Root Film the second installment of the Kadokawa Game Mystery series.
Root Letter: Last Answer was already a very good entry-level visual novel as a self-contained light mystery fare. Root Film, despite the similar name, is not a direct sequel. It’s a new game under the mystery concept. The only thing that connects both games is partly the adoption of the music and the Shimane Prefecture.
Everybody should enter the world of Root Film with an open mind because this time it's a mystery added with murder!
The revival of a 10-year-old project
Max Yagumo is an upstart director with success in an Asian film competition and one of the protagonists. His team, Studio Yagumo, consists of Magari the editor, and Kanade the cameraman.
The story begins when TV Shimane offers him to participate in a reboot of a project that was canceled 10 years ago. This project consists of 3 teams each shooting a film in a competition.
But before this happens, Yagumo has to convince the bigwigs in the prologue that he has what it takes to take part in this project.
After that, the next chapters are about going through the potential locations in Shimane and shooting footage along the way. The project also has the intention to promote the prefecture (which includes the player). But it wouldn't be a story if everything went smoothly. While scouting and filming points of interest and culturally important moments, Team Yagumo happens to witness a murder case. Since the cameraman is always present it means that the crime scene is ready to be preserved on film. Together they move on to solve the case.
Is that murder a coincidence? What is the story behind this project? Why was it canceled 10 years ago? Is it perhaps all just theater?
Players will find the most entertainment by engaging themselves and thinking of potential answers with a limited amount of information.
Since Root Film is a VN, we take some time to go deeper into the story aspect.
The game is split into different chapters and thus bite-sized pieces, similar to Ace Attorney. All chapters consist of one case and are again separated into several parts. Leading to the following structure: Introduction, subchapters, solution, and a concluding epilogue.
The story is shown from the point of view of Team Yagumo and the second main character Riho.
- Team Yagumo
The team is in the spotlight in the story. Yagumo is a relatively successful director who has already won competitions and is still looking for his breakthrough. He shows himself to be intelligent with a bit of hot-bloodedness. When he sets his mind on something, he tries his best to get to the bottom of it. As a filmmaker, it seems he also brings a detective-like quality, as he and his team are instrumental in the unraveling of the cases.
Magari is his younger assistant and takes care of editing the footage. She’s a bundle of energy and is on very good terms with her employer, Yagumo. This is especially evident in their interactions. They give off a feeling of friendship as they both talk to each other on even terms.
Cameraman Kanade also has a role to play, though he seems somewhat mysterious due to being a man of few words.
Hitoha is Team Yagumo’s chosen actress for the project who diligently accompanies the team to prep herself better for the film role.
This mysterious main character is traveling with her manager and is presumably involved in the same film project. Just like Team Yagumo, they encounter murder cases that are solved by them.
Throughout the story, no one is neglected and the interactions between the characters are well thought out with funny moments to lighten the mood.
In Root Letter, the protagonist was sometimes criticized for his relatively aggressive behavior. Team Yagumo is more levelheaded in comparison and gets through their challenges with facts.
Interim Story Summary (spoiler-free)
Root Film is also a fast-paced VN in story and gameplay that takes about 10 hours to finish. Putting it in a similar place to lighter VNs like Root Letter and Tokyo School Life.
All the main scenes have a purpose and help build the story so don’t expect any filler. Secondary characters provide important information to get to the solution of the puzzle and are limited to a need-to-know basis. Although much looks arbitrary, one wonders if this is the case.
You could puzzle over whether it might not be just a theater. After all, the story is about the shooting of a movie. The probability of accidentally encountering a murder in the process is infinitesimally small.
But not everything is optimal. At one point, a short time jump is made when Yagumo finds the solution to the case. Followed up by a scene where all suspects are called together to present it. The purpose of this is to give the moment more weight. Unfortunately, there is a small problem. Since you experience the story from the protagonist's point of view, this creates a gap between the player and the character. The narrative is supposed to show how they arrive at the solution after all. This creates a gap between the player and the character and throws you off the immersion.
Another very minor problem are rare cases of logic jumps and coincidences. For example, picking something up by chance or a solution came too quickly without properly bridging the thought process. If two different coincidences contribute to the solution, it might be one too many.
There are also some typos. In two cases, I could find something mixed up, e.g. wrong name or synonym. It does not make it any less understandable since the context is intact. Players who place a lot of value on spelling can expect a slight frown.
Overall, Root Film does very well with its story. The aforementioned problems are relatively isolated cases and you can almost 100% find an explanation for the events and behavior. Whereby one can argue about one or the other.
Gameplay & Controls
Since Root Film is a VN you won’t find it much different from the others. The L/L1 key toggles between Auto, Skip All and Skip Read. The R/R1 key activates the respective set function.
