Root Letter: Last Answer didn’t appear any different, at least upon first sight. It seemed like it was going to be just another one of those generic visual novels without much in the way of mechanics or momentum. Coming from manga masters Kadokawa Games didn’t hurt, and while the game absolutely leans much more in the standard trappings of a visual novel opposed to an actual controllable “video game” Root Letter adds more than enough interesting additions to the usual ask/answer conversation dialogue options. Best of all, the writing is surprisingly good and immediately intriguing. And when your game requires 90% reading, that’s important.
Root Letter: Last Answer is actually an updated version from the 2016 original that goes further than most remakes ever would. There’s now the option to play through the game’s completely refreshed style that replaces animated character designs and set pieces with real actors and filmed shoots, costumes and props. As a huge fan and proponent of all things FMV, this made the experience much more engaging and realistic than countless other visual novels sporting the same generic anime style.
Kousuke’s face in particular had me smiling during most of his scenes, and on two different occasions while playing I asked two different family members “Hey, do you think this guy is hiding something?” They both replied with a resounding “Absolutely.”
You play Max, a young man on a quest to find his old pen pal Aya who stopped writing 15 years ago. Turns out there’s more to the story as you arrive to her hometown and discover Aya has been dead all that time. You take it upon yourself to go out and find out what happen to her by interviewing all her friends from school as their adult selves.
The story has an extreme variation of tone at times, offering anything from wacky to dramatic to supernatural. The sporadic tonal shifts offer plenty of variety but they also help enhance the already engaging storyline that draws you in from the start. As someone who thinks that visual novels often drag during preambles and conversations, it’s a huge relief that Root Letter doesn’t doesn’t feel nearly as overwritten as some of its peers.
That’s not to say that Root Letter doesn’t drag on at times, because it certainly can. The story is intriguing and I was consistently eager to know what was going to happen next, but there’s plenty of fat that could have been trimmed to make a tighter, trimmer experience. While little side plots like enticing a cat to draw near so you can snatch its golden charm is fun and a nice break from the narrative, it’s the minor conversations that never really amount to much in the intermissions between bigger plot threads.
If you’ve never played a visual novel, rest assured that you need not know what kind of intense inner workings of the game’s mechanics in order to understand the bit where I talk about how to “play” Root Letter. You’re typically given a selection of things to do such as where to go or what to say. You select that option and see it play out. It’s a fairly straightforward concept that usually works well.
One big addition the developers included to help spice up the actual gameplay is the inclusion of the Max Meter, which increases the intensity of the question you’ll ask during the interrogation scenarios. Admittedly, this made me audibly laugh at how absurd it actually is. As with a lot of the tonal shifts and story revelations, these little quirk-fueled breaks in the dialogue selection screen really help flesh out the game even if they just minor tweaks to the formula.
What’s more is the added incentive to replay through the storyline if you’re interested in seeing multiple endings. Now, these don’t do a whole lot in terms of how you play the game, but more how you respond to very specific situations and questions bookending all of the chapters. None of these changes feel all that organic, but they do change many of the available paths you’ll come across in the game and these can be vastly different from story to story.
What initially started as a possible dismissal quickly began to change into genuine interest all thanks to clever writing and interesting core concepts. Honestly, I’m not sure I was expecting much but I do know that Root Letter: Last Answer feels much more focused and far less wordy than most of the visual novel shovelware I’ve experienced in years past. It’s not going to transform the genre in any significant way, but those who’ve been apprehensive about playing a storyline-driven game like this could certainly do much worse.