The story of Root Double Before Crime*After Days: Xtend Edition opens from the perspective of an amnesiac rescue team captain trapped in a locked-down nuclear facility on the verge of meltdown. A fictional drug exists to dramatically mitigate the adverse effects of radiation, but the effect only lasts an hour and the supply available to the survivors is extremely limited. On top of that, seemingly unrelated mysteries about ghosts, terrorists, telepathy, and scientific research quickly arise to thicken the plot and heighten the intrigue. All of those ideas are thoroughly explored and even if you find the explanation of how elementary particles facilitate direct mind-to-mind communication a little dry, that hard sci-fi element ends up being the script’s strongest asset. Even scrubbing through the TIPS section to learn about Chernobyl was more compelling than a good deal of the script.
Although the setting seems novel at first (get it — because it’s a “visual novel?”), it manages to neatly conform into into a sinking ship scenario. It employs a number of Uchikoshi-ims, as if to intentionally paint by the numbers. Early on you discover that the lockdown is set to last nine hours, that the facility had a similar disaster nine years ago, and that there are nine principal characters based on the Enneagram of Personality. I actually had to double check that Kotaro Uchikoshi (of Zero Escape fame) wasn’t on the writing staff, although Root Double’s director, Takumi Nakazawa, also directed and co-wrote the Infinity Series games with him. Considering the excellence of the Infinity Series scripts, it’s unfortunate that the things Root Double does differently are mostly for the worse.
The first route I played was exciting, evocative, and well paced, but all the others doubled down on a foundation of pathos and repetition. It’s not uncommon, in the middle of a tense situation, for a character to suddenly reflect on the past 15 years of their life, even if they’ve already done so once before. Yes, it’s certainly fulfilling to learn the characters’ backstories and motivations; however, it’s often presented in meticulous detail more than once. At worst, Root Double will literally feed you the same scene multiple times, occasionally with painfully minute alterations.
A lot of the pacing troubles come with the game’s focus on an unconventional timeline. It frequently stacks different points of time on top of each other in unexpected ways, which is cool, but the game doesn’t know how to seamlessly weave such diversions into the greater tapestry of its narrative. There are specific moments that really pay off after a careful setup, but they’re unfortunately in the minority and I don’t think they’re great enough to offset the poor pacing throughout. The internal logic presented to support this style of storytelling is sound, but that doesn’t make the execution any easier to swallow.
The route decision system here is unique and fairly well done. Rather than selecting a choice from a list, you assign an empathy value to every character involved in the branching point. This results in you teaming up with a different group, prioritizing a different course of action, or deciding who gets some of that precious radiation medication all based on your feels. The mechanics are clearly just hiding a very standard list of choices behind an essentially superfluous user interface, but the act of reasoning out why and how changing your feelings towards another character brings about those changes is actually pretty powerful. It’s a system that could use some tweaks, but for an initial implementation I was impressed.
Beyond the text itself, I have very few complaints about Root Double. The music is a notch above serviceable, the background art is plentiful and beautiful, and the UI is crisp, easy to use, and fully featured. That being said, I did not find myself a fan of the bobble headed character designs, even as a self-proclaimed fan of all things Japanese.
Root Double has some really cool ideas, both in terms of story and mechanics, but it also has a complete lack of restraint. It shamelessly rehashes known information and reiterates character motivations, completely losing perspective on what it does well. I like to think that an aggressive pass by a good editor is all it would take to make this something great, but as it stands I’d encourage you to find a piece of literature that better respects your time and memory retention.