In a strange way, I’m technically one of Root Double’s biggest fans. I mean, I must have been to have bought it on both of the original platforms it released in English on when it launched. I tend to struggle with playing visual novels on PC, so I had hoped that the Playstation Vita release would have helped me finish it up. Both of those versions were very good in their own right, but I wasn’t able to take a real deep dive into the game for various reasons. Well, it’s been a few years and now the Nintendo Switch stands strong as the best (in my humble opinion) to play visual novels.
Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition is the expanded release of a 2012 visual novel we never got in the west. It’s come a long way in eight years since being an Xbox 360 game, with Xtend offering more story content and being on a wide variety of platforms. Everything from that has been ported extremely well to the Switch, and I found it to be a perfect fit for my Switch Lite. The art assets are much higher quality than those in the Vita port, and taking it on the go or playing it in bed made the experience more enjoyable as a whole. A great feature I love to see on Switch visual novels, one that seems often overlooked more often than not, is the usage of the touch screen to advance dialogue. I’m thankful that this was brought over from the previous Vita release with no noticeable issues I encountered.
Outside of the port being very solid, the story remains just as complicated and engaging as it always has been. Now that I’ve managed to get past the first route that I had only half completed on Vita, there are a few gripes I had that brought down my experience more than I had hoped. However, on the whole I think the story hits more than it misses.
Root Double features two playable protagonists, and the game starts you with the option to play two stories: √After and √Before. In Rakumei City a terrible meltdown has occurred at the LABO Facility. And no, this facility doesn’t just make cardboard. The city’s rescue squad has been dispatched to the building, but don’t make it out in time before it gets locked down. The protagonist of this route, Watase, is the captain of said rescue squad and got amnesia after the lockdown became. The route is a thriller, showing Watase and the eight other people locked in trying to survive until the doors open back up.
Many visual novels look to differentiate themselves from their contemporaries by mixing up how they present their dialogue choice options. Sometimes this works, but sometimes they overcomplicate things. Root Double leans a bit closer to the latter than the former. Instead of choosing how the story branches with concrete dialogue options, Root Double features something called the Sense Sympathy System. Whenever a crucial moment comes up, a wheel shows up with the faces of all nine main characters. The player then has to input how they feel about each of characters currently affected by the decision. The game will then calculate how strong your feelings are to each character and then your decision will be made based on that.
I like the idea they had here to make players think carefully about how their actions could affect everyone around them, but it’s far too complicated for its own good. You get used to it, and I even grew to enjoy it slightly as time went on, but this can seem rather overwhelming for new players who might not be used to visual novels. After reaching the main ending for a route however, the game unlocks a way to automatically set the meters to get on whatever side of the branch you want. This doesn’t really help for those who only want one ending, but for visual novel completionists it’s quite nice.
While it might seem to be the best idea to play out the story in chronological order, I would strongly recommend playing them in alphabetical order instead. √Before is the story of a group of teens living out their normal lives at a gifted school for psychics days before the meltdown occurs. The protagonist is Natsuhiko Tenkawa, the son of one of the head researchers at LABO. He wants his days to continue being uninteresting, but unfortunately, fate has other plans for him and his friends.
Not only does √Before expect you to know the events of √After in a way as to give them subtle recontextualization, but personally I found that it just wouldn’t be a good way to kick off the story. √Before is where the game’s pacing starts suffering greatly. I feel visual novels frequently get criticized for poor pacing, but Root Double really takes the cake here. I’m okay with a slow story in a visual novel as long as the characters and plot are interesting enough to keep me entertained (Umineko and the entire SciADV series serve as great examples of this). That slow pacing was only manageable for me because I knew the context of √After, without that I don’t think I would have been able to stick with it to the end. While I don’t think the pacing picks up too well after √Before (if anything, it kind of gets slower), the story certainly gets a lot more engaging. It’s very difficult to discuss what happens after you finish the initial two routes, but despite some redundancies here and there I found them very enjoyable.
√Before’s characters and story are far from bad, but very little of it impressed me. There are a handful of amazing moments, but many of them were a tad predictable in my opinion. I really enjoyed Natsuhiko as a character, and there was a moment with him and his friend Louise that astounded me with how good it was, but the route unfortunately peaked there. The route’s biggest twist was one I was able to predict extremely early on, but thankfully the ending of the route was of very high quality and brought me back in. In my personal playthrough, I also found the ending a lot easier to get. There are a lot less characters to deal with in this story, so there are fewer people to keep in mind as you reach crucial moments. I was honestly surprised to find out that there were multiple endings, since it seemed like a fairly linear ordeal. I think √Before was the low point of the game, but that’s only natural when it exists as basically exposition between two action-packed parts of the experience. I do enjoy the majority of it being a change of tone from the rest of the experience though, while still managing to feel like a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Root Double is a decently long visual novel, with a full Japanese voice acting to back it up. The voice actors all sound very good, and that combined with solid art direction leads to a very engrossing atmosphere. Some of the character designs were a bit weird, but nothing outwardly bad. The original soundtrack is also quite great, but if I were to nitpick I feel they reuse tracks just a tad too much for such a long game. When it comes to budget in visual novels though, I always prefer the money going to voice acting. Overall, I was very satisfied with the presentation.
Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition has a lot of great ideas, and it executes many of them very well. Personally, I’d now say this Nintendo Switch version is the best way to play Root Double, but there’s isn’t really a bad way to experience this game to begin with. I probably seemed a bit too hard on the game in spots, but I really liked most of it. I think I just have unfortunately played too many other visual novels that tackle what this game set out to do that some of the reveals just didn’t work for me. Many of them do though, and it can be quite emotional and thrilling most of the time. It was nice to finally give Root Double the attention it deserved, even if it took me buying it on two other platforms first. If you enjoy science-themed mystery stories, you should definitely check out Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Sekai Games