The Shimane Prefecture is an area on the western side of Japan’s Honshu island. The region contains several shrines and landmarks; a few of which are some of the oldest buildings in all of the country. This locale is the backdrop of Kadokawa Games’ series of mystery titles, which started with Root Letter several years ago and is now joined by the new Root Film. Both titles feature suspenseful thriller plots and gameplay, but the more recent entry takes the series in a new filmmaking direction story-wise.
Rintaro “Max” Yagumo is an up-and-coming director of indie paranormal movies. He finds himself investigating the circumstances of the cancellation of a film that was shot ten years prior. This investigation sends him down a path of several other incidents that also pique his interest and prompt him to investigate them to uncover the truth. In addition to the events he and his crew find themselves involved in, a second protagonist named Riho also witnesses grisly incidents of her own. Riho is a newcomer actress who is traveling with her manager to find inspiration for an upcoming movie role. How the stories of both Max and Riho relate to each other is something Root Film slowly uncovers as it goes on.
The plot is a big part of Root Film, as one would expect from a visual novel. The uncommon murder mystery/suspense nature of the storyline does a great job of keeping you engaged, even for those who are not usually a fan of the visual novel genre. Each chapter of the game takes the plot in interesting directions, and watching the characters interact with each other keeps the game entertaining.
As the “big picture” doesn’t become clear until you’re near the end, it’s important to play from start to finish to get the full effect of the story’s quality. Being a game that involves murder mysteries, Root Film touches on some dark themes at several points in the game. So be cautious if this is a concern for you.
One thing that really gets in the way of enjoying the game’s story is the inclusion of numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. Presumably, this was a mistake in the translation process. It isn’t terribly frequent overall, but it does get noticeably worse in the last several portions of the game. Even some of the area’s names on the map don’t match up to the names used in dialogue. This lack of polish in the translation of the Root Film can get a bit grating by the time you finish the game, detracting from the tense and riveting murder mystery cases of the game.
Root Film is a visual novel game. This means there is no manual movement of the protagonist; rather, there are dialogue boxes throughout the game that you advance as you read, and the game’s story thus unfolds much like a novel. Options are included to speed up the text and skip text, so players of all reading (or patience) levels can enjoy it at their own pace. There is also a Character Data section in the pause menu that aids in compiling information about important individuals you meet across all of the game’s chapters. There are two protagonists, Max and Riho, who both star in multiple chapters in the game. You choose whose story you want to play before starting each chapter, and are locked into playing that chapter once selecting it.
Those who’ve played the Phoenix Wright games will find similarities in the gameplay here. There are investigation/information-gathering portions of gameplay, as well as sequences where you use the information you’ve found to interrogate people. Unlike those games, there is less interactivity in both areas of gameplay in Root Film, and there are no puzzles to be found. Additionally, most of the transitions between the main characters trying to figure out the specifics of a case and them knowing everything about it are very abrupt. It’s always a great feeling when you can follow along with the characters and discover specifics of the case as they do, but all too frequently Max or Riho will make some incredible deductions that make the detectives in the game look completely incompetent, and you’re left wondering how either character could have arrived at their conclusions with so little information to go on.
Every location you visit in Root Film features a screen that has multiple points of interest that are each bordered by boxes. Moving the cursor and clicking these areas prompts the main characters to make comments about it or talk to the individual if it’s a person. Clicking on everything on these screens is important to gather all of the relevant details and necessary bits of information to advance in the story. This will be another familiar gameplay mechanic for those who’ve played any Phoenix Wright games, and it works just as well here. After enough searching around the different areas of the map, you can use what you’ve learned to get to the bottom of the case you’re investigating.
Occasionally during conversations, certain phrases will become highlighted and Max/Riho will focus on them. This is due to their synesthesia ability, which allows them to recognize key bits of information. These important points come into play during the Max Mode segments of the game, which are sequences when the main character interrogates someone and must use the correct information at the right times to get to the bottom of the truth. A bar at the top of the screen during these scenes fills up gradually as you use the correct pieces of information. This eventually leads to the truth being revealed. Unfortunately, these segments are the only bit of interactivity in the game. There are no other times when you’ll able to make choices or direct the story in different directions; something that is commonplace in visual novels. What’s more, it is quite difficult to actually fail any of the Max Mode portions, as the choices are almost always very clear.
Map Screen & Navigation
The map screen is where you travel between the individual areas of the region you are in, which varies by chapter but is always within the Shimane prefecture. Similar screens are also shown while inside buildings when a floor plan is shown and you’re able to select which room to explore. Going to each landmark in the region is important to gather information and ultimately advance in the story. Caution is required if you use the analog stick to select areas on these screens, as it’s very sensitive to movement. You’ll often find yourself selecting the wrong area if you push in a direction for more than a fraction of a second. Luckily, the directional buttons are a good way to navigate the map screens, but surely the sensitivity could have used some scaling back before release.
Though the flow chart is not a new concept among visual novels, the one found in Root Film functions differently. In this case, it’s simply a way to select what chapter you wish to play, rather than a visual representation of branching storylines, of which there are none in this game. You can unlock subsequent chapters after you complete the ones that come before. It’s in this menu that you’re also able to go back and replay chapters you’ve already completed, should you feel the desire.
The character models and backgrounds you’ll see in Root Film have an illustrated look reminiscent of anime or manga, especially the latter due to the heavy use of shading around the edges of objects and people. This gives everything a hand-drawn look that’s especially appealing and sets it apart from other titles with anime-like art styles. The backgrounds also have a great range of colors that bring every historical spot represented in the game to life. Since just about every area you visit in Root Film is an actual place in Japan, the fact that they are rendered so well is appreciated, as experiencing it in the game will likely be the only time many players will see these places.
Music & Voice Acting
Root Film has Japanese voice acting with English subtitles, which fits well with the game taking place in Japan. Even so, having language options would have been nice to reach as wide of an audience as possible. The voice acting heard in the game is top-tier, with much of the cast having extensive backgrounds in contributing voices to games and anime series. This is fortunate since all of the game’s dialogue is spoken. The music in the game is a variety of different genres, spanning jazz and traditional Japanese songs. The choice in tracks coincides well with the areas in which they play. For example, crime scenes often play an ethereal track that sets a spooky mood. Overall, the voices and music are both solid and contribute to the game’s quality.
There is little in the way of real replay value in Root Film. As mentioned, you can replay cases, but there is no added benefit in completing them again. There are a few menus that open on the main menu after you’ve completed the story though. The Bonus section includes a short comedic scene that you can view, but it’s so brief you might wonder why it got its own dedicated section in the first place. The Museum menu allows you to listen to the game’s music tracks, which is great if you have a favorite song you’d like to listen to any time you want. You can also watch the end credits cinematics in this menu. Finally, all of the game’s CG backgrounds are available for viewing in this menu, which is a treat because the game has great art.
The investigation mystery genre gains a strong entry with Root Film. Kadokawa Games does a great job of evoking the atmosphere and tension of murder mystery stories. Spending hours being engrossed in the riveting plot is to be expected here, as the mysteries of Shimane become ever more complicated the longer you play. The uneven translation will likely bring you a bit out of the heavy atmosphere, which is aggravating considering how great the game is otherwise. The visuals and voice acting do go a long way in making up for this though. Fans of Phoenix Wright will love this game, as several mechanics are especially similar to those games. With any luck, Root Film is a sign of things to come for the underrepresented subgenre of mystery visual novels.
Final Rating: 7.5/10