Review – Root Film (Switch)

I’ve been having such a good time with some excellent visual novels like Across the Grooves and The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante that I’ve decided to tackle one of most prevalent (and mysterious) types of games available in the Nintendo eShop: the anime visual novel. I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s basically one or two new Japanese visual novels released on the eShop every single week, but the vast majority of them don’t look appealing at all. The one exception was Root Film, a title that intrigued me way before launch due to its pretty creepy and unique setting.

Magari dropping some truth bombs in the house.

Root Film is a story comprised of two mainly independent halves, both of them revolving around the filmmaking industry. In one of them, you play as up-and-coming filmmaker Rintaro Yagumo, a young director who was recently hired to reboot a thriller series that had been abruptly cancelled years prior due to mysterious circumstances. His side of the story is filled with predictable yet fun twists, as well as a ton of insight of what happens behind the scenes in the film industry. Well, not exactly Harvey Weinstein levels of absurdity, but it’s a fun insight nonetheless.

The other side of story puts you in the shoes of actress Riho and her manager. It’s not as engaging as Yagumo’s story, mostly due to the much less interesting cast of characters, but there are quite a few of twists and murder mysteries to solve in here as well. All in all, you’ll have around fifteen hours of fully voiced (and by that I mean really well-voiced) visual novel “action” to enjoy.

These sections are pretty much like Phoenix Wright, but without the cheese or the objections.

Despite being mostly about reading lines of text, listening to a competent Japanese dub, and looking at static manga drawings, there’s a bit of gameplay included in Root Film. By this I mean the bare minimum for it to be considered a step above most visual novels when it comes to interactivity and player involvement with the story. You have a small map where you can choose where to go next in order to advance the plot. However, the game doesn’t really tell you your next waypoint: it’s up to you to figure out your next destination and who to talk to.

If you follow the right path, you’ll unlock some special dialogue sections in which your characters will showcase their main special ability: the power to remember things! Think of them as the clues from the Phoenix Wright games. In fact, at the end of each chapter, you’ll actually partake in a small confrontation minigame where you’ll use your clues against some perpetrator. So it’s not that far off from what you’re already used to doing in Capcom’s lawyer simulator games. Sadly though, your characters won’t shout “objection” whenever a plot twist ensues.

Maybe she has irritable bowel syndrome?

Unfortunately, even though the player input is minimal, I wouldn’t say the controls are precise. The act of choosing the next location in the main map menu is a lot more confusing than it should have ever been. This is due to the bizarre fact that pressing left or right on the d-pad doesn’t necessarily take you to the closest icon in that direction. The game would have benefited a lot from touchscreen support. But sadly, it just isn’t present, even if all icons are big enough for touchscreen controls to be used without a hassle.

Besides this unnecessary level of unreliability in the controls, Root Film‘s presentation isn’t half bad. Sure, the game reeks of suffering from a low budget, with said budget being mostly destined towards hiring competent voice talent. However, its art style is decent, the backgrounds are varied, and its soundtrack, while repetitive, is pretty good. I would have appreciated less static character interactions, but all in all, it gets the job done.

You see, this scene would have been a lot more entertaining if these images weren’t static.

Root Film is a janky visual novel, but it makes up for its shortcomings with likable characters, a unique background setting, and most importantly, a lengthy story worth giving a crap about. It’s intriguing when it needs to be and it features enough player involvement and interactivity to make the act of reading through tons of lines of dialogue entertaining and engaging at all times. Maybe this would have worked better as an episodic anime, but I don’t regret tackling it at all.

The manga-esque art style is excellent, but I wish the game had more variety. It reuses tons of character images throughout the entire game. It might be just a visual novel, but somehow whenever you’re told to press a few buttons to proceed with the story, the controls feel weirdly imprecise. There’s no touchscreen support either, which is a shame.
The soundtrack might get a bit repetitive after a while, but the voice acting is excellent, and in no moment it sounds like your clichéd exaggerated anime VA. Most of Root Film‘s more glaring issues can be overlooked since the story is pretty solid and the characters are likable.
Final Verdict: 7.0

Root Film is available now on PS4 and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Root Film was provided by the publisher.

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