Quiet On Set
HIGH Some excellent writing and presentation.
LOW Weird tonal shifts.
WTF Who would have guessed a murder mystery would make me want to visit Japan?
Movies are my true love. While I spend most of my time playing and writing about videogames, cinema has always been my passion. Interestingly, many games try to be like movies but are rarely about them. As for me, as a film nut I’ve always wanted an interactive experience that details the ins-and-outs of the film industry — basically a Barton Fink, Sunset Blvd. or The Player in videogame form.
Root Film, the latest in the Kadokawa Mystery Games series, is a visual novel about an aspiring director named Rintaro Yagumo. After slumming it out directing cheesy, amateurish horror films, he finally gets his big break working on a Japanese murder-mystery series. Unfortunately, things aren’t what they seem as Yagumo finds himself in the middle of a larger mystery surrounding a real-life murder on set.
Being a visual novel, most of the gameplay in Root Film revolves around players clicking through text and following the story. Yagumo will interact with other characters like his young editor, crew members and even random people around the Shimane Prefecture in Japan. Occasionally, there will be items to interact with in the world. Of course, plenty of murder clues will present themselves for players to examine.
For example, early in the game players witness what appears to be a ghost walking on water in a short video. Yagumo heads over to the lake and takes note of things like the buildings in the area and where the cast and crew could have been standing. It doesn’t take a lot of detective work to click through these things in the environment, but trying to solve the mystery is engrossing enough. Once Yagumo has enough evidence, he can accuse someone of a crime.
Here, gameplay changes up to be more like… a fighting game. Players have options of dialogue choices that refute the accused’s defensive statements. If a player chooses the correct dialogue, they inch the person closer to giving a confession. It’s an interesting shakeup to the typical Visual Novel formula, and making correct selections tests how much attention readers have paid up to that point.
While those accusatory sequences are great, the real stars of Root Film are the writing and characters that echo movies like Brian De Palma’s Blow-Out and seemingly reference events like the “cursed” set of The Exorcist. While the tone can occasionally shift from a purely horrifying experience to an odd (but endearing) slice-of-life anime, I was still engrossed. Even the voice acting was great. Performed in Japanese, the actors successfully convey the appropriate reactions, which went a long way towards supporting the narrative.
Overall, Root Film is an engaging visual novel, but as a film buff, it was doubly great experience. For anyone that falls into the Venn diagram between these two types of media, this comes recommended!
Disclosures: This game is published and developed by Kadokawa Games. It is currently available on Switch and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated M for Blood, Language and Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is an adventure game in which players follow the story of a movie director investigating a mysterious project connected to a series of murders. The story is largely conveyed through visual-novel style panels and text, with players surveying crime scenes and questioning suspects. Some cutscenes depict still images of murder victims in various forms of injury/death: a man shot in the torso by a sniper; a man choking and spewing blood; a corpse lying in a pool of blood. Several scenes depict blood stains on walls or victims’ clothes; one protracted sequence depicts several desiccated and bloody corpses hanging on walls. The words “sh*t” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues for audio sounds and the game offers subtitles. (See examples above) The size or presentation of the subs cannot be adjusted, but the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable and there is no control diagram. The X button is used to click through dialogue and interact with the world, while the d-pad or control stick cycles through the interactive elements or menus.