Root Letter (stylized as √Letter) revolves around the mystery of Aya Fumino, your old high school penpal who went missing 15 years ago. On receiving her final letter 15 years late, in which she confesses to a murder, you set off to Shimane Prefecture to unravel the mystery of what happened to her. Reminiscing through previous letters from Aya, you must piece together the truth, alongside the testimonies from seven witnesses who knew her. Did she really murder someone, was she telling the truth in her letters was she even real?
Root Letter was released in 2016 for PlayStation Vita and Playstation 4 with additional releases on the PC and on the iOS and Android smartphone, developed by Kadokawa Games and published by PQube for North American and European Audiences. This is the first game for KG's planned "Mystery Adventure Game" series, with RL being first in line. The game is a bit unique from most visual novels as it's one of the few Japanese-made VN games that reflects on places outside of Tokyo, stars an adult (over-30) protagonist, does not take place in a school setting, and is a Roman à Clef story - all places and people in the story are either real or based off of a real place/person in Matsue.
An unknown live-action project based on the game is scheduled to be produced by Perfect World Pictures. On August 2018, Yasuda announced that two games were in progress, named Root Letter: Last Answer and Root Film.
Last Answer is an expansion to Root Letter, using live-action scenes, actors and visuals as an option while having scenes that further explain the endings, released in Japan in December 2018 and worldwide in 2019.note
Root Film serves as the game's sequel, still set in Shimane Prefecture. It was released in Japanese on July 30, 2020 and in other countries/regions in local languages on March 19, 2021 for the Playstation 4 and the Nintendo Switch.
Tropes presented by Root Letter:
- A Day in the Limelight: Chapters 2 through 8 all focus on one each of Aya's seven friends from high school.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Kousuke and Masaya were/are in love with Misaki, who, along with Jun and Shota, was in love with Shiori; Yukari was in love with Shota. No affections were returned from any side. In the end, the only requited love is Max's - Shiori and him marry and start a family.
- Anti-Frustration Features: After beating the game once, you can skip chapters 1-7 after answering Aya's letter, as chapter 8 is where the common route ends. In Last Answer, the common route ends at Chapter 9.
- Bad Ending: Three out of the five endings can definitely be considered bad, with the protagonist dying/being cursed to wander endlessly in one, being institutionalized in another, and tormented by Aya's ghost in the third. The fourth is a Bittersweet Ending at best, in which Max just misses his pen pal by one day and then moves on without ever meeting her.
- Bittersweet Ending: The epilogue of the "Princess of Himegamori Forest" route, it's one of the few ending where Max Gets The Girl, but the girl in question had tormented and even murdered her friends for revenge.
- Chekhov's Gun: Almost everything you get is relevant in one way or another in the investigations.
- Cerebus Rollercoaster: The game starts out as relatively normal VN fare, with the protagonist going on a journey to find a lost love, then turns into what appears to be a supernatural horror/mystery, but the truth ends up being much simpler. The last few chapters can border on heartwarming to scary to outright wacky depending on the choices you make.
- Dead All Along/Dead Person Impersonation: The real Aya Fumino died 25 years prior to the story, and it's revealed that a girl named Shiori Yoshioka was posing as Aya.
- Everyone Dies: In the "Cursed Letter" ending.
- Evil Old Folks: Dr. Fumino, in some endings.
- For Want of a Nail: If the group of friends hadn't randomly stopped at Dr. Fumino's house that one rainy day, it's likely the events of the game would've never came to pass and things would've turned out very differently for everyone.
- Happy Ending Override: Averted in the "Government Plot" epilogue. The initial ending is a Bad Ending that has Max and the other characters being captured and silenced, but the epilogue ends with Max & his friends recovering their memories and becoming heroes.
- Happily Ever After: Shiori and the protagonist in the Golden Ending.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: Shiori, the "real" Aya Fumino, can be clearly seen in many promotional materials, such as the cover art for the game and the image used for this page.
- Irony: The Gallery has four things to unlock, but none of them are a CG gallery.
- It's All My Fault: In the Golden Ending route, everyone feels responsible for the fire that killed Yoko Fumino. Dr. Fumino assures them it was an accident and no one was at fault.
- Local Hangout: Kaminari-An becomes Takayuki's main hangout to eat at while in town.
- The Men in Black: In the A Government Plot path, they pop up to track Max and the friends.
- Monochrome Past: The flashbacks are mostly portrayed in a sepia tone.
- Multiple Endings: There are five in total, all of which have their own set of two letters and chapters.
- Bond of Marriage: Upon meeting Shiori's friends at the lake, Max finds them to be tight-lipped and has to work the whole story out of them, whereupon they reveal mistakes they made with treating her, and why they refused to tell Max anything at first. Max asks where Shiori is now, to which he gets told they don't know. Four Eyes threatens suicide to bring everyone to the lighthouse, where he gets everyone to talk about their dreams and reminisce. The group then goes to see Dr. Fumino and, after asking, are informed that Shiori was listening to them speak to him. The group makes up with her, and it starts raining. Shiori says it's a destined meeting in the rain (enishizuku) to Max. In the epilogue, he moves to Matsue, and he and Shiori prepare to get married. All the remaining loose ends are tied up, as well.
