An all-ages ADV about nine people trapped in the underground part of a lab with a nuclear reactor melting down in the center. Explosions happened simultaneously, the security system malfunctioned, areas are on fire, staircases are destroyed, and the gate that leads to the ground floor is tightly shut. Furthermore, the nuclear radiation level is rising by the minute and the drug that protects users from exposure to radiation is in short supply and has to be re-taken every hour. There are nine hours until the gate is scheduled to open.
The game is told from the perspective of two protagonists: rescue team leader Kasasagi Watase and high school student Tenkawa Natsuhiko. The story is split into various “routes,” with only route A and route B available from the start. Route A (After) throws the player straight into the danger with an amnesiac Watase trapped in the lab with two female colleagues, a young girl, a researcher who failed to escape in time, and a high school teacher. This is the route where one truly experiences the dangers of having to survive in a burning, radioactive underground lab with rooms that can burst in flames and stairways that can collapse at a moment’s notice. There is also suspicion of a murdering going around as they find some researchers and rescue team members dead from bullet wounds, and three high school students are also trapped in the lab but are nowhere to be found. Route A is probably the most suspenseful and gripping part of the story, with dangerous events at every corner and a large number of bad endings. Desperate to survive and unravel the secret behind the incident at the lab and Watase’s lost memories, the player will want to keep advancing the story without break.
Route B (Before) follows Natsuhiko starting from six days before the incident, and shifts the focus for the rest of the game. I suppose route A is pretty misleading in the expectations it brings because the rest of the game is rather different in tone. The suspense of being trapped in a deadly area with no memories is utilized only to move the opening route, whereas the rest of the game is centered around the concept of Beyond Communication (BC). It’s the year 2030, and what is known as telepathy is a scientifically-accepted ability present in a select number of the population. Telepathy (communicating one’s thoughts to another person) and empathy (reading another’s thoughts) are subsets of BC, which is the general name for a method of communication that involves transmission of “information” particles through air. What was once considered occult is now scientifically-backed, and Natsuhiko and his childhood friend Mashiro attend a high school for BC users. All the events in the game involve BC and BC users, as one will later find.
Going almost 180 degrees from route A, route B has a bunch of slice-of-life events with Natsuhiko, Mashiro, and the new transfer student whom they befriend. The events play out almost like a real galge, with cooking, shopping, and school events. It takes a while for the actual plot to start moving, to the point where you completely forget about the tension of route A. It does, however, provide insight into Natsuhiko’s and Mashiro’s characters and gives an opportunity for the player to get attached to the highschooler group since they were missing from most of the action in route A.
Clearing routes A and B unlocks route C (Current), and clearing the latter unlocks route D (Double), which is the grand finale. Despite being the portion of the story that should generate the most hype as the two protagonists finally team up, route D is bogged down by throwing the player lengthy flashbacks one after another. The flashbacks serve to flesh out every member of the primary cast, and while they do succeed in making the characters more likable, players looking for the roller coaster ride originally promised by route A will be disappointed. Unlike some other games with a similar trapped setup and a sci-fi background, there are no shocking brick-shitting twists although all the pieces of the story do fall in place nicely. The result is a more character-centric work (with a satisfying ending to boot) rather than a pure suspense adventure game, which is fine by my book.
One of the nice things about having two protagonists from different age groups (Watase is twice Natsuhiko’s age lol) is that you have an almost clean split between the adult and teenage cast. Natsuhiko’s side has a galge-like kind of setup that’s charming in its own right with childhood promises, cooking, and a genius loli transfer student, but on Watase’s side you get to see a group of adult strangers with clashing personalities react under an emergency situation. I can hardly count the amount of times my opinion on the adult characters flipped back and forth, Watase himself included. What’s neat to see is characters over the age of 30 having their ideals and worldviews challenged, undergoing change and growth as a part of their character development rather than being presented as hardened veterans leaving it to the young ‘uns. The older cast is more compelling than the young half, actually, and while it’s easier to step into Natsuhiko’s shoes, Watase’s development is more satisfying to see.
Rather than normal choices, Root Double presents an original system where you are given the opportunity to adjust certain characters’ “senses” at specific points. Each character’s senses can be anywhere from 0-8, and according to the situation, the same value of senses can mean different things. According to the game, a character’s senses represents their impression to others at that moment. For example, in the face of danger, raising Watase’s senses can make him more courageous, which is sometimes synonymous with recklessness. Raising another character’s sense can lead Watase to pay attention to them more, but caring too deeply at certain points can lead to mistakes and deaths. For example, a high senses may signify trust when Watase is in a pinch, but in another situation, raising a female character’s senses will cause an argument where Watase sees her as a woman first and professional rescue team member second. The senses system may be kind of vague at times (I consulted a walkthrough), but it does a good job of distancing the player from the narrator, and makes a whole lot of sense later on when you realize that who the player is playing as is, in fact, not who the player is seeing events through the eyes of.
The characters are designed by an artist who very obviously does eroge, so the girls are all cute and look like they came out of a moege. I’m fairly certain that there will be people who don’t think the style is fitting for a serious VN, but whatever, the main heroine has silver twintails and her design is godly. The coloring is nice and crisp, and even with the moege-like character designs, the CGs do depict serious and deadly situations properly with appropriate use of colors and doesn’t hesitate to put its heroines through some messy moments.
Root Double is an easy ADV to get into and enjoy. It’s one of the better all-ages visual novels in recent memory and will probably appeal to a wide audience. It doesn’t really have brick-shitting twists and the climax is kind of underwhelming with a poorly-paced final route, but I enjoyed the characters and seeing the pieces fall into place. Pacing complaints for the final stretch aside, there are few negatives that actively bothered me and the game rounds out into a solid experience. It might not leave that strong of an aftertaste (especially since I just finished Amatsukaze), but it does make for a compelling read.