There have been quite a few remakes and enhanced editions of visual novels lately and with their rising popularity in the West, it only makes sense that some of these make their way overseas as well. Usually these enhanced releases simply feature a touched up translation or a refined user interface but a few of them also clean up their visuals a bit, but rarely do they go as far as Root Letter: Last Answer decides to. Originally released three years ago for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, this new release now features real actors and locations in the place of drawn artwork, in what may be the most unique change a visual novel can take.
The art of writing a letter is something that has been mostly left by the wayside as the internet and email became widespread to the point that something like penpals became non-existent. However even fifteen years ago some of us may have had penpals and the protagonist of Root Letter: Last Answer is one such person as, while cleaning up his old things, he stumbles across a pile of old letters from his old penpal Aya Fumino. While the two exchanged letters frequently over the years, Aya suddenly stopped responding to him fifteen years prior to the game’s start but something is different this time. At the bottom of the pile is a non postmarked letter that kicks off the player’s journey as Aya as written that she is sorry and will no longer be corresponding with you and that this is her goodbye because after killing someone, she will be disappearing.
With a cold-case mystery on their hands the player travels to the Shimane Prefecture in an effort to find out just what happened. However with very few clues to go on and barely any knowledge about the area outside of what a tourist might be able to pick up, this nearly impossible investigation only grows harder when he arrives where she used to live and learns a terrifying truth that twists the whole investigation on its head right from the get go. Despite these setbacks the player continues to try and find out the truth no matter how many twists and turns may come their way in what ends up becoming a very engaging mystery narrative.
One of the greater strengths to Root Letter: Last Answer is the fact that it manages to create a storyline that features a number of characters with distinct personalities, especially since rather than focus on the standard cookie-cutter characters many visual novels tend to employ the game uses adults with realistic stories and growth. It also helps that while the whole mystery angle is still the biggest focus in the game there is still plenty of time for the game to take and provide bits of humor and silly situations.
It is worth noting that Root Letter: Last Answer features multiple endings that depend on the player’s choices made while reminiscing about the letters they wrote to Aya in the past. This remake features some expanded scenes during these endings so even those who may have played the original will still find a bit of new content. All in all, those looking for a solid storyline will find that Root Letter: Last Answer manages to craft an excellent narrative and players will actually want to tackle multiple endings to see just how different the story can unfold, especially since the game features a generous skip option to progress past previously viewed scenes.
Generally when one things of visual novels they tend to think that the game will feature very little in the way of actual interactivity outside of making a few choices here and there that determine what ending the player will get or possibly unlock a new scene or piece of artwork but that isn’t quite the case with Root Letter: Last Answer. While it is true that there is tons of reading to be had and the choices players make will reveal new scenes and secrets there are also different ways to interact with the game in the form of investigation.
Players can examine a scene to try and find various clues and read more details about their surroundings, though this can often feel a bit clunky at times as some items can be incredibly difficult to discern simply by looking at the background and trying to find the magic pixel that is holding up progress can be rather annoying. Along those same lines there is also “Max Mode” that sees the player needing to select the right words to progress through a scene in what seems like a timed sequence but ends up feeling rather useless as a whole. That being said, the scenes where players use the evidence they’ve gathered to confront someone are well written enough that they make up for having to deal with some sluggish feeling investigation mechanics.
Visuals & Audio
The biggest change that Root Letter: Last Answer boasts over the original release is a bit of an odd one. As mentioned before, the game now features a default “Drama” mode that replaces all of the original drawn assets with photographs of real locations in the city and real people. This is a unique take for a visual novel and one that few could have seen coming. Returning fans who are interested in seeing how their favorite characters may look now will see that they are fairly well handled with some great actors chosen to fit the visual roles but it also feels a bit lifeless at times, especially compared to the original artwork. The original artwork features plenty of attention to detail to both the environments themselves and especially to the characters. While seeing the overacting of the live action actors is rather funny at times, it is nothing compared to the original artwork and unfortunately while it is possible to swap back and forth between the two options, it does require far more work than it should to simply swap assets.
The soundtrack for the game continues to impress as all of the original tracks have been carried over to this release while the Japanese voice work is similarly well handled. It is worth noting that while the translation is handled well enough players should expect to see more than a few misspellings and even a few incorrect words being used in place of others, as if someone dictated some sentences but didn’t read them.
Root Letter: Last Answer is in an odd place as the core storyline is quite excellent, if not better with the few extended scenes, even if some of the gameplay mechanics feel a bit aged and out of place, but the actual new content in the form of the live action visuals really doesn’t hold up too well compared to how gorgeous the original artwork was. Given the fact that Root Letter: Last Answer has only now made it to the Nintendo Switch this is clearly the version to buy and given the original is still priced the same as this one on the PlayStation 4, even newcomers should still take and aim for this version simply because it offers more options, even if those options may not be as good as the original.