As a life-long enthusiast of interactive fiction, I’ve played all sorts of things. From shooters meant to thrill you to island simulators full of cute animals, gaming has something for everyone. However, not all games are equal, and for many years certain genres have been looked down on by some for themes often found in them.
Unfortunately, the Visual Novel genre is one such victim of circumstance. Originating in Japan in the early eighties, Visual Novels are a form of interactive fiction which takes much more influence from books than it does from traditional games. They often weave a complex and interesting story together with choice-based gameplay and an anime-style aesthetic. This within them often consists of reading pages of text and dialogue and making the odd choice to progress the story from a list of options. Obviously, the genre isn’t for everyone and has garnered criticism from many westerners for including over the top romantic, sexualized or erotic content, often involving girls of dubious age.
However, despite this, the genre has a strong following worldwide with many modern examples doing away with the stereotypes or subverting them. In the 2000s Capcom and Nintendo brought mystery and expanded gameplay into the genre with Ace Attorney and Hotel Dusk, with both enjoying worldwide acclaim. More recently, Doki Doki Literature Club and Hatoful Boyfriend have achieved meme status due to their unique twists on the genre. So, considering this recent renaissance within the VN scene, can the release of a unique and imaginative 2012 VN on Switch cause a new stir?
Root Double -Before Crime * After Days has found its way to a number of platforms over the years. Originating on Xbox 360 and PC, it was updated to the Xtend edition with a port to PS3 and Vita. It is this version which has now landed on the eshop.
The game revolves around the mystery it builds in the first few moments and evolves throughout the 50ish hours of runtime to create a deep and varied sci-fi/horror/disaster movie/supernatural narrative full of twists and turns. As the focus is very much on the narrative I will briefly touch on the first five or so minutes but avoid any major spoilers. Initially you are presented with two routes to play, so I would recommend playing them in the correct order; A then B. I will also be avoiding talking about anything from route B whatsoever. If you intend to go into this completely unspoilt, however, I suggest you skip the next section.
Rokumei City in Japan is home to the large “6th Laboratory of Atomic and Biological Organization,” or LABO. Home to hundreds of workers, things start to go downhill following a number of tremors and explosions within the facility. Eventually, an nuclear meltdown is declared and the evacuation is halted, with the facility going into full lockdown. Unfortunately, the rescue team – Sirius – becomes trapped within the facility alongside a number of other individuals. To make things worse, the team captain (you!) ends up with amnesia and the whole facility is bathed in radiation, meaning everyone inside needs an hourly injection to counteract radiation poisoning…and the supply is running low…and things continue to explode…and the survivors can only access certain sections of the basement level of the facility. This opening occurs very quickly and throws you into the action after some well-delivered exposition. I honestly wasn’t expecting to be as drawn in as I was, and the way it is written draws you into the mystery. The plot evolves quickly from there and contains a fair amount of sci-fi logic and vaguely supernatural elements. Overall, the writing and plot are excellent, if a little wordy, and doesn’t feel over-extended with fan-service, unlike many similar games. Dialogue is meaningful and entertaining, and I found myself falling in love with certain characters whilst hating others. The narrative does pay off in the end thankfully and I was pleased with the big twist – I saw some elements of it coming but for the most part, I was taken by surprise.
Alongside this writing is the game’s singular actual gameplay element; the Senses Sympathy System. Each major character is represented as one of the nine types as found on the Enneagram of Personality, and this is represented visually in-game. At branching points, the player is tasked with adjusting the enneagram by increasing or decreasing your character’s impression of those he is interacting with. This then affects the actions he takes in dialogue. Whilst this does give the player some sense of choice, it also forces further introspection about his sense of the other survivors and really makes you consider the consequences of having one character’s section higher than that of others. Sometimes these events can be trivial, but at other times they can lead to life or death situations. Luckily, the game lets you know the gravity of the decision through a colour-coded system which I found incredibly helpful. There are many, many endings to discover within a playthrough, though I believe from my experience the majority of endings are deaths.
Yes, I died within the first five minutes. And what?
Visually and aurally I have no issues to report. The anime-like art style blends in some more realistic nuances to create a gritty, yet beautiful world. Granted, you do see some screens repeated due to the uniform nature of the LABO facility, but when more colour is integrated the backgrounds can be a sight to behold. Characters aren’t all over-designed boob-machines and are varied in their presentation, which I also appreciated. Whilst there isn’t any English VA that I can find, I found the background music and Japanese dub pleasing to the ear and the general sound effects helped immensely with immersion.
Do I think Root Double is going to set the world on fire or convert non-VN lovers to the niche genre? No, not at all. It suffers from the same pitfalls they all do; there isn’t a huge amount of interaction and there’s a lot of reading. However, for VN fans this is a must-play with a beautifully written sci-fi/supernatural twist and an extensive mystery to unravel.
Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend edition was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
If you fancy this game head here and purchased it for £35.99.
Enjoy the review? want to read more of our reviews? then click right here to be whisked away to the realm of our opinions.