Title: Root Film
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Release Date: March 19, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Adventure Visual Novel
Mystery visual novels require a solid foundation to hook players into the narrative. From this starting point, players expect to be taken down a path of twists and turns that eventually lead to a resolution. Kadokawa Games’ newest adventure visual novel Root Film has this but ends up losing sight of the goal early on and expects the player to stay invested for a strong conclusion.
Root Film sets up its detective mystery in a strange matter as you assume the role of director Rintaro Yagumo who has been chosen to figure out if something that happened ten years before would curse their upcoming film project. Well, this turns into more of a test of Rintaro’s deduction skills, and everyone is in on the joke. Still, the theme of a curse lingers on, and you’ll be in the driver’s seat of experiencing just how far this curse will go leading up to the conclusion. There’s also another playable protagonist, Riho, an actress who is also followed by this death theme.
Here’s the issue. I was never sure why Rintaro was even playing detective in the first place. I mean, the initial case is one thing and kind of a joke, but then he goes and gets himself into another case and disregards the demands of actual detectives. There’s no incentive for him either in these early moments; he’s just doing it because he has a special power known as Synesthesia that holds onto phrases to use against characters during cross-examination. Riho also has this power, and their connection will make more sense later on. However, this withholding of information isn’t even the best part of the story, and when you figure it all out, it doesn’t make that big of an impact on the curses.
The plot takes way too long to kick in that I found it hard to even care by the time it does. That said, if you stick through these early moments of gameplay and look past the fact that Rintaro has no real reason to be doing any of this, then you’re in for a pretty grand second half. I enjoyed the resolution of the entire experience. Still, I had to really block out several scenarios that carried no weight other than Rintaro and Riho are good at solving mysteries.
As far as the cast goes, each character is excellent. The leads, Rintaro and Riho, are both cool and full of personality that makes scenarios deeply enjoyable. To help them out is a supporting cast that’s equally as charming and full of life. Given that these characters are all so expressive and unique, I would have appreciated more poses in their illustrations.
Often their excited reactions didn’t match their static character illustration, and it really hurt the scene overall. To help alleviate this lack of character illustrations, many backgrounds and CGs feature the characters in a different location and interacting in various ways. However, even in these scenes, their facial animations are almost always frozen.
The most significant issue with Root Film is pacing caused by a lack of direction. You explore points on a map during gameplay, but strangely, the game doesn’t tell you which points have story beats in them. This causes you to sometimes just guess and randomly choose locations until the story progresses. I would have liked some kind of indicator that showed a specific point had something of interest in it would have sped up the entire experience.
This lack of direction is also found when able to interact with objects in a scene. Sometimes you’ll need to interact with a character or object twice, but the game won’t tell you that; instead, you’ll just be clicking on everything until you’re able to leave, and most of the time, you’ll have to read conversation twice because you were checking if they would say something new.
The presentation of Root Film is just so stylish. Each character just looks so awesome. This is only complemented by the grand cast of voice actors who really bring these characters to life. Some of the more emotional beats in the second half of the story show the range of the characters that make this entire game a stand-out performance for all the voice actors involved.
The entire experience is relatively linear since you need to pass these cross-examination phases to progress. Each chapter gets more interesting as you get closer to the solution arc with the respective chapter. The narrative provides some exciting twists, but it’s at the cost of mindlessly trying to find your way to the next story beat.
Root Film is an incredibly stylish and beautiful adventure visual novel held down by a few flimsy opening chapters. The pacing takes a dramatic hit due to a lack of direction, which caused me to step away several times. However, the second half is where the stars align and provide a solid and memorable conclusion to those who stick around.
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