- Crossing Paths: After finally getting the story from Aya's - now known as Shiori - friends from high school, Max prepares to leave Matsue, but not after asking Four Eyes where Dr. Fumino is, as he's Max's lead to Shiori. After helping the rest of the group track him down, Four Eyes tells Max where Fumino is, and they visit him. Fumino then tells them that they missed Shiori by a day, and she's off to work to improve Africa's health care system. Much later, Max gets a letter from Shiori, saying that while she heard from Fumino that he and her classmates tried finding her, they won't be able to meet.
- Cursed Letter: Having found out that Aya died and that Max now knows who Shiori is, the curse takes effect on the group of friends. Fatty dies the night after, and is followed by Bitch and Shorty. The group meets Dr. Fumino, who reveals that Aya's spirit takes her writer and penpal with her still ongoing curse, with Max being the sole exception. Fumino reveals that Max dying will break the curse, which makes Bestie snap and results in both her and the curse taking the rest of them out, until only Max is left. Then, after discovering the spirits of the previous penpals after wandering in the woods for three hours, he determines that he, too, has died. The epilogue has a character known as Lettuce write a letter addressed to Aya Fumino, showing that the curse is still ongoing.
- Government Conspiracy: Shiori has been discovered to be removed from all publications, and the more they think about it, the less her friends can remember anything about her. After getting Shorty's yearbook (which he had sold to a store when he needed money, and thus was overlooked and uncensored) and confirming Shiori exists, the group heads their separate ways for the day. The next day, Max and Shorty walk around town, are stalked by men in black, and go to the UFO lab to escape. Shorty remembers a UFO crash at the lighthouse, and the entire group is lured there by the men in black, where they are captured. The rest get their memories wiped, but Max escapes, learns the truth, is knocked out again, but drops a letter revealing the truth out the transport car window he's in when he wakes up. He's thrown in a psych ward and screams about the coverup, to no avail. However, Morita now has the paper Max dropped and implies he'll put it to use, while lamenting that he can't help Max.
- Princess of Himegamori: Max discovers Shiori's mother, Yoshie, and brings her to the meetup to learn the truth about what happened to Shiori. Shiori acts much more like Aya than in other routes, and in her "suicide", she ends up possessed by Aya's spirit, who claims Shiori is dead and she is Aya. Yoshie then reveals that she merely adopted Shiori, and she's really the Fuminos' child. The next day, Yoshie calls Max and says Aya has returned, and by the time he arrives at her apartment, she suffered a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. After seeing sightings of a strange woman throughout the day, the group learns the location of Dr. Fumino and visits him...at a strip club in the nursing home. He reveals the past, including that Shiori was being possessed by the psychopathic Aya. He then leaves, passes away that night, and Max returns to Tokyo. Several days later, Max opens his own office like he dreamed, gets a letter from Aya, and laments that he, too, is still being targeted.
- My Sibling Will Live Through Me: In the "Princess of Himegamori Forest" route, Aya and Shiori are siblings who were separated shortly after Shiori's birth; Aya's personality eventually completely takes over Shiori's.
- Never My Fault: The position a lot of the characters take when talking about how their friendship ended with Shiori, leading the protagonist to call them all terrible.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Aya's letters have her call her friends by the nickname she identifies them as. It's up to the PC to find out who in town matched those names.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Shimanekko, who's also the real life mascot of Shimane Prefecture.
- Roman à Clef: As Matsue is portrayed completely accurately in the game, all of the locations and people in the game are real, with some being renamed such as Kamiari-an.
- Scenery Porn: All of Matsue. The prefectural government worked together with the game staff to ensure that it gets accurately represented.
- Seven Deadly Sins: The friends in the Princess of Himegamori Forest path get described as Four-Eyes' Greed, Bitch's Envy, Fatty's Gluttony, Snappy's Wrath, Monkey's Pride, Shorty's Sloth and Bestie's Lust. Max gets an eighth sin added in Frivolity.
- Story Branching: Though certain key plot points remain the same across all routes, Aya/Shiori's personality and role can vary wildly depending on the route.
- Shown Their Work: Matsue is entirely depicted accurately in the game.
- True Ending: As is common with many visual novels, requires at least one playthrough to be unlocked.
- We Used to Be Friends: Basically the whole premise of the game - Shiori and the gang were once a very close knit group, but they were driven apart by their jealousy and paranoia.
- Wham Line: From Dr. Fumino in the Golden Ending route when he says he doesn't have Shiori's contact information but knows where she is.Dr. Fumino: She's right behind you.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The end credits for the Golden Ending show a character montage of what the seven friends all accomplished after the events of the game.