The Definitive Edition of Root Letter
The Visual Novel Root Letter: Last Answer is a follow up remaster of the original Root Letter. It comes with a few bits of new Story content in the form of 4 Epilogues and a few QoL improvements such as better Item Menu, improved Skip function and showing you the acquired endings on subsequent playthroughs.
There’s another big addition that comes with this version: Live action Visuals. Live action? You did read correctly! It features real Actors and Photos of the locations, adding much to the games atmosphere and pull. Why? Because the story happens at a real place: A City called Matsue in the Shimane prefecture. Also known as the Divine Land of Marriage.
Not only are you getting a gripping Story but also a short guide throughout the place. The latter becomes even more clear when you’re starting to use the Guidebook that’s its own action option within the game. You’ll get a few juicy bits and pieces of information from a lot of the popular locations. So you get to know Matsue on top of being entertained and you’ll be ready whenever you head there in your travels.
With the introduction done. Let’s talk about the meat and potatoes: Why is it so good and what is it about?
Searching for a (Dead?) Pen Pal from 15 years ago
Takayuki (or a name of your choice) is the name of the protagonist. He always goes full speed ahead on whatever he does which earned him the nickname Max. Just like any other story, it begins with a huge change in his life. After 11 years as a designer, he finally quit his job to pursue something else. Coincidentally, his parents are renovating their place, which prompts him to visit them. While cleaning up, Max discovers a small hill of Letters in his old room. He soon remembers them as being something special because 15 years ago he had a pen pal that helped him through the stressful time of finishing his studies and even end up falling for her. Her name? Aya Fumino from Shimane. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, she stopped responding after the 10th letter…
That’s right! 11 letters are what’s left of this stressful but beautiful memory. Hold it! 11 Letters? Wasn’t it just 10? Why is there an 11th letter?
What’s more shocking than the sudden appearance of it is the content:
But Max didn’t earn his name for nothing. Equipped with 11 letters he goes ahead to find his pen pal in Matsue. Each chapter will start with one of the letters, leading into it and most of them at the beginning will require your answers to them.
The surprises don’t stop there. Little did he know that all he found at the sender's address was nothing more than an empty lot. After a short investigation and talking to locals he finds out that the beautiful western house caught fire 15 years ago and this is all that’s left of it. 15 years ago… wasn’t there something?
After the shocking revelation, it’s time to head to the Inn he reserved his place at and check out the only pieces of information he has brought with him. These 10 letters contain information about Aya Fumino’s 7 friends. Each of them has a nickname, Four-Eyes, Fatty, Shorty, Bitch, Bestie, Snappy and Monkey. It’s not much but it’s still better than nothing.
Thus starts your search for your pen pal, her friends and ultimately the truth. This adventure can lead you to different kind of endings, some crazier than the other.
Interim Conclusion: Story
The Investigation of her friends is the first half of the story. The second half changes depending on your answers in the letters. The story can change drastically depending on which end you’re heading into. It needs to be mentioned that the true/best ending isn’t available on the first playthrough.
Due to the heavy focus on the story of being a VN, we’ll have to take a deeper look into it.
The First Half
Your mission is to search for all her friends to piece together all the information required to find out about what happened and where Aya is. Your first leads are none other than the letters. Which is why they are starting each chapter and require an answer from you. It’s no exaggeration to claim that those 7 friends ARE the first half.
In the beginning, you will get their introduction from Aya’s letters. About their personalities, dreams, and bonds. But what about now? 15 years later? Are they still the same? Did they manage to fulfill their dreams? Where are they now? Many questions like these will fly around in your head while searching for them.
Let’s talk about Four-Eyes as an example. Aya mentions him helping her studying and her seeing him having a great future because he’s incredibly smart. But did he make it?
It becomes clear that a lot of care is put into designing your path through the story to make you invested into the characters. There’s always a curiosity there that keeps pushing you forward to find out what actually happened and what kind of people her friends really are.
You’ll spend quite a bit of time within the first half because it builds up the basis of the story. If I have to make an estimation of how much time you’ll spend here, it’d about less than 50% of your whole playtime. It also shows how important the build-up is.
The Second Half
5 is the minimum of times you’ll visit the second half of the game and hopefully each time you’ll find a different ending. The important thing is, they somehow managed to spread breadcrumbs along the first half to make all of them a possibility. That’s right. Even though it’s identical, the story is built so intrinsically that you will find all kinds of information along the way.
No matter which end you’re heading to. All of them have their own style and charm. Entertainment is something you can count on, nearly not one of them is the same. Though, some might be better left alone before going to bed, at least for the faint-hearted…
Obviously, you’ll be going to ask: “Do I have to play the whole first part, only for the answer in the letters?”. Obviously not! But that’s a story when we talk about the gameplay.
The New Epilogues
Players of the old Version will find the new story content in here. Did you like one of the alt endings? Want to see their continuation? You’re in luck. The Epilogues are indeed that. One of them really gave me a surprise.
To be more specific, they are small chunks of linear story that are meant to finish what was started in the original. Expect about 30 minutes (slow readers) per Epilogue.
All of them are accessible within the Gallery. Though the True End one will be unlocked last after experiencing the others.
