Root Letter: Last Answer Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Kadokawa Games

Publisher: PQube

Release Date: August 30th 2019

Price as of Article: $29.99, £24.99

Game code provided by PQube

Story

Our story starts in modern day Tokyo. You are packing your stuff, about to move, when suddenly your eyes are diverted to a stack of letters. Turns out, they are all old letters from a female penpal you used to have back in high-school named Aya Fumino, but something is off, as it turns out the last one is still sealed… and unstamped. How was it sent to you then? That is the least of your worries though, as you curiously open the old letter, which contains but a short simple message; that Aya allegedly killed someone, and says she must now atone for her sins, thus bidding you a final farewell.

You take the stack of letters and then immediately head for the rural town of Matsue, where you follow Aya’s address, only to find an empty lot, and a passing mailman tells you that the house you are looking for burned down 15 years ago. Not giving up until you have a definitive answer as to Aya’s current whereabouts, you thus begin your investigation as to what in the world happened to her all those years ago, by going through her old letters sequencially and talking to her old classmates who know more than they are telling, but for some reason seem to be very withholding.

What are they hiding? And why won’t any of them give you a straight answer?

Root Letter Screenshot

Gameplay

You go through the motions of a visual novel, reading tons of dialogue, occassionally with branching questions thrown into the mix, and then moving on to the next location where there is nothing more to do. Sometimes you get to ask both questions to the person you are talking to, but other times they will spontaneously leave after you have only asked one, meaning you miss out on dialogue. Also, as far as I could tell, unlike Kotodama, you cannot save at just any point in time, so you can’t immediately go back at choose the other answer.

The menu in general is a bit funny, as it is not always present and you therefore just go along until the game gives you room to breathe. That is one thing I noticed about Root Letter, in that for at slowpace as it is, being a visual novel, it also grabs you by the tie and seems to impatiently drag you along when it thinks its time to move on. Maybe there isn’t any more to do in a given location, but still, let me be the judge of that and click on everything till I’m satisfied?

Root Letter Screenshot 5

Being a visual novel most of the game of course revolves around conversations with other people, namely the people described in Aya’s letters that you have to investigate, and how conversations work in this game, is that when you are with someone, the menu will give you the option to show them things from your inventory that you have collected that are relevant to push the conversation forward. It sounds like a neat idea, making you experiment with branching dialogue trees, but as with most other visual novels there is very little wiggle room and most of the narrative is very streamlined. If you try to show a person another item than the correct one, your character will simply say “there is no reason to”, so you really can’t do anything wrong. I was in a particular conversation with a receptionist at one point where I had to lie about my identity, and because I’m an idiot I got the answer wrong 3 times times, but these mistakes were merely sidebrushed until I picked the last answer that was the correct one.

Root Letter: Last Answer also mixes in a spoonfull of point ‘n click gameplay. Occassionally, you will find yourself in a location with no one to talk to to move the plot forward, and will then be given the option to look around, which is really just the game trying to be interactive with you until you click on that one thing that triggers the next scene. You can explore, like I like to do, in that you can click on other things than the one you are supposed to, to get some flavour text, but rarely is it any more interesting than stating the obvious. When I heard this game was part point ‘n click and not just a pure visual novel, but that it actually had some interactive elements, I had hoped this aspect was way more prominent and actually felt like it contributed to the experience.

Root Letter Screenshot 8

At the end of each chapter you will then read one of Aya’s letters, so as to get a clue on what to do next. Each letter ends with a ”PS” segment that are really just small-talk questions, like what you like to do in your freetime, and you will then have to ”think back on what you replied her” and come up with an answer, which then affects her next letter.

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Audio

The audio has a nice mix of calming tunes and natural sound effects, like the sound of rain in one scene where it starts pouring down, or the sound of birds chirping, or flowing water. One upbeat track that quickly became my favorite, is the track known as ”Labyrinth” which vaguely reminded me of the theme ”Ryme City” from the movie Detective Pikachu. Go ahead and listen for yourself!

As with the other two visual novels I have reviewed, Root Letter too is fully voiced, apart from your own dialogue, and I do think all the characters do a very good and convincing job. In Kotodama, your character didn’t actually talk at all aside from inner monologuing, or via the few choices you were giving, and in Worldend, the main character was an active part of the story, though still unvoiced, and it seems Root Letter follows that trope.

Visuals & Performance

Root Letter: Last Answer is a re-release of the original Root Letter on PS4, and as such comes with a handful of upgrades and improvements that make this the definitive experience, among them, and perhaps the most notable difference, is the option to switch between the original anime style, and the all-new ”Drama Mode” where every single location and character you meet is now live-action.

Having played two other visual novels that were handdrawn, the Drama Mode appealed very much to me as I am not used to seeing real life actors in these types of games. Let alone when I watched the trailer and thought the live-action footage was just trailer exclusive. The original Root Letter was, to my understanding, very popular and held in very high regard among visual novel fans, so for the developers to opt for an update like this, to me shows just how popular the game is, but I digress.

Root Letter Screenshot 6

As someone who is an avid fan of Japanese culture and has a burning desire to go there someday, using the Drama Mode was like being on sightseeing in the land of the rising sun, and meeting the various characters as live actors even more so. Original mode still holds up very well though, the characters have that destinct anime style to them, and the backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous. In some instances I even found the handdrawn background near indistinguishable from the real deal.

I wanted to switch back and forth between the two modes a lot to get a full grasp on the differences, but unlike some games that let you switch between ”new” and ”old” graphics on the fly by the push of a button, Root Letter: Last Answer, demands that you exit all the way out to the options in the main menu. Not even through the in-game menu can you apply this change. This makes it extremely tedious and inconvenient to switch back and forth between the two styles, and as such, unless you reach a scene where you are reeeeeally curious how it looks in the other style, you are likely not going to bother going all the way out of the game to find out.

This was the main draw of the game for me, but I wish they had made it much more accessible, the game is even set to Drama Mode by default, so maybe they specifically made this mode with old fans in mind who have already played the game in the old style and wanted something fresh? Either way, it really should have been easily accessible from your in-game menu, or, seeing as how you don’t even have access to it at all times, a simple button press.

Value

I stated in a previous visual novel review how I didn’t fathom how you can charge full price for a game with no gameplay, and with Root Letter: Last Answer, I still somewhat stand by that statement, and yet I actually don’t find its asking price of £24.99/$29.99 to be that bad. With both the anime and drama modes to choose from and with a story that is so highly regarded, it is clear that a lot of love and work went into this title that has already cemented its roots as a classic of the genre. Plus, the game has a delicious physical Day One Edition that comes packed with a gorgeous artbook that no Root Letter fan should be without.

Pros

P

A deep gripping plot

P

New Drama Mode

P

Gorgeous visuals

P

Soothing soundtrack

Cons

P

Point ‘n click gameplay feels tacked on

P

Game often doesn’t give you room to breathe

P

Changing visual style is tedious