Community Visual Novel Book Club - ENIGMA:

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93

Welcome to the 9th MetaCouncil visual novel book club!

For this book club we will be reading ENIGMA:, a visual novel about a world ravaged by a mysterious disease known as Enigma and a secluded island with a forest that bears the same name. The novel is approximately 100k words in English and a completionist playthrough estimated to take 13.5 hours on HLBT. Bookclub participants can obtain ENIGMA: on Steam, Itch.io, and from various key-sellers. The game is currently 50% off on Steam:


This is an informal book club, so there is no fixed schedule; you simply read the novel at your own pace, and share your thoughts along the way or when you are done reading. Just remember to use spoiler tags liberally. For general information and past and future book clubs, please see the main MetaCouncil Book Club thread; the main thread includes a preliminary schedule for the rest of 2020, but suggestions are very welcome for the rest of 2020 and beyond.​


The Story

The world is afflicted with a mysterious disease known as "The Enigma."
Chester, infected with this disease, finds himself washed onto a lonely island, Carlyle.

As he is being given a tour of the island by the girl who nursed him back to health, Chester finds himself feeling that something is off. There are no doctors from the mainland. Not only is there no information of the outside world, but the inhabitants seem entirely oblivious of the worldwide epidemic. It's as if this place has been completely removed from the rest of the world.

After a while, Chester finds a conspicuous white forest in the middle of a green expanse.

"That forest devours people. That's what I believe."

The forest's name is Enigma.
The same as the disease consuming his body.


[Taken from the Fruitbat Factory product page]​


Enhanced Graphics Fan-Patch
A fan-patch that upscales the graphics using Waifu2x (from 800x600 to 1440x1080) can be found here.​


Walkthrough
A guide to obtaining all endings can be found here.​


Next Month
The currently scheduled visual novel for June is G-senjou no Maou / The Devil on G-String (VNDB), a novel about the son of a gangster whose peaceful life is shattered when a beautiful girl named Usami Haru and a powerful gangster known only as "Maou" come to town.​
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93
So after a few delays, mainly involving finishing a way too long VN that I probably shouldn't have started on at this point in time, I have finished reading a route in ENIGMA:, and it has been pretty interesting. Lots of question raised, but not so many answers given yet.

The plot of the route is fairly straight forward (Chester arrives at the island, befriends Lauro, ends up fighting Envirio, and helps Lauro prepare for his own adventure before passing away), so I will mainly be focusing on all the details that caught my interest. The choices I made were as follow:

  1. Left (Cave)
  2. Borrow Greta's cabin
  3. It's no big deal
  4. Change the subject
  5. She must have suitors chasing her all over the town
  6. I'll be careful
  7. I can't go without telling Lauro anything
  8. I want you to run away

The VN starts out with a scene that almost seems to be addressed directly at the reader, though perhaps it is represents some (as of yet?) unseen observer that is involved in this story. The default name, 'Enixma', definitely seems connected to the central mystery, 'Enigma', but it is unclear how. Since I am just one route in, I'll just spitball and note that the name makes me think of a medicine (Ask your doctor if Enixma is right for you!), though that is obviously reaching.


The island
Speaking to Greta, Chester learns that he was in a ship-wreck, though he seemingly does not remember and despite there seemingly not being any ships nearby according to Greta, which immediately gave me Lost vibes. Greta also describes the island as an "uncertain existence", and we learn that both Chester and Genius believed that the island was located near their respective nations, suggesting that the island (or the entrance to the island) is mobile. The memory that Chester describes, of seeing a "long tunnel with white light at the end" lends credence to the hole in the barrier around the island being a gate, if it is not an outright allusion to this being the afterlife.

The suggestion raised that the barrier was there to keep something in made me wonder if the island was meant to contain Enigma (the disease and/or the forest), prior to the barrier breaking, while the seemingly mobile nature of the island made me wonder if it instead was meant to spread the disease somehow. Ignis does state that Envirio is inescapable, referring either to the disease or to the doll or to both, which could indicated that the disease is Envirio's influence reaching outside of the island.


The forest
The biggest mystery so far is probably the white forest, Enigma, and its avatar, Envirio #29. The forest is gaining color, seemingly obtained from humans when they die, and possibly as a reflection of the spread of the disease. The latter could explain Greta's negative reaction when Ignis describing this as "good", though she could also be fearing the result of the forest gaining color.

The avatar of the forest, Envirio Number 29, is another great mystery. The fact that "Envirio and the forest is one and the same" makes me wonder if this is the 29th doll, the 29th forest, or perhaps even the 29th island. And out of how many? In this route, we learn only about the surface-level motivations of this being, but not why the it act like it does.

