Root Letter (Or √Letter if I’m being accurate at the expense of not being SEO friendly) was one of the first ‘real’ Visual Novels I played back in 2016. Unlike Visual Novels such as Song of Memories, Root Letter is much more linear in its design, similar to Raging Loop, as it pushes you down a path as you read through and experience the story it wants to tell you. This week I had the chance to replay this intriguing story via the recently released Root Letter: Last Answer, a revamped version of the game that features the original photographs and live actors instead of the hand-drawn assets.
Developed by Kadokawa Games and published by PQube Games, this new version offers so much more than a new visual way to experience the Visual Novel – It also contains extensions to multiple endings, a few bonuses, and even the ability to play the entire game with the originally drawn visuals (technically the original game). As such, this version of the game is the definitive edition which you should pick up if you’re interested in the story.
So, with a sequel, Root Film, set for release next year, and a movie adaptation of Root Letter entering production a few months ago, let’s take a look at the story which inspired both upcoming releases…
Our protagonist is a 33-year-old man living in Tokyo, just minding his own business and getting on with his life until he came across a letter which he had no knowledge of receiving, a letter with no postmark or signs of being posted. Upon opening it, you see that it’s a new letter from your penpal, Aya, who you stopped talking to fifteen years ago when you left school. The letter isn’t only unusual because it had appeared without being posted, but the context was also strange as Aya confesses to killing somebody.
Not one to leave a mystery unsolved, you set out for Matsue, the town where Aya was attending school, in hopes of tracking her down and finding out what she meant and how you ended up with a letter fifteen years after she stopped replying to your letters. However, that’s only the beginning of the mystery as Aya Fumino died 25 years ago, ten years before you even started to talk to her – so just who was Aya and were you really talking to a ghost or was it an elaborate prank? If you can’t speak to her, maybe you can track down those who she wrote about in her letters?
So, with little more than their childish nicknames and brief descriptions for help, you set out to find Shorty, Monkey, Snappy, Fatty, Bitch, Four-Eyes, and Bestie. These seven people are the only ones who know the truth behind who you were talking to, the events which occurred fifteen years ago, and the secrets the town hides from the general public. Throughout the story, you’ll reminisce about your previous interactions with Aya as you mould the story into one of five possible endings, all very diverse and unique in their own way…
As Root Letter: Last Answer is more akin to a pure Visual Novel, the majority of your time will be spent simply reading along as the Japanese actors read out their dialogue in the background. However, there are some interactive points. First of all, every location you enter allows you to ‘check’ your surroundings, this presents you with a cursor you can use to look at or interactive with items in that area. For example, when you’re waiting for your food to be delivered, looking at the TV will pass the time and move the story on, or looking at a poster in the TV station will give you something new to talk about with the person you’re chatting to.
There’s nothing you can miss and the only trophies which relate to looking at things are clicking on items 50 and 100 times (unlike the original game which had a hide-and-seek game and clicking on things 200 times). The entire experience is very linear and straight-forward for a VN.
Similarly, there are multiple locations you can go to, each one offering multiple sub-locations to enter as you walk around and look at things. However, this is purely for those who want to have a look around as the narrative only wants you to go in a certain direction, going off the beaten path won’t uncover anything new or alter the story, it’ll just increase your playtime. As such, just in case you get lost or aren’t sure what to do next, there’s a handy ‘think’ option that hints at what to do next or it’ll genuinely get the protagonist to think about new things to say or a new area to go and visit. Then, you can look in your guidebook to uncover the address and head over there to progress the story once more.
However, there are moments with the seven friends where you’ll jump into a Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney mode and begin to question them. Here you have to present evidence, ask the right questions, and shout out the right statements in order to break them down and get to the truth. It’s a fun activity that breaks up the wandering around and reading the narrative as you’re now in control and have to push with your investigative skills.
Despite the game looking like it has a lot of exploration and alternative pathways that allow you to uncover new pieces of information as you go off and investigate on your own, it doesn’t. This isn’t a bad thing though as it means you’re guaranteed to see and experience everything without having to worry about progressing in a certain way – unless you want to try and unlock all five endings…
Have you ever seen Clue, the movie starring Tim Curry based upon the popular board game? Well, that film plays out in a single way (as it’s a movie) up until the final act, then you get one possible ending followed by another, then another – all the endings came to different conclusions despite the majority of the movie is the same up until that point. Root Letter: Last Answer follows a similar concept in how it delivers the final chapters of this intriguing and mysterious story.
At the beginning of each chapter, you pull out a letter from Aya which you received fifteen years ago, having the lovely voiced actress read it out for you whilst you follow along in English. Our protagonist then shows us what he replied with all those years ago, yet the first seven letters all ended with a question from our mysterious penpal, a question we, the player, get to answer. Based on what answers you sent back to Aya, the final two chapters will change drastically. You see, the letters are moulding our characters personality and his relationship with his penpal – is he confident, immature, clever, or just another throw-away penpal? It’s all based on the answers you give.
So, once you reach an ending, go back, change your answers whilst either re-experiencing the same narrative or simply skip each chapter until chapter nine, then get to experience a new ending that is very different to the last. I’m not going to talk about the endings you get, as some of them are rather absurd and crazy, but there is a true ending that ties up the story nicely. Thinking about it – what will the movie do when it comes out? I imagine it’ll follow the ‘true ending’ route, but it would be great if they also film the four other endings and put them as a bonus on the Bluray – or show a different one in various cinemas as Clue did upon its initial theatrical release.
