Back in November 2019, I reviewed Root Letter: Last Answer, the live-action version of the Visual Novel Thriller from Kadokawa Games. Since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of their next interactive mystery, Root Film – due for release this Friday. I’ve had the game for three days now, I’ve played it twice and obtained the platinum, but was it worth the wait? Read on to find out!
Although sharing a similar name, and being set in the same location in Japan, Root Film isn’t linked to Root Letter as it’s a new story with new characters and a much more ‘adult’ themed narrative. So, if you’ve not played Root Letter, or the ‘Last Letter’ live-action edition (which has bonus content and the option to swap back to anime drawings), then don’t worry – although I still highly recommend you play that Visual Novel as well. The game is once again published by our friends over at PQube Games and can be picked up digitally, as a standard physical, or as a Limited Edition via Rice Digital.
I felt that Root Film was shorter than Root Letter, but length isn’t as important as some people make it out to be – it’s the quality of the experience, not how long it lasts. Especially with Visual Novels).
As per usual, I’m not going to spoil any of the game or the major plot-points, but I will mention things that are also on the store-front and the official website – I can’t deem those aspects as spoilers if the descriptions already mention them.
Root Film is the story of Rintaro Yagumo, a young film director who has been asking to reboot the long-lost TV show, ‘Shimane Mystery Drama Project’, for a long time. This show was mysteriously cancelled after only a few pilot episodes were shot, subsequently being filed away and lost to the world. However, being a fan of the occult and unsolved mysteries, Yagumo wanted to not only revive the series, he really wanted to get his hands on the original footage and study it, see why it disappeared, and if the elusive film really is as cursed as people make it out to be.
Upon being appointed as one of the three directors for the reboot, and being assigned an up-and-coming actress as his lead star, he heads out to scout for the perfect locations within the Shimane prefecture – a place full of history and charm. But, almost as soon as they being to make progress, they find themselves caught up in a tragic suicide incident – or is it murder? Considering the subject of the TV series, the team help out the local police, investigating the incident and offering their view on what had happened and why.
Is this the curse of the show or is it purely a coincidence? Considering this isn’t the only death you’ll find yourself involved within, I’d say it’s probably not the latter…
Root Film is a pure Visual Novel with a few interactive elements thrown in, about 90% of your time with the game will be spent reading the English text as the Japanese voice actors play their roles, and the other 10% will be spent picking where you wish to go next and performing Ace Attorney-like interrogations. So, let’s look at these elements on their own…
The Visual Novel
If you’ve not played a Visual Novel before, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. You read along with the dialogue as the game moves from scene to scene with gorgeous visuals that act out the dialogue with brilliant voices. The game allows you to skip the text by pushing Cross, or you can have the game skip all text you’ve read before (If you’re playing again) or literally skip all text (if you are simply buying this for the platinum – which I don’t suggest you do). It also has a chapter select that lets you replay any of the seven chapters – it doesn’t, however, let you jump to the individual acts within the chapter, each having 4 or 5).
What I thought was a great idea, one which all Japanese Visual Novels should do, is that the game had a quick-access character guide that offered info on all the people you’ve spoken to so far along with a picture. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself forgetting who a person is when some of them have very similar names, so I found myself in there quite often seeing as I’m quite a scatter-brain!
But, there isn’t any form of recap or information on what you’ve just discovered – other than viewing the log of everything that has been said in that chapter so far. This is why I found myself…
Getting Lost far too often!
Root Film is a set-in-stone Visual Novel, it looks like you have the freedom to go wherever you want (thanks to the game regularly giving you multiple places to visit), but you don’t. If you’ve not remembered where the game hinted that you should visit, you’ll find yourself simply going to every location you’re allowed to enter, talking to everyone until you find the right person. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating hard enough, but there were a few times where it wasn’t very clear where I had to go and other times where I knew the location but I couldn’t progress because I had to talk to someone else or visit another place first, in order to trigger the next step.
However, there are two missable interactions, Shimanekko and Nego-Six. Shimanekko is Shimane Prefecture’s official mascot, someone wearing a yellow cat-like costume. Just like in Root Letter, you gain trophies for finding them in various locations, often not the locations you need to visit in order to progress the story. But, if you’re frantically visiting everywhere and clicking everything, as I was, then you’ll find them all naturally in your playthrough.
Nego-Six is a rather strange individual who, just like Shimanekko, appears within locations you’re not required to visit in regards to the story. This guy has one purpose, to ask you multiple-choice questions relating to something you’ve just seen or been told about within the story. Get them all right for a trophy but sadly, I didn’t notice any reward for getting them all right other than the silver award. He is quite mysterious though, literally flying off into space or fading out of existence once you’ve answered his questions – I honestly have no idea who he is or why he’s in the game!
It’s your fault!
As you play Root Film, you’ll alternate between Yagumo and his sister, Riho, both of which have a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to death and murder. Each chapter will not only have you exploring various locations and reading lots of fascinating dialogue, but you’ll also find yourself helping out the police and locals as you discover evidence that you can use to your advantage when pressuring the truth out of the accused. But, the evidence you find aren’t items or forensics, it’s sentences, phrases, observations, and conclusions you’ve come up with after talking to other people.
Once you’ve engaged in an accusation interrogation, either your character or the accused will ask a question that requires you to back up your theory with one of the pieces of evidence you’ve stored in your mind. If you pick the right one, you’ll push the process onwards as you present more evidence to back up the other things you are accusing them of. But, should you get it wrong, the tables turn and you being to lose the questioning. If you get too many things wrong, the game is over due to you potentially being unable to push the other person to confess to their crimes.
