Root Letter (stylized as √Letter) is a Point-and-Click visual novel that revolves around the mystery of Aya Fumino, Takayuki Max Nakamuras 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, Max sets off to Shimane Prefecture to unravel the mystery of what happened to her. Reminiscing through previous letters from Aya, Max must piece together the truth, alongside the testimonies from seven witnesses and high-school friends who knew her. Did she really murder someone, was she telling the truth in her letters was she even real?
Gameplay mainly consists of traveling to various locations and using the mouse to find points of interest, picking up and using items along the way. At the end of most chapters, you will encounter one of the seven friends and will need to get the truth out of them in an Investigation segment, an Ace Attorney-style boss battle where you must ask the correct questions and present the correct evidence to get at contradictions in their words. Also interspersed is Max Mode, where you must choose between four different responses of increasing severity to find the correct one. Finally, which route you enter after the common route is determined by the responses to Ayas letters you pick at the beginning of each chapter, and each route gives wildly different answers to the big mystery.
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.
A live-action project based on the game, starring Danny Ramirez (Top Gun: Maverick) and Keana Marie, has been filmed in 2019 with production rights handled by AMMO, a Japanese-based production company and its American subsidiary, AMMO Entertainment. Entertainment Squad handles the film's worldwide distribution rights and will release the film on September 1, 2022 (both theatrical and digital VOD).
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.
- Big Bad: With the exceptions of the Crossing Paths and Bond of Marriage routes, which have No Antagonist, each route has one.
- Common Route: Yukari "Bestie" Ishihara is the ringleader of Aya Fumino's seven high-school friends who directs the others in a plan to stop Max from uncovering their secrets and reuniting with Aya, which would bring back bad memories they would rather stay buried.
- Cursed Letter: Aya Fumino herself is behind the curse of the letters and kills off the cast one-by-one to trap them in her realm while tricking a reporter into helping her possess one of them.
- Princess of Himegamori Forest: Shiori Yoshioka, possibly being possessed by Aya Fumino, targets and kills some of the seven friends to get revenge on them and her father for molesting her.
- A Government Plot: Professor Naoki Fumino is the chief agent carrying out the titular government plot to cover up the existence of alien technology, going after Max and the seven friends to capture them, and allow Japan to surpass America and Russia. In the Last Answer Arc, he instead sides with the Alien Invasion and tries to kill Max and the seven as revenge for letting Aya die in battle.
- 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.
- Everyone Dies: In the "Cursed Letter" ending.
- 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.
- Golden Ending: As is common with many visual novels, requires at least one playthrough to be unlocked.
- 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.
- 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 the details of the curse. Max and the friends are then slowly picked off by the curse, with all dying. The epilogue has a character known as Lettuce write a letter addressed to Aya Fumino, showing that the curse is still ongoing. In the epilogue, a reporter investigating the curse meets Misaki, who aids him. The reporter meets Max, who reveals he and the others are trapped in the spirit world. He burns the letters, only for Misaki to reveal she is Aya possessing her and he is Lettuce, who had his memories wiped, and he has helped her gain a body to break free and spread the curse.
- Princess of Himegamori Forest: 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. Yoshie then reveals that she merely adopted Shiori, and she's really the Fuminos' child. Max and the friends are stalked by Shiori, and go to Professor Fumino, who tells them the full story. Max then leaves 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. In the epilogue, Monkey, Nozu, and Omori are targeted by Shiori, the latter two dying, and Max learns that Professor Fumino had been abusing his two children all their life, inviting Monkey, Nozu, and Omori to join in. He has one last talk with Shiori and saves her from suicide, with her turning herself in.
- A 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. But they wind up stalked and eventually captured by government agents led by Professor Fumino, who seek to cover up the alien technology. Max is 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. In the epilogue, it turns out that the route was a false memory and that Max and the friends are part of a group of mecha-show-style heroes defending Earth from aliens, and the ending chronicles their battles, culminating in a final battle against Professor Fumino who has sided with the aliens.
- Bond of Marriage: Upon meeting Shiori's friends at the lake, they reveal mistakes they made with treating her, and why they refused to tell Max anything at first. 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, In the epilogue, he moves to Matsue, and he and Shiori prepare to get married, with Max spending the epilogue asking the seven friends for help in getting the money for the wedding and finally proposing.
- 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 having one.
- Four-Eyes' Greed, as he wants to excel in his studies and become successful only for the money (or so Aya Fumino believes). Also, in another route, he is exposed as having been embezzling his company's money for his studies.
- Bitch's Envy, as she is jealous of Snappy for getting the TV job and stardom she always wanted.
- Fatty's Gluttony, as he ate so much sweets that he became obese.
- Snappy's Wrath, as she is known for her rage towards others.
- Monkey's Pride, as he sought to win the National Championships but got his team banned and his career destroyed when he got into a fight.
- Shorty's Sloth, as he was a spoiled kid who did not like to work, until he was forced into becoming a bartender due to his father's company shutting down. Also, he did nothing to save Shiori from Professor Fumino's molestation, instead joining in with Monkey and Fatty.
- Bestie's Lust, as she fell for Shorty, who was himself enamored with Shiori, and antagonized her because of it.
- 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.
- Unseen Pen Pal: The story centers around the relationship between Takayuki "Max" Nakamura and his pen pal, Aya Fumino, who exchanged letters in their high school days. Her last letter, however, is a disturbing confession of murder. Now a middle-aged man, Max travels to her hometown of Shimane to find her, with only her name, photo, and letters to go off of- but strangely, everyone claims she died 25 years ago. It turns out that "Aya" is actually a girl named Shiori Yoshioka pretending to be Aya for reasons that differ in each route, and the photo is of the real Aya. As for the "murder" confession, it actually refers to the death of Yoko Fumino in a house fire that Shiori blames herself for.
- 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.