[VN] Root Double

Root Double

A thoroughly entertaining if not particularly memorable or mind-blowing action thriller about a group of people getting stuck in a melting nuclear power plant.

Release: 2012 (Yeti)
Writers:  Tsukishima Souki (Secret Game 2nd Stage)
                    A – 4/5
                    B – 4/5
                    C/D – 3/5

Japanese difficulty: Easy (except for a few scientific excerpts)
English: Regista/Lemnisca/Sekai Project
Ratings: VNDB (8.66); EGS (8.22)

Root Double

Now, the first thing that everyone will want to compare Root Double to is Ever17 as besides the two possessing a very similar premise both were directed by the same person. However, I personally feel that is not a very apt comparison, as besides the superficial, I found very little similar between the two works. While Ever 17 reads like a slow paced speculative science fiction novel that takes its time to ponder various philosophical themes and scientific ideas, Root Double is more of an exciting and fast paced action thriller with likable and relatable if not particularly memorable or overly complex cast.

Basically, if you felt that Ever17 was too slow and its characters spent too long on discussing abstract crap before jumping into all the cool twists and action, then Root Double is right up your alley. At the same time, you might be disappointed if you expect the latter to offer you anything exceptionally mind-blowing or profound.

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Root Double can be roughly divided into three parts. The fast paced and exciting action thriller part (A) where everyone is stuck and trying to figure out a way out of the nuclear power plant. The kinda slower paced school slice of life with mystery undertones part (B) that fleshes out the characters and the setting. And finally, the third part (C/D) is comprised of extensive flashbacks that eventually lead to solving the case to the slightest detail (to too much detail in fact, as the pacing suffers a serious blow there and if you see people complaining about the game, it’s usually this part).

As far as my experience went, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire first part — the plot’s tight as you move from one mystery and twist to another, and the characters are interesting and likable enough to keep you fully invested in the whole thing. There is little to complain about this part except for that it might not feel too profound — with one exciting thing happening after another there’s little time left for introspection or philosophizing. But as far as pure enjoyment is concerned, this part’s top-notch.

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The second part (B) concentrates on Natsuhiko’s life in school, and later him and his friends investigating suspicious activities in town. The plot slows down a little and spends quite a bit of time on explaining the setting and the psychic powers that are a big part of the story (they seem to be inspired by a couple scientific concepts, like dark energy, but the relation with the actual science is so thin it’s at best soft science fiction). In any case, while this part did not keep me on the edge of my seat like the previous one, I still found a lot of things to like, as besides both the plot and the setting still being “twisty” and entertaining enough, my interest was piqued by one of the Natsuhiko’s weirder friends, Salyu, whose brain is allegedly incapable of empathy. It’s a bit unfortunate that the rest of the cast are as stereotypical as anime characters get and despite being likable aren’t really that interesting. Luckily, the plot concentrates mostly on Salyu and investigating the mysteries rather than stagnating on boring slice of life.

Unfortunately, the introduction of the psychic powers makes a few mysteries in the first part come off as pretty cheap and convoluted (as if the only reason they were there was to add false tension). But at the same time, Root Double goes out of its way to make sure you understand the rules those powers follow, and despite a few cheap shots, builds its mysteries around the supernatural without shooting itself in the foot and breaking the suspension of disbelief (for the most part). What does take a heavier hit, however, is probably what could have been the most profound concept in RD — the depiction of Swan Song-like deterioration of human nature in high-strung conditions. It just doesn’t work if you introduce a tool that can artificially mess with people’s minds.

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The third part (C/D) returns underground and despite supposedly being just a few hours from the conclusion takes the longest of the three parts. You have to get through a bunch of extended flashbacks and learn every single tiniest detail about the past of pretty much every single character to get the ending, and while some of them shed some new light on the setting and the character personalities, most are just reiterations of things you’ve already been told or could’ve figured out by yourself. It doesn’t help that all the characters besides Salyu, while likable enough to remain mildly entertaining within a tense fast-paced plot, are painfully stereotypical and thus not interesting enough to warrant painstaking flashbacks of their boring lives.

I personally think that the game would’ve been significantly improved if it cut 3/4 of those (and while Extended Edition makes a lot of them optional, it’s not nearly enough). Luckily, after you get those flashbacks out of the way (I wouldn’t blame you for skimming through most of them), you get some pretty cool endings (though you’ll probably have to use a walkthrough to actually get the best conclusion).

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Root Double isn’t the most memorable or mind-blowing work I’ve ever read, and while it almost lost me on the later half, the cool ending made up for it, and I most certainly enjoyed the overall experience. Definitely one of the better VNs I’ve read lately. I think it could’ve been a little bit better if it attempted a couple more original ideas and didn’t shy away from more mature / darker themes (there were parts where it felt like it was pulling punches for the aa crowd). It reminded me more of an anime or a jrpg, than what I’m used to seeing in 18+ VNs.

…I also get the feeling I would’ve enjoyed Root Double more if it had ero content, since in that case the game would’ve been forced to develop its romances a little bit better. xD

Positive: Negative:
Nice opening song Very basic, bland prose
Good if not particularly memorable OST Character designs feel a bit too cutesy for the kind of story RD is
Interesting, relatively complex, fleshed-out setting of a psychic society Characters, while likable, are very stereotypical and not particularly interesting or memorable
Likable, relatable, fleshed-out characters The story doesn’t really attempt anything particularly novel or mind-blowing
Engrossing plot full of twists and mysteries The extensive flashbacks in D route are both boring and kill the pacing
Good, fast pacing in A and B routes Tends to treat the readers like dunces, repeating already redundant explanations multiple times
A whole lot of bad endings to explore The storytelling lacks subtlety, giving black & white answers to everything
Relatively satisfying final endings The introduction of supernatural cheapens a couple of twists
Although a bit juvenile in approach, kinda thought-provoking on the effect memories have on one’s personality Attempts at romance are pretty underwhelming (it’s barely even there)
An interesting alternative to choices in the form of senses / empathy system (although it makes things very convoluted too) Doesn’t offer much from the science-fiction perspective

 

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