The strength of the forest also seems to be influenced to the number of humans present, though it is unclear if it is the outsiders on the island, everyone on the island, or everyone on the planet that matters. The fact that the forest requires some, but not too many people, makes it sound like some sort of regulatory mechanism meant to control human population sizes.


The islanders
A few different threads also seem to converge on the minds of islanders; we have the regular folk that are seemingly missing something that the children still have, Ignis that is implied to have lost emotions due to Envirio, and Lauro who is easily manipulatable through hypnotism. The first two makes me wonder if the thing that is missing is "color", whatever that is, exactly. Maybe that is also why Ignis hair is white?

And is Ignis an outsider like Genius or somebody who was born on the island? He is explicitly identified as being of a different nationality, which could indicate the former, and the fact that he created Envirio could hint at his people being involved in the origin of this island.

Genius, the person who brought attention to this, is also worth a moment to ponder. Weirdly, Lauro did not seem familiar with this person, something that seems odd for such a small, insular community.


Misc
Who is El, who also caught Enigma in the early flashback? It is strongly implied that they are already dead, and I wonder if it could be the lover that Chester speaks about. Based on the fact that Chester's sprite was shown holding his pedant when talking about El, there could possibly be a picture of that person in that pedant. I also wonder if their gender was ever specified or if I simply missed it? That is something I have to keep an eye out for going forward.

One interesting bit of dialog was Chester describing himself as a "mirror image" of his mother. This made me think of Envirio, who is (also?) a bit of an androgynous character. Thinking back, I don't recall if Envirio was ever explicitly gendered, though I cannot be sure that I would have paid attention to that. Whether or not this has any significance is unclear as of yet.
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93
I finished reading the rest of Lauro's endings, so this post will be commenting on those. After that, I'll be doing Ignis route, and then Envirio. I managed to get all but one Lauro ending without a walkthrough (Starlit Skies), but going forward I will just be doing routes in order following the walkthrough in the OP.

The majority of interesting details were revealed in the common parts of this route, and there was not much new information in these endings. One interesting detail in the Journey ending, that I may simply have overlooked before, is that the sword that Ignis poses has a crest that is familiar to Chester. However, the significance of this was not clear. This ending also revealed the presence of an old ruins on the island, ruins that were unknown to Lauro. It seems almost self evident that these ruins are connected to Enigma somehow, but no details were given yet.

Another interesting detail is how vague the game is about the technological level of the world outside of the island. Chester's boat is most likely made of metal and is equipped with an engine, but details were intentionally kept sparse. My current best guess is that the world outside is at a level similar to that of the early 20th century (the global conflicts naturally draws parallels to WW1 and WW2), but that is mostly just speculation.

We also get a few more details about Envirio, in particular that she is waiting for "the Bride", though it is not clear who that is. Envirio also makes the statement that some "man is the only one capable of fulfilling the 29th Envirio", though it is not clear exactly who is being referred to. Interestingly, Envirio also seems to have some claim to Colotte's life, as seen in the endings centering around her, but the nature of this claim is unclear. However, those endings does include a statement comparing the islanders to livestock (IIRC), possibly in connection to the earlier statements that the forest needs people. Enviro's comments about Colette's color, being a hue of death, and her asking Colette what she could not live without, makes me wonder if color represents loss or perhaps strong emotions, something that would apply to both Colotte and Chester. Finally, we learn that Enviro #29 appears to be part of a sequence of dolls on this island, potentially answering my prior question about the number of islands, and suggesting that there is just one island/forest.

Aside from Colotte going a bit bonkers in a couple of the endings, we learn from her that her mother killed herself by throwing herself into the ocean, and that her father died trying to save her. The reason for this is unclear, but may also relate to villagers possibly having a role as livestock; possibly her mother was trying to avoid the fate of being devoured by the forest.

Finally, we get a comment from Genius in the Family ending, suggesting that he has some difficulty tracking time. This matches statements that he made earlier, but this one stood out to me and makes me wonder if there is some mechanism at play to keep the inhabitants on the island docile.
 

Zeloz Mk.II

Junior Member
May 1, 2020
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7
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So after a few delays, mainly involving finishing a way too long VN that I probably shouldn't have started on at this point in time, I have finished reading a route in ENIGMA:, and it has been pretty interesting.
Coincidentally, I've had to put a bookmark in the YU-NO Remake playthrough I started last month just to get started on this. No regrets there, though! This is an intriguing read thus far.

I'm roughly at the same point as you are regarding the Lauro endings, though I don't yet really have much to say that you haven't already commented on.

