This murder-mystery-idol-culture-filmmaking-documentary visual novel feels tailor made for the Nintendo Switch. While visual novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, Root Film has so much going on that, odds are, there’ll be something about it that appeals to you. As Rintaro Yagumo is chosen to be the director for a rebooted classic series, his dreams seem to be realised until a horrible murder takes place on set. If you’ve never played a visual novel before, Root Film is a great place to start.
Root Film is a highly detailed visual novel centered around an independent Japanese film crew that solves mysteries... for some reason. The combination is strange but it doesn’t interrupt the flow at all. While most of the game is passive and involves reading, there are sections where you have to investigate areas, talk to NPCs in specific orders and take part in confrontations with suspects that play like duels. In these sequences, you have to use the information you’ve gathered throughout the story to make a case for someone’s guilt or persuade them to provide you with more information. These exchanges are the most exciting parts of Root Film but as they are few and far between, most of the game relies on the “Read, Talk, Read Again” formula. Hardly surprising for a visual novel, but the interrogation sequences make for a nice change of pace.
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The one big flaw with this game lies in its map/travel mechanics. The overworld is a simple map with highlighted locations to travel to. A game like this would certainly benefit from some kind of objective marker because even though I was paying close attention, it wasn’t always clear where I needed to go next. In most games, this wouldn’t be an issue because exploration is fun, but there really isn’t anything beneficial about going off the beaten path here. Usually, all exploration gets you is a cookie-cutter explanation about how you don’t need to be here right now and getting quickly brought back to the map. The story can get fairly complicated, and it gets annoying quickly to go to every map location looking for the next way to progress, only to be met with an even more frustrating version of “Your Princess is in Another Castle”. When a game such as this, which feels like a carefully crafted work of art, has an annoying oversight like this, it tends to stand out more, especially in a game which requires so little input from the player.
Story / Personality
Root Film’s story is something straight out of a manga serial: a filmmaking crew must solve mysteries as they journey around the Japanese countryside making their film. On face-value, it feels a little Scooby Dooesque but it gets more sophisticated and satisfying as it goes. The characters feel very much alive, modern and relatable, even in their semi-realistic setting, and the plot is stimulating. The dialogue (the breaking point of all visual novels) feels natural and is compelling enough to hold the audience’s attention.
The writers clearly like to sprinkle in education as well: filmmaking terms and Japanese traditions and culture are sprinkled in throughout the script. Little details like these makes the script feel even more human; Root Film is a love letter to Japanese Cinematic tradition as well as Japan itself.
Graphics / Art Direction
The hand-drawn graphics in Root Film are utterly breathtaking. The characters are meticulously detailed and individualized. Each one has a unique look and the artists didn’t fall into the usual trap of making the female characters indistinguishable. Each character is given a personality, despite the size of their role. The backgrounds are equally detailed: the colors and linework look like something out of a high end anime. Visual Novels do tend to rely on their visuals pretty heavily and while Root Film is no exception, you can really tell that the artists that worked on this genuinely cared about the project.
Music / Sound Design
The voice acting in Root Film was a pleasant surprise. Most of the time when dialogue is input based, it doesn’t get the privilege of being brought to life with real speech. This is yet another example of the obvious care that went into this game. One of the main recurring themes is filmmaking, and proper voice acting makes this enthusiasm for storytelling really stand out. The music doesn’t pop as much as the voices but it still goes so far as to make this game feel properly crafted as it fleshes out the aesthetic appeal.
Final Score: 80%
Root Film is something special: aesthetically astounding with sprinkles of humor and intrigue which makes for an experience that is hard to describe. The level of care that went into this title is staggering and apparent in almost every aspect of gameplay. The developers, writers and artists all left a piece of themselves in Root Film and that makes it all the more special for someone like myself who can appreciate the work itself and not just the finished product. I recently reviewed another visual novel and Root Film struck a familiar chord with me: the Switch in handheld/tabletop mode is the definitive way to play visual novel games. To play a game like this on my PlayStation would be a bit like projecting an ebook onto a movie theater screen; it may work but the smaller screen really behooves a game like this one. All in all, if you like anime, well-crafted stories or detailed artwork, this is certainly a game you would enjoy.
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