, adventure visual novels? Let’s find out…
There are four main routes (sections of the game) within Root Double, I obviously won’t go into detail about routes B, C or D, but I will talk a little about route A (the longest narrative of the game).
The year is 2030, the world is almost the same as it is today bar one major difference, BC (Beyond Communication). This, in it’s simplest terms, is the ability to telepathically talk to others and project emotions by using the power of your mind, an ability which certain children can perform – no adults, only kids. As such, Rokumei City has become home to families which have siblings that can utilise this unusual power, a city that has specific facilities and schools that teach and harness their skills accordingly. As this is a new phenomenon, the Japanese government overlooks these cities to ensure nothing gets out of control, offering benefits in exchange for cutting people off from the outside (normal) world.
Rokumei also houses a rather large nuclear facility on the outskirts, a facility that became the target of a suspected terrorist attack.
Out protagonist is Watase Kasasagi, the captain of the ‘rescue squad’ (think of them as firemen). You awaken within the confines of the facility with no memory other than a shadowy figure grabbing your arm just before a bright light. Thankfully, two of your colleagues find you and fill you in on why you’re there – you were called to the scene in order to ensure all civilians escape alive whilst investigating why there are fires and deal with them accordingly.
However, the fires have triggered a full lockdown. You’re trapped within this nuclear prison, surrounded by flames, locked doors, radiation leaks, and a murderer. To top it off, amnesia isn’t your only medical condition, the radiation is causing terrible headaches and you begin to hear a voice talk to you – are you going insane?
You must search for survivors, make the right choices, build your relationships, and regain your memories, as you try to stay alive until the locked bulkheads open at just gone 6 am. Did I mention you also have to inject yourself every hour if you don’t want to die from the radiation? You’re having a really bad day…
Before I get into the gameplay, I just want to talk about the content, routes, and brilliant structure of this immersive and detailed visual novel.
As stated above, there are four ‘routes’ in Root Double, two of which are available from the start and the others unlock upon completion. without spoilers, these are:
• Route A: This is the main route that sees you play as Watase as you explore the facility and try to figure out what’s going on. This route has many endings (mostly bad ones but there are a number of ‘good’ endings as well) including a true ending that ends the section nicely but not fully.
• Route B: You’ll soon discover that there are some children within the facility as you play route A, route B has you play the days leading up to the lockdown as those kids – specifically Natsuhiko Tenkawa. This leads right up to the point where the first route begins – although you should play route A before B (even though both are unlocked when you start the game). This also has various bad and good endings, and a true ending to unlock.
• Route C: This basically has you replay route A but from a different perspective. This route is quite long but not as long as the original route A as you only replay certain scenes. Unlike the previous routes, this one only has one ending so there are no branching good and bad pathways due to piggybacking on events you’ve already influenced in route A.
• Route D: This one is… Yeah, talking about this route would probably be considered a spoiler so I’ll have to be careful… This takes place after route A (possibly creating an alternative path based on whatever ending you originally got when you played route A), allowing you to continue the final few hours within the facility from yet another perspective. This is the route that brings everything from the previous three routes together and answers a lot of questions (and you’ll have a lot of questions by this point).
Finally, once you’ve completed all four routes above (around 50-60 hours), you’ll unlock yet another batch of mini-stories! These are multiple small narratives for each of the characters within the game, events that took place before, within, or after the lockdown in 2030. These are all bonuses and obviously don’t affect the story, but it does allow you to gain a little more insight into the personalities, agendas, motives, and thoughts of the characters – clearing off any remaining confusions or questions you have.
In a way, these bonus stories remind me of the brilliant Raging Loop, that game unlocks a new mode upon completion which lets you replay the game and read what each character is thinking, totally changing the narrative due to now understanding what the motives and thought-processes of each character were.
Choose your path
Root Double is a pure visual novel – there are no puzzles, no manual movements, no picking where you go and what you do, and surprisingly, no conversations choices to influence the outcome and path you venture down in the narrative. Instead, the game utilises a rather unique and confusing mechanic known as the Senses Sympathy System (SSS). As you progress through the story, certain scenes will display a small graph in the top-right corner of the screen. At this point, you press Options and you get to pick how you feel about the NPCs within that particular scene.
For example, one of the first choices has you wanting to risk your life to save a civilian surrounded by flames. If you decrease how you feel about the female rescue squad member and increase your opinion of yourself, you’ll be confident and rush in on your own to try and save them. But, if you lower your opinion of yourself and increase hers, you’ll trust she can do it as you have little confidence you’ll be able to save them due to your loss of memory.
It’s a very interesting mechanic which can get confusing if you’re trying to unlock all the endings. Once you get a choice, anything you set will be locked in until that scene is over, so you’ll often be rewinding time or reloading to see what differences it makes – although some changes won’t be apparent until much later. I couldn’t get my head around which sliders to increase or decrease in some stages so I simply resorted to following an endings guide (which I recommend). It’s not cheating, it simply allows you to read the story whilst also viewing everything the game has to offer.
