This review of Root Film was conducted using a code provided by the game’s PR team. This does not affect the judgement of the game, and is explained for the purpose of transparency
Those who are familiar with visual novels may well already be familiar with Root Letter. But for those who aren’t, the game was released in 2016. Developed, and published, by Kadokawa Games Root Letter was the first in the Kadokawa Game Mystery brand. The game was then revamped in 2018 as Root Letter: Last Answer and released on Switch, PS4, and PS Vita. The new version, which I reviewed, featured a live-action mode as well as new story content.
Root Film is the second entry into the aforementioned series. Following my time with Root Letter, I was excited to get myself back into an investigative visual novel. Root Film released back in July 2020, but only released on PS4 and Switch. The game promises more of the same as its predecessor, but how well does it deliver upon that?
Root Film is set against the backdrop of Max Yagumo; an up-and-coming director who has seemingly finally gotten his big break. Having landed a job as one of three directors working on a project for a TV network, Yagumo is excited for what the future may hold. In taking on the role, Yagumo learns of a project from 10 years ago that was canceled. The project is known to have existed, yet no records of it can be found and no one involved in the project is talking.
Events begin to happen around Yagumo, which are seemingly connected to the mysterious project from all those years ago. Yagumo and his entourage begin investigating, but the deeper they dig the more questions they seem to come up with. All of this is set against the backdrop of the Shimane prefecture. Real-world locations are used in the game as environments, all in what feels like an attempt to get the player to visit Shimane. While other Japanese games, such as Persona 5 Royal, are set in real Japanese environments very few of them talk about the area in the way that Root Film does.
At points, it becomes overbearing and can even feel like a travel brochure rather than a game. The stories of both Yagumo and Riho are wild and intersect in a very nice way. It leaves the player with a sense of understanding, even if the game’s finale does fall a little flat in my opinion.
Root Film’s gameplay will very familiar to those who have played Root Letter, or even the Phoenix Wright series. Each part of the story is split into chapters, as well as having a prologue and an epilogue. Each part features its own story, which in turn ties into the over-arcing story. The scene is set in the early chapters of each part, and then the player investigates the situation. This consists of visiting different locations and discovering clues that allow the player to piece together what happened. While talking to other characters, the player may see the screen turn red and the words “Synesthesia Activated” appear on the screen.
This is a system in which the player must press a button to memorise the statement they just heard. By pressing X, the player can save the statement for use later when interrogating suspects. Root Film explains that synesthesia is a condition with which Yagumo lives, causing certain sentences to float in the air as if to grab his attention. These sentences are then used later in the “Max Mode” sections of Root Film.
In these sections, Yagumo goes all-out and confronts an individual with all of the evidence he has gathered. Sometimes this is an untalkative witness, but this is also how you confront the true culprit. In this section, the characters will discuss different things and it is down to the player to select the correct phrase to prove Yagumo’s point. This isn’t always easy, however. Sometimes the phrases are very short, and so much of it relies on the player’s memory of events.
However, if you choose the wrong option the game will give you the chance to try again. The on-screen gauge will fill on your side with every wrong answer, indicating you are losing. One correct answer is all it takes to empty this gauge though, leaving the player in the clear. The gameplay in Root Film is honestly rather simple. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Complex mechanics would have undermined the game’s intriguing story and taken away from the overall experience. Sometimes less really is more.
Graphics & Audio
In this department, I feel that Root Film delivers what it should. The music is charming, and the art style of the game is great to look at. Are you going to be blown away by photorealistic views of Shimane? No. Do you need to be? Not really. For me personally, I play visual novels for the story. Anything else is secondary to me. I was happy with Root Film’s graphical and audible performance, but if this is an area of concern for you just know it is there.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my time with Root Film. While it isn’t as strong as its predecessor in my opinion it is, in its’ own right, a good game. The plot kept me hooked, and I was always curious as to what was going to happen next. The gameplay can become a tad repetitive, but I feel that the story made up for this.
THAT BEING SAID
I feel like we do have to discuss the objectification of Japanese female characters in this game. This is by no means a new topic, as reported by Varsity back in 2016. Women have, and sadly still are, oversexualised in media. And it does happen in Root Film. One character, an actress named Hitoha, regularly has her body objectified. There are sentences such as “Hitoha’s body sparkles in a swimsuit”, and “Her well-proportioned figure shines as it moves in the morning sun”. Non-sensical lines objectifying the character, despite the fact that for much of the game she is responsible for helping solve the situations. There is also the issue that Magari is central to solving the issues, but because she isn’t an actress is never objectified in the manner in which Hitoha is.
In fact in one scene when both Hitoha and Magari are in swimsuits at the beach, Yagumo “jokes” about the fact Magari is there next to Hitoha and even pixelates her out so as to block her from the shot. Seeing such central characters in the game treated in such a way was very disappointing. And took away from what was otherwise a great game.