As advised previously, Root Letter: Last Answer is clearly the definitive edition of the story, offering more content than its original release. First of all, we have to talk about the visuals. When originally creating Root Letter, the developers went to Matsue and took a bunch of photos of various landmarks, buildings, interiors and tourist spots. These were then used as a base for the artists to drawn and create this hand-drawn world which was based on real-life places. Thankfully, all of these original photos were kept and used to create the live-action version of the game in this revamped release.
Disney isn’t the only one who can go back and turn animated and drawn media into ‘live-action’.
So, with these stills placed within the game, replacing the original drawn versions, they then got actors to recreate the various expressions the characters had throughout – which are hilarious and uncanny when side-by-side with the drawn versions. The one downside is that you can’t flip between both styles once you’re playing the game, but you can quit to the menu, switch to the original design, then reload your save. A mild inconvenience to see how the scene has changed with real actors present. As I said before though, the entire game can be played in either mode, so you’re technically getting the original game and this new version in the same package.
I personally played the entire game in the new style, flipping to the original at the end in order to get a few comparison shots for this review. The visual acting by the actors is so comedic and (possibly) unintentionally funny with all the obscure and twisted faces they pull. Seriously, Four-Eyes looks like he’s suffering from a bad case of constipation whenever he gets angry or upset! Not to mention Bitch when we start calling her that – she isn’t happy with us for A. knowing that’s her name and B. calling her a Bitch.
There are a few bonus features included with Root Letter: Last Answer. First up is a Guidebook. So, as I mentioned above, throughout the game you’ll regularly look in your guidebook for clues on where to go next and the address of new places you have to visit. Well, the Extras menu has a section that lists all the various scenes you’ve seen as you play the game, along with descriptions of what you’re looking at as well as alternative shots they took – like at night or another sub-scene from that location. This is a nice bonus and gives you a bit more info on the real-life inspirations used within the game.
Next up we have the scripts. That’s right, once you’ve completed any of the chapters, you can go back and read the entire script for that chapter – these are all very long. It’s not like reading the game either, it’s actually set out like a script would be – this is interesting for those who like to read things like this (and for comparing to the new movie when it comes out).
The full soundtrack is included, although it doesn’t have the music that plays when you discover the identification of one of the seven friends (or at least I couldn’t find it). I do like my soundtracks though, so this was a nice addition – although I’d love it if publishers started giving us the soundtracks as a free bonus-DLC download as PSN supports soundtracks where you download to a USB drive for personal use. Having it in-game is great but it’ll be better on my PC where I can listen to it at will.
There are three secret messages from three of the actresses – I won’t say much about these as they only unlock when you’ve completed everything, but they tell you about their time voicing the characters – like what we saw in Raging Loop. But, the biggest bonus is the…
Four of the five endings now have an extended epilogue to them. So, once you’ve completed all five endings, you get access to three epilogues. Completing them unlocks the final one. Each one adds extra closure to the story and further expands on the events which happened next as originally, some used to end on a cliffhanger or at a point where you were craving more information on what happened next. I will say that one of the endings, the bizarre and wacky one, didn’t really answer any questions as it decided to make more with its imaginative and crazy finale. These aren’t long, about 20-30 minutes each, but they’re a nice touch and a welcomed bonus.
My one issue with these is that I wish they were either incorporated into the ending or unlocked as we finished that path. I went back to play the epilogues and I totally forgot what the ending was that it was following on from, as I’d just achieved all five of them. A recap or direct follow-on would have been helpful.
Root Letter: Last Answer looks amazing. Do you remember The Secret of Monkey Island? That got a remaster on the PC and last-gen consoles where you could flick between the original pixel-art and the new remastered assets – both of which look very different yet identical at the same time. Root Letter: Last Answer is the same as that, having the live-action and drawn versions look different due to their style, yet in terms of what’s on the screen, both versions are literally identical in what they show and how they show it. I’m so glad they came back and did this new version.
The music within the game is something I’ll never forget. As soon as I started playing this version once again, I heard music that I occasionally hum but had forgotten where I’d heard it before, it was from when I played this game three years ago. It’s just very memorable and light-hearted to keep you entertained as you try to uncover the secrets behind the seven friends and the elusive Aya. The voice acting is all perfectly cast in my opinion. I know I don’t understand Japanese so they could be saying anything, but it’s the emotion I listen for in their voice as I read along in English and this cast delivered it very well.
Root Letter: Last Answer is clearly the definitive edition of this mysterious and captivating story about a murder and a missing girl. I love how the game has eight chapters which are identical and then, based on how you talked to Aya in the past, the final two chapters are very diverse and offer completely different endings to the game. This is further enhanced with the new epilogues that offer more story after the credits roll on a particular ending. Although light on the ‘interaction’ side, the narrative itself keeps you hooked and entertained throughout, with an Ace Attorney-like segment that breaks up the reading every now and again.
Whether you’ve played Root Letter previously, or this is your first time, Root Letter: Last Answer will make you laugh, cry, confused, and happy. Just who was Aya and who was your penpal? I guess you have to just follow the clues and return to the Root of the Letter…
Root Letter: Last Answer£24.99
- - Very interesting story which comes together for five very different endings
- - The new live-action visuals perfectly mirror the hand-drawn version (which are also included)
- - The music and voice acting perfectly suits the experience
- - This edition rounds off the endings with additional epilogues and offers some other bonus contents
- - Very memorable narrative and overall experience
- - More suited for those who like pure Visual Novels with the odd investigation segment as there's a lot of reading and guided direction
- - Some of the extended endings created more questions than answers!