Root Film, the successor to Root Letter, has just launched in the West on both the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch. Should visual novel fans rejoice? We checked out the Switch version to find out.
When you mentioned the name/word “Root” to visual novel fans, they’ll perk right up. Even though they’re unrelated, Root Letter and Root Double have been hits in the genre, and as Root Film comes from the studio behind Root Letter expectations were understandably high. Although it wasn’t a huge commercial success when it launched in Japan last year, the critical reception was very favorable so we were glad that PQube snatched it up and localized it for western audiences.
Just like how Root Letter features literal letters (in a pen pal situation) as a driving force in the story, so does Root Film feature the art of filmmaking. The new story once again takes place inside the (very real) prefecture of Shimane in Japan, but the story and its characters are fictional. Rintaro is trying to make it as a film director, while Riho is an actress looking to make a name for herself. They’re joining forces on a project called the “Shimane Mystery Drama Project”, but before things take off there’s a murder on the set, thrusting the pair into a murder mystery that needs uncovering.
Part of the mystery is that the TV series you’re working on is actually a reboot of an earlier show that had all of the people working on it vanish – which is of course the mystery behind the mystery. Between the two perspectives (of Rintaro and Riho) you’ll meet plenty of the crew members working on the show, from other actors to managers to people in a production and/or supporting role. It’s an interesting cast and a story full of twists, and the nature of the mystery means that you’re always leery of hidden agendas and motives.
Localization didn’t extend to the voiceover work, but the original Japanese dub is still available – and even for a non-speaker of the language the range of emotions expressed is clear and adds to the story delivery. What detracts from the experience a bit, however, is that the translation – at least at release – isn’t perfect. This isn’t because I speak Japanese and struggled with the nuances, because I don’t speak the language at all. This is because some lines feature clear spelling errors, which hurts a text-driven game like this and is the kind of thing you’d expect to be caught during the QA phase.
Root Film plays out like a very traditional visual novel in that it doesn’t feature a lot of traditional gameplay outside of picking the next location to travel to and interacting with people through conversational choices. As such, it’s rather linear and unlikely to resonate with those who aren’t fans of the genre and its storytelling mechanics already. If you are, however, there’s a great story here that’s entertaining to follow and fun to get involved in through guesswork about who’s who and what the next plot twist might be.
Combine that with excellent art work that conveys both the character and Shimane very well and a story length that doesn’t overstay its welcome despite a slow start to the narrative, and this is a solid recommendation. We’re just hoping that a post-release patch will iron out a few glitches in the translation.