You can save anywhere and have 2 slots available, with a third reserved for Autosave. A conversation log is also included.
- Root Film vs. Root Letter
To set expectations a bit better, we’re going to talk about the differences between the Root Letter and Root Film. In a nutshell, Root Letter is like a scattershot, while Root Film is like a focused laser.
- Linear vs. Multi-Branching
The linear story is the biggest difference between the two games. In Root Letter, the letter responses in the first half determine the content that follows.
Root Film is more comparable to Ace Attorney in terms of gameplay. So a story that is divided into several chapters and may be related. This reduces the replayability, but you have a focused story with no strong ambiguities to cover the branchings in return.
- Shimane instead of Matsue
Just like Root Letter, a lot of emphases is placed on local landmarks. Whereas this time Matsue doesn’t get much spotlight and is merely a part of a bigger picture. This time it’s a brief macro view of Shimane Prefecture’s regions. For example, Tsuwano is 200 km away from Matsue and has a popular shrine.
Throughout the scouting, special festivals and sights are getting some introduction. If you ever want to go to Japan, you should easily find more destinations with Root Film.
- More Characters
Root Film is a linear VN with two main characters. Furthermore, the protagonists usually move with at least one additional person. This leads to a different dynamic.
- A different perspective
It uses a new perspective by not using character portraits and instead of using fully drawn characters and tries to fit as many of the characters into the picture as possible. This makes it easier to follow, see their position and thus shortens descriptions on some occasions. As a drawback, the characters look like cardboard stands, since they are not adjusted to the background except for size but it doesn’t happen that often.
The different areas are selected via the map to get a better feel for the region. Lean is the new focus. There are no items to collect and the curser gets replaced by selectable rectangles.
As you no longer have to search aimlessly for something on the screen it cuts down potential downtimes of trying to find the specific thing on the screen. This saves a lot of headaches and adds to the steady pacing.
The main characters have a special Synesthesia state where important notes are highlighted and signify potential use for the Max Mode. They are just there to alert the player that the main character has discovered an important piece of information. It also acts as a confirmation that you’re on the right track.
- Max Mode
Max Mode is a showdown with another character to squeeze out the truth as they often pretend to be ignorant. It is up to the player to choose the right answers and force them into a corner.
It is possible to lose in Max Mode, but you have to do it on purpose. There are about 3 answers per question with 3 attempts each. Besides, the questions are often posed in such a way that you come to the answer after a short deliberation.
From this point of view, this gameplay element is only there to increase the drama and to involve the player in the action.
- Bonus: Shimanekko and Quiz with Nego-Six
Hidden within the story are two characters. Shimanekko is a cute mascot appearing in different places and trying to express himself with gestures.
Nego-Six is a comedian from Shimane Prefecture and makes several guest appearances to give the player a multiple-choice quiz.
If you want to collect all the trophies, you'll have to go on a quest to find them.
Interim Gameplay Summary
Root Film offers good pacing by reducing the number of variables that could get the player stuck.
I was able to observe this in Root Letter and Ace Attorney games. There were moments when you just didn't know where to go next because there were too many possibilities and you might have missed something. This search for the needle in the haystack remains absent.
The two main characters unfortunately don't differ in gameplay. It would have been nice to differentiate them here but it’s only for narrative purposes.
Grafik & Sound
Root Film sets itself apart from other visual novels here. All the characters are completely on the screen, including the main characters. They are detailed and express themselves through facial expressions and posture. It also comes with the occasional aforementioned drawback.
In many cases, you get unique artworks for scenes that keep things fresh and impactful.
Speaking of backgrounds, this time they are slightly abstracted. You can see the similarities to the real locations, but the style blurs the fine details.
Part of the soundtrack was taken from Root Letter and easily serves as a small link between the two games. They fit in very well here as well, and the new music tracks add the crime feel. You can hear it with the splash screen to the upcoming part.
The idol group i☆Ris, who already have quite a bit of experience, is partaking in dubbing with major and minor roles. They were all doing a good job in bringing out the characters.
- Good pacing
- Interesting Characters
- Dense 10 hour playtime
- Unintrusive Gameplay
- Slight issues with Storytelling
Root Film convinces as a mystery murder thriller that quickly gets to the point in terms of gameplay and story. It’s guaranteed to have many thoughts buzzing in your head trying to deduce the conclusion throughout the game.
It does without puzzles or hidden object-like search for clues and thus creates a dense story where 10 hours fly by.
Furthermore, the game is released with the budget price of 39.99€ whereby it's currently on sale on Nintendo Switch and for PS+ Members from the release until April 1 with a discount of 20%. However, it has to be said that Root Letter: Last Answer is slightly better due to all the extra features.
Like its colleague Root Letter, the game is a very good visual novel for newcomers and I can recommend it to everyone.