Indie Review Visual Novel

Enigmarella – Review | A Different Birthday Surprise

Within Enigmarella’s 19th-century nautical steampunk universe, a passionate romance along with a deep-seated mystery entwined around a dreamy fiancé and a thorny suitor blossoms. Released on 28 February 2022 for PC (Windows), Enigmarella is an indie otome Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN) by Metal Dragon Studio. It tells of a heartfelt tale of love and hate centered around Alice Rahner — a rash and rebellious orphan who was not pleased at all to learn, on her 20th birthday, that she had been forced into an arranged marriage.

An Arranged Fate

What’s as intriguing as the premise of Enigmarella is its heart-stopping opening scene: Alice the protagonist was perched precariously atop a windowsill, ready to jump over to the big tree outside at a moment’s notice. Once a choice is made at this point, the writing skilfully uses the lingering tension as a hook while it teasingly brings players back to the very moment when everything began. Although there is no other hook as compelling as the opening’s found in the rest of the story, I was nevertheless constantly absorbed throughout my 20 hours with this otome visual novel. The strange whispers about a past murder case and Alice’s vague childhood memories kept me wanting to know more, whilst the lively interactions between various characters amused me to no end. Moreover, the two love interests’ hypnotizing gazes and charming behaviors were rather difficult to turn my attention away from.

Not much different from a typical romance visual novel’s structure, Enigmarella has a common route where your choices made will count towards which of the love interest’s routes you will get later in the game. However, unlike many otome visual novels, the choices made within a love interest’s route will lead to their own significantly different storylines and subsequent endings. It is not a simple affair of a final good or bad ending, but a system of closely related storylines with their unique sets of outcomes.

Overall, the common route is where most of the choice menus are found. Without many choice menus to break its narrative, the individual romance routes have longer consecutive story segments as a result. Though the pacing is generally fine, with some of the slower moments tolerated comfortably through the help of comical scenarios, there are times I would wonder when the next choice menu was going to finally appear and let me sway the course of the story once more. The individual routes may feel a little short on choice menus sometimes, but I love how unambiguous and succinct every choice menu’s set of prompts and choices is worded.

Due to how each route’s storyline is practically a standalone story in its own right, there is not really a play order to recommend. Still, for the sake of possibly preventing some major heartbreaks along the way, I would recommend one to complete Esmond’s route entirely before moving on to Faust’s route. A walkthrough guide written by the developer may be found on the game’s Steam Community page. On the walkthrough, one of the storylines under Faust’s route is marked as leading to the True Ending. I would also suggest leaving that particular storyline for the last as it holds some of the final answers to the central mystery of Enigmarella.

In addition, I recommend playing through all of Enigmarella’s storylines to gain the fullest understanding of nearly every character who appeared in the story and their relationships with one another. Endings, on the other hand, do not always reveal more secrets. For example, the early ending that can be obtained during the common route adds some light-heartedness but not crucial information. It will be necessary to find all 16 endings if you wish to populate the Art Gallery with the respective ending cards, though; each ending comes with a CG-like image card where a textual summary is shown beside a timeworn photograph representing the situation in that particular ending.

The Pompous Showman

The reason why I recommended playing Esmond Welles the showman’s route first is because this route can get particularly difficult to go through if you have ended up loving Faust beforehand. I made the mistake of playing Faust’s route first and the way he felt so dejected and distant in Esmond’s route stung me badly. Though, I believe the painful sting would still be present even if I had gone for Esmond’s route first. After all, during the common route, the pompous showman had already displayed more red flags than the number of red hairs his head could ever show whereas Faust was the epitome of a kind gentleman.

Esmond Welles (voiced by Simon Snashall) is the first love interest you will meet in Enigmarella. He could be extremely charming when he wanted to. Even when his well-cared face was all scrunched up like an overly dehydrated pickle and his honeyed voice was laced with malicious poison, the seething danger he radiated can be alluring. And that just about sums up what his entire route is like: overall, he’s bad news, and about half the time, dark and twisted.

