Developed by Uzumeya, Enigma is a visual novel that takes place in a world where most of the mainland has been ravaged by mysterious illness. Chester, a young man that happen to contracted the illness find himself washed ashore on a remote island – one that isn’t even apart of any modern map. The only two noteworthy features: a small village unaccepting of those from the outside world and a mysterious forest that is said to devour people. It’s name is Enigma, the very same name of the disease Chester is infected with and now in the terminal stages – his life nearly at its end and this island likely to be his resting place. Are the two somehow connected?
Genre: Visual Novel (Fantasy)
System: PC (via Steam or Fruitbat Store)
From the start, one of the most standout qualities of Enigma would have to be its atmosphere. More apart of the aesthetics (music and visuals in particular) than anything else, the setting itself does convey and hold a lot of old-world charm – something that you don’t usually get or let alone see in most titles. If I had to actually describe it or liken it to anything in today’s market – I would say that the style and ambience is highly reminiscent of Gust’s Atelier series (Totori and Ayesha to be more specific) with a few glaring and obvious differences. Of course, the narrative is far from the light and saccharine as it does sort of dip into more morbid territory as Chester learns more and more about the island and the forces at work. Although, for the first few opening hours, the pacing is a little bit on the moderate side as the player is introduced to the main cast and reinforces certain relationships/dynamics that do come up later on. As much as you will probably find yourself hard press to continue at more brisk pace, the character introductions and information you learn about them does make the slower pacing worth it and pays off as you begin to veer deeper into their own little arcs and personal stories that do make up a small part of the overall story and contributes to various endings. That being said, it does take a significant amount of legwork to piece everything together and see all the possible scenarios (a little more than the standard scheme for novels), but in the end, shouldn’t take any more than 20-25 hours in order to round everything off and get to the end. Not exactly anything that you can finish in a day or two, but for those seeking a medium size experience it should be more than sufficient. Just make sure you keep a box of tissues handy for some of the alternate endings: they just heartbreaking.
When it comes to features, Enigma doesn’t really reinvent the wheel when comes to the user experience or truly fixes anything that wasn’t broken in the first place. The menus are easy navigate and accessible, options contain a fair amount of customization for a smoother reading experience, and the form factor makes for a nice marriage between the visuals and text. There is an option to jump to full screen mode, but like with most products, it does sort of hurt the visual quality as well as leave the conspicuous black borders most people will be familiar with. Not anything that adds a detrimental mark to the game or player experience themselves, but like a lot titles that tend to be done by a independent teams or even more vetted ones, it wasn’t design with full screen in mind, so it is something that most players would also be sure to take note of. Other than the user experience and some miscellaneous options, there really isn’t much else in this category that falls into the objectionable or extraordinary range to speak of.
Being the premier work for Uzumeya in the west, Enigma is actually a nice showcase of what they can do and capable of. As aforementioned, the artwork and musical score is very well done, with the musical score having a certain Celetic or Gaelic flavor to it; most of the tracks using a wide range of woodwinds or woodwind-like sounds. On the other hand, the artwork seems to have a very simplistic and unique style, most of the character design seeming to have this familiar, yet exotic look that doesn’t seem that out of place within the context of the story, but also not that plain either. Looking at most of the character designs for the males, they do seem to have a bit of an otome or shoujo style influence, something that isn’t surprising since Uzumeya is a studio that is described as having most of its work appealing to the female demographic. You really can’t reliably tell that from this title, yet there is a vague sense of it and might be something that manifest itself in later works to come.
Seeing how this a new work from a relatively unknown (from western standards at least), I really do hope that we do see new works from them in future. With a lot of newcomers and professionals hoping onboard on the trending popularity of visual novels in the west, Enigma is one that falls into the “good enough” category and likely to be passed over. Even so, looking at the content, it does appear to be for the crowd that has a voracious appetite for more story driven narratives and one reason to give it a try. With this year being a great boon for the genre and still a few titles to trickle down the pipeline, Enigma is a worthy pick up in its own right and certainly one you will probably want to add your list.
Pros: Music and visuals builds atmosphere, organized menus, narrative actually has some nice developments as soon as pacing picks up, production assets/fidelity is nice and high quality for an independent developer.
Cons: pacing slightly slow near the beginning, additional scenario ends take some time to get to.
Final Verdict: It’s a intriguing and bizarre fantasy world, but one that I will say is well worth the journey. With a few twist and turns, beautiful soundtrack, and equally charming artwork, it is a title that will captivate you until its end. A nice pickup for beginners and veterans alike, especially those that like narrative driven pieces.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Fruitbat Factory. All images and rights to them belong to Fruitbat Factory/Uzumeya and only for review purposes.