However, I would like to point out one odd thing:
The default name for the player/character the prologue speaks to seems to be randomly generated. The default name I was given was "Coder," which got me to thinking (if the name is relevant to the story at all) that the person reading off Chester's thoughts and actions (which I assume the diary present during the credits for each of the endings) is somehow relevant to the origins of Enigma.
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93
Coincidentally, I've had to put a bookmark in the YU-NO Remake playthrough I started last month just to get started on this. No regrets there, though! This is an intriguing read thus far.

I'm roughly at the same point as you are regarding the Lauro endings, though I don't yet really have much to say that you haven't already commented on.

However, I would like to point out one odd thing:
The default name for the player/character the prologue speaks to seems to be randomly generated. The default name I was given was "Coder," which got me to thinking (if the name is relevant to the story at all) that the person reading off Chester's thoughts and actions (which I assume the diary present during the credits for each of the endings) is somehow relevant to the origins of Enigma.
Yeah, it really is intriguing.
I've also heard a lot of good things about YU-NO, but I still haven't gotten to it myself. Hopefully some day in the near future.

The answer to your question is actually much simpler and much dumber than your suggestion.
I was gonna include that in my next post, but might as well post it now:
The name for this character that I speculated about in the first post was apparently something that I entered myself when I first picked up ENIGMA at the start of the month and then completely forgot about between then while I finished another VN. That was a bit of a bruh-moment when I found out while looking at LPs of that section of the game. I did consider the possibility that the name was randomly generated, but it turned out that it is always 'Coder' from looking at the game files.[/QUOTE]
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
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The following post covers Squall Ignis routes 1 - 7, leaving just the final Envirio routes:

A detail that I previously hadn't paid attention to (since I usually save at every choice and load those instead of starting over) was that the game will remember your chosen name if you start a new game. This route still did not answer who is being spoken to in the prologue, though it could be the "hero" that Greta and Ignis are waiting for in the 7th ending ('Waiting for a Hero'). This would match what the person in the intro says, both with regards to "future comrades" and his desire for that person to "end their story".

Ignis
The main thing we learn is that was part of a group that attempted to destroy Enigma, the cause of the disease bearing the same name, only to be wiped out by themselves. However, not before killing every other member of Greta's tribe. Ignis absence of emotions seems to be caused by Enigma, but it is unclear why he willingly creates dolls for Greta/Enigma, as he does not seem to be acting under any form of compulsion. Perhaps it is guilt over having killed Greta's family. We also learn that the barrier represents Ignis will and is his attempt at keeping in Enigma.

Greta
We learn that Greta is the last survivor of a tribe that protected Enigma, that she is the Bride (who I previously took to be some person not currently on the island), and that she has stopped aging because of this. Interestingly, Greta believes that Enigma is a force for good, that it will save the world, though that is by her own statements based on what her parents told her. If so, then that makes it a bit odd that Greta was apparently displeased by the forest gaining color in Lauro's routes.

Enigma
The role of Enigma keeps being an, well, enigma. Both Greta and Envirio seem to think that it is a force for good, but it is unclear in what sense. We are told by Envirio (IIRC) that Enigma is "nature" and that it desires coexistence, not destruction. I previously speculated if Enigma was a regulatory mechanism meant to control human population sizes, and this seems to support it. Enigma saving the world (as Greta describes it) does not necessarily mean saving humanity, on the contrary it could mean saving the world from human overpopulation.

The passage of Time
The inability to feel the passing of time is here extended from Genius to both Ignis and Greta. Both seem to think that their clash happened hundreds of years ago, but later Greta realizes that it happened much more recently. That may explain how one elderly villager could be familiar with Greta's tribe, whom he described as "madmen". This is possibly a result of the influence of Enigma, as we learn that the older islanders' behavior is due to Enigma eroding their personalities.

El
We learn the identity of El, namely Elliot, a childhood friend of Chester, and the person whose picture Chester is carrying around. While Chester denies it and describes the pendant as a "practical joke", I seems to me that they may have been in a romantic relationship. Other than Charlotte, romantic feelings generally seem to be left unsaid by characters in this game.
 

Zeloz Mk.II

Junior Member
May 1, 2020
5
7
3
I finished up the Envirio endings a few nights ago, and while I still haven't had time to jot down more specific impressions of the game, I really enjoyed this one! Went and watched the True ending twice since I accidentally stumbled upon it looking for the other endings the first time, and I kinda teared up both times.
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93
Finished ENIGMA: over the weekend, so this will be my last progress post.

Overall, I found ENIGMA: to be a really enjoyable read, with interesting mysteries and a good cast of characters. However, I also found the way the story ended to be a bit disappointing; too much was left unexplained and an ending that seems like an obvious sequel hook, despite no such sequel seems to be forthcoming. Still, it is definitely another mystery VN that I will be recommending going forward.