Here’s an interesting fact, the protagonist actually got some small voice clips. Just don’t expect anything fancy such as full sentences.
Gameplay & Controls
As mentioned before, Root Letter: Last Answer is a Visual Novel, e.g. the gameplay is pretty much standard with only a few minor deviances and as the genre implies you’ll have to read A LOT.
All standard functions are available such as skipping already read text, forced skip, text speed up to instant and auto-scrolling. The only thing that’s missing is the removal of the text box.
Let’s get to the gameplay elements. You’ll be searching areas for clues in a typical Point & Click manner. Your pointer highlights objects you can interact with by glowing red. Aside from that, you’ll be talking to characters, using items and moving from one place to another to move the story forward. In a sense you could even call it linear.
Personally, I see the Guidebook as a bonus that requires mandatory usage to bring Matsue closer to you and Max.
As soon as you meet one of the main characters you’ll be entering the Investigation Mode. With this, you know something big is going down. In this special gameplay segment you have 6 chances to find the right sequence on how to approach your suspect. The moment you run out it goes back to the beginning of the interrogation.
You need to ask the right questions, show the correct items at the right time to make their resistance crumble.
Max goes full power and puts on some heavy pressure. The gauge fills up randomly and you have to find the right sentence. There are no repercussions for making the wrong choice and is seemingly more of a narrative function. The final effect is about you slamming the answer into the suspects face pushing past their mental defenses.
Special functions (After the first playthrough)
Both special functions will be your best friend after the first playthrough. Both of them are in your digital Smartphone in the game. One of them shows your already achieved endings as icons. The next will be your favorite one. It skips the entire chapter putting you straight to the next letter for you to answer. With this, you can skip the first half in a very short time and focus on getting the endings. It’s great and exemplary example of how to do things to respect the players time.
Interim Conclusion: Gameplay
The slightly more interactive nature than other VNs has their Pro and Cons. The Point & Click elements give you a better impression of what Max is experiencing.
On the other hand, when you get stuck and the pacing gets broken you will find it at least slightly annoying. Things like trying to find where to go, running out of Investigation chances and Max Mode. It’s nothing too egregious because those are really short.
Despite the latter two being mentioned, their purpose of drawing you into the story does work. Especially when you make all the right choices and blast through it like a boss.
Graphics & Sound
By adding a new visual option of using Live action actors and real photos it changes your experience quite a bit and fits the story perfectly due to it taking place at a real location in Japan. Some reactions may look exaggerated but I guess it does have its charms. The original drawings are still there as an option and you can’t mix and match them. It’s either-or. When you compare both of them you’ll see how much they tried to emulate the real places with their art. Don’t just trust me, see it for yourself:
Exhibit a) Live action
Exhibit b) Original Drawings
There’s also something neat I found to my liking. Sometimes you’ll find Max’s first impressions on the middle of the screen. It does seem like something small and maybe even negligible but it does an incredible job in putting you into his head. The placing is also impeccable because you will be looking at the picture while reading those thoughts.
The only negative thing that might require a mention is the seemingly low resolution of the pictures. If you look at it normally it won’t be that noticeable but once you zoom in you will notice their pixels.
The music does a great job in putting the atmosphere into your ears, boosting your experience of the story. Slow and calm investigation captures you in a focused state. Important moments will come at you with tunes that ooze determination pushes you through the goal.
All characters, except the main character, are fully voiced in Japanese. It’s important to note that the visual options don’t have any influence on the voices. Even if you don’t understand Japanese the voice actors are doing a great job in transferring their characters personality and mental state.
- Never a boring moment
- Good pacing due to well thought out Features
- Live action Visuals make it even more believable
- Great Audiovisual execution supporting the Story
- New Story content isn’t that much
I wasn’t expecting much when I dipped my toes into Root Letter: Last Answer but it managed to blow me away. Adding the new Live Action option was a great idea. Due to the depiction of real locations, it adds another layer of believability.
The combination of Visuals, Ambient Music and convincing Voice Acting manage to push the characters so far to make you invested in them. Like or hate them.
What I found especially good is the fact that the game respects your time. Due to the special functions, your search for other endings is done in no time.
As mentioned before the weaknesses are proven to be pretty minor with small showstoppers and slightly low res visuals on zoom. If I didn’t know better, I’d even say it’s close to nitpicking.
Another important point I have to mention is that there are no upgrade options for existing owners of the prior version. Which means you’ll have to gauge how much the new story content and new visuals are worth for you. If it’s one of your favorite games and you haven’t played it for a long time (original was 2016) to the point of slowly forgetting the plot then this might be the perfect game for you to experience it in a fresh way.
Overall my playtime was about 10 hours. Root Letter: Last Answer convinces in every regard as a Visual Novel. Great characters that get their time to grow on you, an interesting plot, a wide breadth of story types in the latter part. Considering the Budget priced release it's an easy recommendation as an entry into the VN Genre, especially for Mystery fans.
After the very entertaining tour around Matsue/Shimane, they have made me a potential customer for sure. If I ever plan to go to Japan, there’s no way I wouldn’t want to visit all those places depicted in Root Letter: Last Answer.