If you are going in blind and would like to discover things for yourself (which admittedly, I did do for the first 30 hours or so), most choices are blue. Blue choices simply alter people’s opinion of you but the narrative doesn’t change other than a few lines of text. Yellow choices are important as they ultimately adjust the direction the narrative goes in, completely changing the events in some situations. Red choices are basically life or death – what you choose could lead to yourself or one of your companions dying or surviving a situation – if anyone dies then it usually ends the game.
if you die when you die, the game gives you a hint that lets you know how to avoid the death you’ve encountered. It doesn’t hold your hand but it says things like “Maybe if you were more confident in Yuuri within an earlier SSS choice, things may have been different” – I loved this as it means you could play it all blind and still know where to go back and alter things (for most of the game, later pathways are harder to work out).
Visual Novel Features
Root Double has all the standard controls you’d expect with a visual novel, as well as a bunch of ‘user-friendly’ additions which I wish other games in the genre would also include. First of all, data management – Root Double has 100 manual saves and 100 autosaves! That’s a lot. The game autosaves pretty much every time you move to a new scene, so if you make a silly mistake you can easily rewind. But, you don’t need the autosave for that as you can bring up the text log at any point, find the text or choice you need to return to, and instantly go back to that moment in time (within the scene you’re in). This is a great feature which a lot of visual novels don’t have.
Within the text log, you can also re-listen to the previously spoken text. Every single conversation with Root Double is voiced – in Japanese. The only parts not voiced are when the game is narrating or explaining things – or your character is thinking. Basically, if the characters are talking in the game, there’s voice acting. Considering the game is only 7.7GB, I’m impressed with how much audio there is within the game.
In terms of options, you can have a box around the subtitles with adjustable transparency, change the text speed, and enable the ability to progress with just A or A and any of the D-Pad buttons. You can also adjust the ‘auto-read’ speed (allowing you to sit and read as it progresses after a set time rather than pushing A), enable skipping everything or only the text you’ve read previously, enable hints, and you can also enable tapping the touch screen to progress the dialogue.
However, what stood out for me were the quick-access controls. Holding ZL brings up an on-screen display that allows you to tap the indicated face button to quick load/save, regular save/load, or enable auto or skip mode. But, you can also instantly skip to the next scene (providing you’ve already played the game or enabled skip all text) or even skip all the way to the next SSS choice. This means replaying the game for multiple endings is very fast and easy.
Why is the game so good?
I love visual novels, I’ve played a lot of them for review and in my own time on multiple platforms. Root Double is one of the first which has had me break down emotionally numerous times within each route. There are a few things you’ll most likely guess as you play through the game, but there are events and secrets which you discover that you wouldn’t have ever thought of, twists, surprises, and WTF moments that catch you totally off guard and make you go “ahhhhhh, now it all makes sense”, only for the game to throw another curveball and confuse you once more!
I’ve played intricate and interweaving visual novels before, 428: Shibuya Scramble is the first game that comes to mind, where there are multiple pathways or events which all link together and affect other timelines or stories, but Root Double felt different. Instead of altering the pathway dynamically (although your SSS influence does do that within the route your playing), each route you play shows you the same events from a different perspective, allowing you to see the ‘truth’ and how the other side felt based upon what they’ve just seen and been through. Route C, for example, may effectively be you rewatching the events from route A, but as you now have prior knowledge from route B (and other new insights), you begin to see things differently – it’s really, really good.
In a way, it reminds me of The Quiet Man – the game from Square Enix in 2018 which everyone dismissed simply because certain websites bashed it due to reviewing it too early (I reviewed it a few months after launch). In that game, you play the entire story as a deaf guy, unable to hear what’s going on or being said to them. As such, your view on the story and the events is purely based upon what you’re seeing. Then, when you’ve completed the game, you get to replay it with the audio enabled. This time, now you can hear what’s being said, the narrative and context of the events and story are very different – just like in Root Double.
As well as having some well-done emotional moments within the game, there’s a lot of comedy and unexpected moments which I found highly amusing. However, there are also scenes of death and serious moments as well. I found the overall narrative very intriguing, exciting, entertaining, and gripping. The only route I wasn’t too fond of was certain scenes in route B. In that one you’re learning about BC as the protagonists attend school, so you’re literally sat there listening to a teacher educate you – settings like that always bore me (IRL), but that’s just me. As soon as it jumped back inside the facility I quickly perked back up!
