ENIGMA: ReviewAmy Hazel
Somewhere off the coast of the mainland is an island that no one has ever heard about. It cannot be found on a map nor do any rumors travel among even the most hardened sailors of its existence. However, for those few that find themselves washed ashore to this small refuge, they will discover that Carlyle is just as cut-off from the outside world as the rest of the world is from it. There are no doctors, outsiders are mostly shunned or ignored and a blind eye is turned to even the most world impacting news - news such as the spread of an epidemic known as Enigma, a deadly disease that destroys the body completely from the inside out. Welcome to Carlyle: where quaint island life is the expected norm; where a wandering doll brings death and misfortune in her wake; and where a pure white forest is slowly transforming into a lush green...a forest that is said to devour people. A forest named Enigma.
This is where our protagonist, Chester, awakens after a supposed accident at sea left him washed up on the shores of Carlyle. Saved by a young woman by the name of Colette and her brother Lauro, Chester is soon introduced to the island's herbalist, Greta and given a tour of the small island. Although it is no news to Chester, Greta quickly discovers that he is infected with Enigma and has only a very short time left to live; but since this journey was his last breath of adventure as it was, he figured Carlyle would be as good a place as any to make his final destination. However, he quickly learns that Carlyle is something of a mysterious place that very few outsiders ever visit and of those that have, none ever leave. Chancing upon another outsider that resides upon the island gives Chester an alternative perspective of Carlyle's everyday life and inhabitants, even mentioning that all of the adults seem to be missing "something" - a certain something that the children still seem to have intact, but he can never quite place it. Yet that is far from the only thing that is strange as the white forest and word of a doll wandering amidst it seems to keep everyone on edge with little explanation. It is from this point onward that the story twists and turns through various outcomes as Chester encounters and befriends different characters, impacts their lives and ultimately reaches the end of his own. The mystery has only just begun...
ENIGMA: is a fantasy mystery visual novel developed and produced by Uzumeya and Fruitbat Factory that leads players through an emotional story driven game where choices can heavily impact the overall outcome. There are 20 different possible endings to encounter and unlock throughout the game; and while that may seem like a lot, every one of them flows synonymously with the story and never feels out of place or too far-fetched. Additionally, the natural flow in which players will discover many of the endings will give insight into particular points of information regarding certain occurrences, settings and characters which will be useful when later endings are discovered - meaning that the game will not needlessly repeat information that the player should have already picked up previously and will assume that it is known by this point. Of course, depending on order that may lead to a particular path being confusing for a time, but as visual novels usually come together once they are fully completed, it will all make sense in due time no matter which order choices are made. So worry not! Now onward to look at what this game is really made of -
Without going into much more detail than has already been mentioned, the story is truly the star of any visual novel experience and the writing for ENIGMA: is extremely well done. Sure, it has a fairly foreshadowing ending no matter what path is taken (the main character is infected with an incurable disease, after all); but it almost becomes more about how he impacts those around him and ultimately reaches that end rather than any attempt at trying to forestall or alter that outcome. The character cast is so diverse and they change and grow right before the player's eyes through their words, their expressions and their actions. The fantasy and mystery aspects of the story shine through constantly as well with elements of magic, lost tribes, talk of heroes, the people of the island and so much more. Players are given information steadily but will never fully understand the why of everything until the very end and it makes each playthrough hold promise of some knowledge to gain as well as a new outcome.
In relation to the story, one feature that really stood out was how you truly come to know the characters through their interactions with each other. Take for example a small moment from the game in which Chester meets with a newly introduced side character named Lyona. In but one short conversation, players not only discover a depth to Lyona's character but also see a glimpse of how quickly Chester can relate and make a significant positive change in that character's life and viewpoint. It doesn't have to explain why Lyona is there or what makes Chester special, it just happens and the player can feel it effortlessly. Much like the entire story itself, the characters are so much more than simply two-dimensional. They may appear as one thing at first, but as Chester begins to interact with them more, their personalities seem to blossom and their true intentions come to light - whether that be for better or for worse. An overprotective younger brother may come to understand his shortcomings and learn to stand up for himself and embrace his yearning for knowledge and adventure or perhaps a misunderstood individual grows into a most trusted companion and friend with a quirky sense of sarcasm to accompany his mysterious nature. Even Chester, with his constant smile and positive outlook, holds far more troublesome secrets than just his swiftly deteriorating life force. The characters are beautiful, fun, mysterious and adoring and their personalities speak for themselves without anyone ever having to point them out. Bringing characters to life so naturally can be a hard thing to come by; but in the end, the characters not only became a joy to experience throughout the game, but remained long after it was over as well.
Another aspect that can aid in fully encompassing you into a story lies within its music and art style. From serene and haunting piano melodies dancing throughout the piece to slower, darker tones as the mood requires to playful wind and string accompaniments that easily fit within a fantastical forest setting; the music seamlessly transports the player directly into whatever setting the characters are currently in. Additionally, the opening and ending themes are simply magical and capture the essence, beauty and emotion of the game perfectly (and bonus: they are included as a mini soundtrack when you purchase the game). There are a few different art styles utilized throughout the game as well and they all meld wonderfully from the main in-game character and background designs to the full CG scenes. Softer anime styles are used at times as well as almost tribal, dreamlike images and despite the content varying from comedic to quite gore intensive it never feels out of sync with the overall feel and style of the game as a whole. The gallery holds over 5 pages worth of CG art to unlock throughout all playthroughs of the game and every single piece of it is worth discovering!
Keep in mind this title is rated Mature for a reason. There is quite a bit of colorful language throughout its entirety, but this rating shines through in other aspects even more prevalently. It weaves a beautiful and emotional tale and while a majority of the content remains at a more moderate level, it is within the endings that there is a drastic shift from sweet and sad to truly dark and twisted. However, while there is no doubt in my mind that this rating is deserved, the content earning this warning is never thrown directly into the players face; oh no, it is expertly implied in a way that leaves no doubt in anyone's mind as to what truly has occurred. It is written in the characters dialogue and in the expressions on their faces. The player knows exactly what is about to be revealed. When the CG scene at the end finally shows up it never depicts the entirety of the truth, but it is always enough to solidify whatever guesses were made as fact. It is extremely well done and there are a few endings in particular that have stayed with me long after they finished simply because of how they were executed - disturbed expressions, shifting eyes, an eerie calmness and it all built up to that final scene that perfectly set it all into place. A truly rewarding - and at times disturbing - experience that makes every twist, turn and replay of the story well worth it.
Sometimes it takes someone who is dying to make others realize their own potential to survive and truly live. Death is something that takes us away from our lives against our will - a step into the unknown that even those who have come to terms with it may never be truly unafraid of. Who would have thought that a war-torn soldier who felt he spent his entire life running away could have such an immense impact on those around him - more than he could ever know. In the end, ENIGMA: offers a truly enchanting experience with plenty of replay value (taking around 12-15 hours to 100%) and will be available on Steam November 15th with achievements and trading cards.
Come and listen to a story: A story of strangers and friends drawn together by death and life. All waiting for the day when a true hero would arrive; and knowing when that day came that they would be there to guide them.
"Those that remember me...will keep me alive."
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Just a happy-go-lucky girl working in the gaming industry and spending nearly all her spare time writing, recording music, working on cosplay, watching anime and horror movies, and trying not to obsess over getting that 100% completion rating on every game she touches.
About the Author: Amy Hazel
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