Rooted in Greatness
I remember being excited all the way back in 2016 when Kadokawa Games first announced their “Kadokawa Mystery Game” line and introduced us to Root Letter. It held up well back then, and it still held up when I decided to play through it last year. But a single game doesn’t really constitute a “line,” though, does it? I know that we also had Last Answer, but that was more a remake than a new game, so I don’t really think that it counts. It had been so long since we had heard anything from Kadokawa about a new Mystery Game development that I, sadly, thought that it had gone the way of the dinosaur. But, then, it happened. It finally happened—we got Root Film.
Feel free to call me belligerent and/or impatient for saying this, but I feel like, if a visual novel series is making us wait five years between installations, there had better be some pretty significant improvements from the first game to the second. And did Root Film deliver on the high standards that I had pre-emptively set in place for it? Yes, actually, it did!
Once again taking place in Japan’s Shimane Prefecture, a Root series staple location, Root Film (mostly) follows the story of up-and-coming director Rintaro “Max” Yagumo as he—along with his assistant Aine Magari, leading actress Hitoha Amakata, and mostly silent cameraman Kanade Kyoichi—attempts to scout locations around Shimane for the upcoming Shimane Mystery Drama Project—the keyword there being “attempts.” In reality, however, Yagumo and co. can’t seem to go a single day without falling face-first into some sort of highly dangerous mystery—the first of which being a supposedly haunted 10-year-old film. Fortunately, while lesser directors might have given up scouting altogether in favor of staying safe, Yagumo and his motley crew are surprisingly gung-ho about each new encounter. After all, solving mysteries makes for great source material when directing a mystery-themed show!
Root Film‘s story is very, very good, and its overall narrative quality surpasses that of its predecessor. But it’s not just Root Film‘s writing that makes it a good game. Root Film has the best production quality that I’ve ever seen in a visual novel. The entire thing feels less like a VN and more like an interactive comic book. While compelling visuals aren’t necessary to make a story good, Root Film is incredibly good at using visual effects to enhance its story, and, between its stellar writing and top-quality visuals, it’s nigh impossible not to get sucked in right away. I had initially wondered why it took Kadokawa so long to produce a sequel, but it’s clear that they were just making sure that everything came together perfectly (which it did).
Player interaction has always been a part of most visual novels, but, just like with its visuals, Root Film takes things up a level or two. I’m not going to pretend that this game was the first to place such a strong emphasis on the player being an active part of the game, but I’d be lying if I said that I could think of another VN that insisted that I do so much of the heavy lifting myself. While much of the game does play out in the same vein as most VNs, Root Film leaves progressing major plot progression to the player. Things like changing location, discovering clues, and talking to people don’t happen automatically—it’s up to the player to make them happen.
Personally, I’m 100% for a visual novel feeling less like a book and more like an actual game. For those of you who aren’t, however, there’s no need to worry. While I might have made Root Film sound like some kind of sim or point-and-click, I can very much assure you that it’s still a VN. Yes, this game expects more from the player than the average VN, but it’s not particularly hard. Most of where you need to go and what you need to do are incredibly self-explanatory, and if you are confused on what to do next, then it’s not terribly hard to brute-force certain parts of the story (although that takes the fun away in my opinion).
To the Max!!
Remember how Root Letter had something called “Max Mode” that you used to interrogate people during certain parts of the story? Well, hopefully, you liked that feature, because it’s back in Root Film! As you play through the game, Yagumo and Riho (the game’s secondary protagonist) will latch onto certain keywords and phrases using their Synethesia. While the cataloging of these pieces of information occurs automatically, it’s up to the player to use them correctly during Max Mode.
While the overall goal of Max Mode remains the same in Root Film—to get the person you’re talking to to spill what they know—the way you go about things is a little different than it was in the previous title. The easiest way to sum things up is by saying that everything has been streamlined. Rather than giving you every single option from the get-go, Root Film‘s Max Mode will prompt the player to present one of several (generally around 3-4) pieces of information to keep the interrogation going. Providing correct answers will bump the Max Mode gauge toward revealing the truth, while incorrect answers will bring it down into unsolved territory. Personally, I kind of liked the old way Max Mode was handled because it presented more of a challenge than it does this time around, but I don’t necessarily dislike this game’s handling of it. I get that VNs aren’t necessarily meant to be difficult, and the way that Root Film handles Max Mode makes it progress much more smoothly than it did before.
That’s a Wrap
If everything that I’ve said about Root Film so far hasn’t convinced you of its greatness as a visual novel, then I’m not sure what will. If you’re even slightly interested in visual novels or are just a fan of good mysteries in general, your life will only be better for picking up Root Film.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4; Publisher: PQube Games Ltd.; Developer: Kadokawa Games; Players: 1; Released: March 19, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Root Film given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.