Also, the artwork is top-notch in Root Double. Everything looks great, from the sweet little Yuuri to the decaying dead bodies on the floor. Yes, there is blood and it’s red (some games make it pink), but there’s no disturbing or gruesome imagery – this isn’t NG or Death Mark. The game looks super sharp if played in portable mode and just as clean on my 4K TV – What I really want now is a PS4 or PS5 version with the full high-res images.
As with pretty much every visual novel out there, a bunch of ‘bonuses’ unlock as you progress within the story. Unlike games such as Song of Memories, the bonuses you get are rather straight forward and simply relate to what you’ve seen and heard. You unlock:
Tips: when reading the narrative, you may notice a ‘Tip unlocked’ message form time to time, this means you’ve unlocked one of the 167 Tips within this menu. It’s basically a glossary which explains the lore in more details which you can refer to at any time.
Album: Every CG you view will be displayed in here once you’ve seen it in the game. I’ve completed all 39 endings and been down every path – or so I thought! I’ve only unlocked 149 images out of 170, having seen 399 scenes out of a possible 520. Seriously, there’s a lot of replayability if you want to unlock all of these as you’ll have to discover every single alternative path and outcome. Also, the album doesn’t only have the CGs, it also has special images which are unlocked based on the endings you get and other criteria, images you won’t actually see within the main game.
Music: You can unlock all 34 tracks from the soundtrack as you hear them within the game. In this menu, you can play all tracks, just one, or even set the music to shuffle. It’s a shame there’s no option to simply extract the music as MP3 files, like you can on the PS4 with the ‘soundtracks’, but it’s nice being able to listen to the music here. *Additionally, if you want the physical soundtrack, you can buy the limited edition Switch or Vita versions – they come with the soundtrack on CD (links below)*
As I said before, you’ll also unlock a bunch of new mini-stories to read and interact with upon completing all of the four main routes. These are essentially the main ‘bonus’ within the game, giving you a reason to get the good endings in each route, but the music and images are also a fun set of unlocks.
Root Double: Before Crime * After Days – Xtend Edition is easily the best visual novel I’ve read all year, I love how all four routes come together to reveal new perspectives and truths behind the events which have played out previously, blowing your mind and both answering and creating more questions at the same time. It’s a very long narrative, easily taking over fifty hours to experience all four routes and most of the endings, but the time invested is worth it as the experience is quite something! I personally recommend using an ‘endings guide’ to ensure you pick the right options to see everything the game has to offer, as the SSS mechanic is quite confusing as to what outcome you’ll get, but even if you don’t then the game offers hints on how to avoid the inevitable ‘bad ending’ you arrive at.
If you like visual novels and you have a Nintendo Switch, PC, or PS Vita – buy this game. Treat yourself for Christmas, settle down with a nice cup of tea, and lose yourself within this mysterious sci-fi tale about murder, friendship, terrorism, politics, and trying to escape an impenetrable facility. What more could you ask for to end the worst year in recent history?
As I stated above, there are two limited editions of the game which you can buy that include the soundtrack (as well as other goodies).
Strictly Limited have three versions of the game on sale (for the Switch).
• The Standard (game only) version is 49.99 Euros and is limited to 2,500 units.
• The ‘Collector’s Edition is 79.99 Euros, limited to 3,000 units, and contains the game, a CE box, 2-disc soundtrack, an artbook, nine stickers, an acrylic statue, two posters, nine character cards, and a mini Shikishi.
• The ‘Dakimakura Collector’s Edition’ is 119.99 Euros, limited to 999 units, and contains the Collector’s Edition above as well as a reversible body pillow featuring two of the lead females…
These can be picked up here: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/root-double
If you want to pick it up on the PS Vita, it’s a Playasia exclusive. It’s £38.82 and contains a physical game cart, a manual, a numbered certificate, the soundtrack, and a collectors box. I’m not sure how ‘limited’ this edition is, as there’s no indication on the site, but I’d suggest picking it up soon if you want this version. And yes, it’s in English.
This one can be picked up here: Playasia (Affiliate link)
Today, ININ Games have announced that they’re publishing a standard physical edition of the game on the Nintendo Switch, due to go on sale on the 29th January 2021. This edition may just be the bare-bones game in a case but it’s not a limited release, so you should find it easier (and cheaper) to get your hands on this fantastic game if you prefer physical media. You can buy the game, and check out more information HERE. A direct link to Base.com for the UK is HERE
Root Double: Before Crime * After Days - Xtend Edition£35.99
- - Brilliant story which gets deeper and more interweaved as you play through the newly unlocked perspectives/timelines
- - The voice acting is really good, albeit in Japanese, as well as a well-written narrative
- - It'll take over 50 hours to experience everything
- - The visuals are nice and clean with some really well drawn assets
- - Lots of emotional moments with many suprises and WTF events
- - The SSS mechanic is a little confusing when trying to work out how to balance it for certain endings (without a guide)
- - Where's the PS4/5 version...