I ended up following the walk-through's recommendation of doing the True End (Envirio #1) last and I think that is a good piece of advice for anyone still reading. The up-scaled graphics mod (see OP) also worked very well, and I did not notice any graphical artifacts while reading, making it an obvious recommendation for anyone who has yet to start reading.

Envirio
The star of this route and probably of the game itself. I have a fondness for the trope involving inhuman characters growing more human, so both Ignis' and Envirio's routes hit a soft spot. By the end, Envirio has gained an identity and a set of desires separate from Enigma. This route also sees her grow much closer to understanding humans, whom she previously seemed to have viewed as being akin to plants; their death was insignificant so long as they left behind their seeds.

One complaint I have with this novel is how seemingly minor differences would cause characters to act drastically different. Both Colette and Envirio exemplified this and I felt that it undermined the character arc of Envirio to some degree. The problem was probably twofold: Too many ends required a wide range of behavior from the characters and the modest length of the novel meant that the differences didn't feel justified. This was particularly the case for Colotte, whose nuttier acts felt out of left field in most cases (Envirio blaming it on Enigma in her second ending doesn't really change this). And speaking of Colotte, we never do learn why her mother killed herself.

Genius
Even before the true end, it gets pretty obvious that Genius is not actually there; nobody knows who he is, his refusal to meet other people, his statement that he "can't promise anything", and even the coin that by his own statements (that he had lost something) tied him to the old ship wreck even before the reveal. However, while I enjoyed Genius as a character, his arch ultimately did not have much impact on the story; he was somebody that Chester occasionally chatted with, but he did not seem to have any actual impact on events that I can recall. Story-wise, it felt like a bit of padding.

Enigma
We finally learn what "color" is: The hope to survive, which seems weirdly specific. Not only that, it seems unproductive for Enigma (the disease) to be incurable if the goal is to cultivate such hope. To maximize hope, the disease should have some (small) chance of recovery, allowing victims to cling to that hope all the way to the end. But perhaps this is another reflection of Enigma's lack of understanding of humans; Envirio does mention manipulating the symptoms for this purpose, but she does not seem cognizant of the effect that knowledge of the disease being incurable would have on the victims.

We also never learn what the purpose or goal of Enigma was, which was one of those omissions which made me wonder if a sequel had been planned, or if the story had been cut short due to practical reasons. Is destroying Enigma, as Ignis planned and as seems to be the intended course of action for the Hero, even the right thing to do? Moreover, with Envirio walking her own path and Ignis returning to his former self, Enigma seemingly no longer has any way to acquire color. Yet the ending animation shows an Enigma that has seemingly gained color nonetheless.

Love
One question that I had wrestled with while reading ENIGMA: was whether or not Chester's relationships with Lauro and Ignis could have been romantic in nature. This route did perhaps answer that, as Chester reacts rather forcefully to Genius declaration of love ("That's definitely not something I'd like to hear from a man"). On the other hand, Lauro is described by Envirio as being a rare kind of man, suggesting perhaps that he is gay and that he perhaps has one-sided feelings for Chester, as may also be the case with Zazae. Of course, it is entirely possible that both Tai and Envirio is wrong, or that I have simply misread the text.

The Hero
The person in the prologue, YOU, did end up being the hero. There's not really much to say, unfortunately, due to the story ending with the arrival of The Hero on the island. I was quite satisfied with Chester's end, and the end itself did fit in the theme of "waiting for a hero" that ran through the entire story, but the fact that the story did not continue for the other characters (Envirio, Greta, Ignis, and Lauro) was a disappointment nonetheless.

Another question left unanswered was the identity of the man in the prologue as well as the significance of him seemingly telling you multiple, contradictory accounts of the island (since En's routes have to be unlocked). However, upon the prologue again, I realized that this scene shows the same tree that is implied to be the location Chester's grave in the epilogue (and probably the tree that En is resting against on the title screen), making the identity of the "young man" man seem obvious. It also explains what the purpose of Genius was; other than comic relief, he shows that the dead can linger and can commune with those close to death, perhaps including a person who nearly drowned.

This ended up being a bit rambling, so I think I will stop here.



The thread for next month's bookclub, for G-senjou no Maou / The Devil on G-String, will be going up on Monday and I hope that you will join me then.
 
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Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
523
784
93
The 10th VN Book Club thread is now up and as I mentioned before we will be reading G-senjou no Maou / The Devil on G-String.

Thank you to everyone who joined in reading ENIGMA:!
This thread will of course remain open, and I hope that you will still share your thoughts if you are not yet done reading ENIGMA: or if you find this thread at a later date.