Now, the only time you’ll ‘lose’ is either the final interrogation (as one wrong answer and it’s game over) or if you’re purposely trying to get the questioning wrong – for a trophy. This is because the answers are very easy to work out and you’ll bounce right back once you give the right answer after getting it wrong. So, although there is a lot of times where you’ll have to question and successfully interrogate people within Root Film, it’s very forgiving and straight-forward. Also, even if you do lose, the game continues right before the questioning begins – allowing you to try again without worrying if you’ve saved or not.
Okay, with the mechanics out of the way, what is Root Film actually like? Does it have a good story or is it generic and dull? Personally, I really enjoyed the story, especially when playing Yagumo, as his story was a little more exciting and involved – especially the final chapters. The game has a few gruesome parts but it’s nothing too graphic or disturbing, but at least it has red blood. I also found myself incorrectly guessing who was behind some of the tragic deaths, making the reveal much more satisfying and surprising.
Aside from the morbid sections of the Visual Novel, there’s a lot of comedic relief and light-hearted narrative thrown in to balance the atmosphere. Your partner at the firm is very bubbly and outgoing, almost acting as your younger sister as she constantly annoys you. There’s also a pair of detectives who are always on each other’s backs, one of which is easy to manipulate and the other is very strict – the older one isn’t afraid of roundhouse kicking the younger on in the face if he gives away too much of the case, either! The game has a nice combination of thriller, comedy, drama, and slap-stick.
There’s even one chapter in which your companions refer to an older person as a ‘boomer’… I don’t know if that’s well-used in Japan or if it’s been translated and changed?
The story itself confused me a little. Once you’ve done chapter one as Yagumo, you can either carry on as him or play Riho’s story. He’s a director, she’s an actress. However, you can’t progress past chapter three with Yagumo until you’ve done chapter two as Riho, so by the time I returned to Yagumo in chapter four, I had forgotten why he was in the situation he was in. A small recap would have been nice, as the game presents each chapter with its own credits, like a TV show (to fit with the premise of the game), but there’s no text or visual reminder of what’s happened previously – they really missed an opportunity here.
Generally, I was a little confused with the overall story. It begins strong, pushing the fact you want to look at the 10-year-old film in order to uncover the mystery behind why it was mysteriously cancelled, then you get side-tracked with the deaths you encounter. But then, because I had to jump into the sister’s story to unlock the rest of the brother’s story, I spent a long time playing a narrative with nothing to do with the film. But, the final few chapters then pulled everything together and it all began to make sense. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, the story may feel a little disjointed at times as you jump between characters, but it’ll all make sense in the end.
Root Film looks great, I love the anime-style visuals and highly-detailed environments. I’m guessing the developers did the same as they did with Root Letter, took photos of all the locations and then drew over them to create this realistic yet hand-drawn effect. The character models are all unique and well-designed, each one drawn in a way that perfectly represents their personality. In term of the voice acting, I can’t fault it at all. It’s all in Japanese but you can hear the emotion being portrayed in their performance.
Upon completing the game you’re given two new menu options, the Museum and a Bonus. The Museum allows you to look at all the CGs, watch all the movies (as there are no missable ones from what I can see), and listen to the soundtrack. As always, I wish the soundtrack had an option that let you download the songs as MP3 files (like any other PS4 soundtrack DLC), but I’m guessing that’s a restriction with the console as we all know Sony doesn’t like you importing or exporting files via USB.
The bonus option on the main menu is a rather amusing short scene (about three minutes long) based around a gameplay element that was used throughout the game. I found it quite amusing but would have loved for the developers to give us more bonus scenes. Looking back at Root Double (no relation), that game unlocked tens of bonus mini-scenes upon completion, offering insight into what had happened before the main story and after. I have questions about what happened next for some of the people in this game, I wonder if we’ll get another enhanced version with an expanded timeline?
I noticed some instances of spelling errors and things that were lost in translation – all of which have been reported and should hopefully get fixed soon. There are some words that are just missing a letter, or two letters have swapped places, and then there’s Riho saying she likes mystery stories such as “Pierrot” when she clearly means Poirot. None of these minor issues spoilt my enjoyment though.
Also, pre-launch, there was one instance where the game advised why you can’t progress… in Japanese. Luckily it was at a point where it was obvious what it was trying to say, but it’s also something that should be amended before you get your hands on the game later this week. If not, Google Translate will help you and the issue only occurred in one place on the timeline chart.
Without going into spoilers, I wanted more from the ending. It basically plays out via a slideshow in the final credits (which I didn’t know and actually skipped the first time – although you can rewatch them in the media gallery). After realising this, I think it was a good ending but that it could have been presented better. Also, there’s only one ending and the fail screens (for failing an interrogation) is simply a ‘game over’ screen, with no consequences or alternative scenes.
One final observation, which may be a strange form of censorship (or an error in translation) – in one of the chapters a character is hospitalised for having constipation. In the Japanese version, he had Haemorrhoids. I know they’re connected (medically), but it just seems strange that it was changed in the English version.
Root Film was an interesting story from beginning to end, constantly surprising me with the narrative and who was behind the crimes. Although playing as a pure Visual Novel, you do have some freedom with regards to who you talk to and where you go, but ultimately it’s a rather linear experience. I found myself a little confused but the story is all brought together towards the end, clearing up any questions I had. It may have a few gruesome moments, but it’s perfectly balanced with drama, comedy, and mystery. If you liked Root Letter, you’ll love Root Film.
- - Very detailed and well-drawn characters and environments
- - The voice acting is brilliant, full of emotion and personality
- - The story is interesting and always had me guessing who was responsible
- - Although a little confusing at times, it all makes sense in the end
- - Solving the crimes was fun
- - The map can get a little overwhelming when you're unsure where to go next
- - There are a few vocabulary issues but I imagine they'll be fixed very soon
- - I wanted more from the ending.