Root Letter is the latest release from UK-based publisher PQube. Having been released only four short months ago in Japan, the turnaround for the English release is something that is easy to appreciate. PQube have released this as both a digital and physical title for PS4 and PS Vita; I played the PS4 version. Kadokawa Games developed Root Letter, and it is a visual novel with some adventure elements. While you play through the game to uncover the truth, you also manipulate the outcome through the choices you make when reminiscing about the past.
Root Letter throws you right into the story at the start, presenting enough mystery to immediately hook you on what is happening. The protagonist, whose point of view this visual novel takes place within, is reminiscing about his childhood pen pal, Aya Fumino when he discovers a final letter from her, addressed to him, that was never actually sent 15 years ago. It’s this letter without a postmark that causes him to head out to Matsue, of Shimane Prefecture in order to find out more about his former pen pal, who claimed to have killed someone in that final letter, and possibly even locate her if possible. When he arrives in Matsue, the game proper begins, with an investigation into Aya’s past being the focal point of much of the dialogue. Once in Matsue, you soon discover that the girl named Aya Fumino passed away 25 years ago, 10 years prior to your penpal friendship; this spurs you to investigate each of the friends mentioned in her letters to try and find out who Aya Fumino really was, and whether she really was your penpal all those years ago. Her former friends all seem to be keeping a secret, despite your confrontations and evidence, so it’s up to you to break through the mental barriers each of them has and piece together the mystery surrounding Aya Fumino.
Unlike some visual novels, Root Letter provides plenty of active user interaction, being much closer to a game rather than a kinetic novel. The majority of the game is dialogue, obviously, but you’re frequently left to a menu full of options in order to progress the game or just take in its beauty. From this menu, you can select MOVE use the map to travel throughout Matsue, or change to a different area in the current location. ASK allows you to engage in conversation with anyone present at the current time. CHECK enables you to explore the current scene, finding tidbits of information for later, searching for plot progressing areas or objects, and even just world-building background information for Matsue. INVENTORY is used primarily while engaged in an “Investigation” with a character and is used to refute a comment of theirs with evidence to the contrary, breaking them down and helping you to uncover more of what happened 15 years ago. THINK is, in my opinion, the least logical of the options, being the hint option, the option to choose when you want the character to process what he’s just learnt, and sometimes literally a random progression button – though I guess that is pretty accurate to the human thought process. GUIDE opens up the guidebook for Matsue and is used to find new areas that have been mentioned or details about a location you’re already at. SMARTPHONE is where you go to find a list of your items, modify settings, or save/load the game.
During your investigations, you’ll occasionally enter “Max Mode’, a mode where you have to time your pressing of the X button accurately to select the appropriate phrase to say to progress the conversation in your favour – though it doesn’t actually matter if you’re right because Max Mode just loops back to the start if you get it wrong.
The mix of visual novel storytelling, intimate voicework, and active engagement with the game makes Root Letter the perfect visual novel in my eyes. I initially formed an interest in this game based solely on the cover art, and PQube being behind the game – I trust their judgement implicitly when it comes to choosing games to localise. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know more about this game going in though, hyping myself up for the game would’ve prevented me from being blown away by its majesty as much as I was.
The visual novel is voiced to an excellent standard, with the performances of each recurring and main character being unique and lively, though some minor characters lack voicework at all – not an issue when they have so little to say you’ll forget they exist anyway. This release is Japanese audio with English subtitles only; I doubt an English cast could’ve recaptured the magic of the Japanese cast even if PQube had opted to include one, so there’s no real loss there. The artwork is truly magnificent, and the “Check” command which encourages you to explore each and every scene allows you to appreciate the majesty of the art. I’m somewhat of a Vita fan, but having played this game on a PS4, and experienced the art in its full HD glory, I’m not sure if I’ll ever give the Vita version a try. This is a shame, as I’m sure it could make excellent use of the touchscreen in the investigations.
Going into Root Letter, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am glad I've been able to spend time with it. A thoroughly enjoyable experience and truly a treat for both the eyes and ears, PQube's Root Letter is one not to be missed. It speaks to the game's excellence that the closest thing to a fault I can find to mention is that minor characters aren't voiced - and that is hardly an issue when it amounts to literally characters with so few lines you won't actually remember being unvoiced. The rest of the cast of characters are brought to life with incredibly emotive voicework that makes an immersive story even more engrossing. I really hope that going forward, we see more games similar to Root Letter localised by PQube.