There is a storyline in this route where Alice could give up trying to hog Esmond to herself, leading to neutral and safer outcomes. Despite the tamer turn of events, it is still quite a punishing storyline with some dismal moments to experience. The things that happen to Alice in this particular storyline are not unjustified, though. In fact, I wholeheartedly went “Welp, she deserved it” after following the jealousy-ridden protagonist who stubbornly chose not to let bygones be bygones on her whole bitter journey. While the lighter storyline leaves our terrible love interest in a more palatable light since Alice could outdo him in being the most awful person here, I actually find the other, darker storyline to be the best part about Esmond’s route.

 As if the common route doesn’t illustrate Esmond as a despicable and shameless man enough through his gleeful groping of the drunken Alice, the darker storyline rips the pretty mask off his face totally. For once, the showman left his fancy acts at the door and his true colors were bared. I cannot help but feel worried because this time, Alice had really put her head in the wolf’s mouth. In spite of the horrifying emotional abuse Esmond inflicted on Alice since the start of this storyline, the moment when Alice decided to selfishly hold onto Esmond regardless is when their accumulated darkness powerfully sparked the latter scenes alight. In particular, the (consensual) sex scene that occurred is so bleak, so lonely, and yet evocatively striking for the complex tumultuous emotions enveloping the pair in that moment.

Strictly speaking, there is no happy ending to be attained with Esmond; one could be considered lucky if Alice was not left distraught by the end of it all. That, however, does not mean Esmond’s route is pointless. Notwithstanding the fact that Esmond’s part of the central mystery is further elaborated, this route also exposes various sides of Esmond as well as Alice that would not get to manifest under vastly different situations. A deeper characterization of the main characters aside, Esmond’s route features a notably dark romance, which I find has been tastefully written with how it never tries to sidestep unpleasant events by romanticizing them or pretending they never happened. The road with Esmond can be brutal but it is certainly fitting given the couple’s backgrounds and personalities.

The Darling Husband

Faust Gherrling (voiced by Alex Wilson), on the other hand, was an absolute angel. His only fault, at least in Alice’s eyes, was that he was one she had been arranged to marry — and our free-spirited protagonist resented that she did not have a say in such a crucial personal matter at all.

Faust’s debut in Enigmarella may be later than Esmond’s, but he had the longest scenes during the common route. Unlike Esmond whose first appearance is fixed to only one location, Faust’s initial encounter with Alice happens at one of two possible locations depending on Alice’s choices. And no matter where Alice met him, his appearance was consistently so stunning, that he easily swept me off my feet both times. In one of the instances, he would look up at Alice by the window, wearing a winning smile that could melt anybody’s heart. In the other instance, he would playfully tease Alice, pretending to go along with her tall tale but slyly pick it apart by coming up with some of the funniest and most dramatic retorts. Alice would soon complain this husband of hers was insufferable, and I completely agree with her; Faust was very much endearingly insufferable.

On top of longer interactions with Alice in the common route, Faust also had a few more intimate moments with her. Those who love steamy scenes where the protagonist and the love interest went beyond kissing in their otome visual novels will not be disappointed with Enigmarella. Faust’s route, especially, contains three sex scenes scattered over three separate storylines. Just like the substantially different storylines they appear in, none of the sex scenes is boringly repeated. But other than being thoroughly healthy and positive with a constant sense of security and tender love felt throughout, the sex scenes between Faust and Alice did not particularly impress me. Instead, I enjoyed their immensely cute love confessions made at the library more. The epic moment when Faust had to fight while stark naked kept lingering on my mind too.

What did impress me is a particular side character’s side-story nested as part of a storyline within Faust’s route. There is no sex involved but the almost physically intimate moment bloomed into a raw and heartrending emotionally intimate moment nonetheless. In hindsight, it is coy of the writing to have presented the possibility of romancing a side character through this storyline in the first place. However, rather than feeling deceived, I was amazed at this segment’s clever use of the situation to make me sympathetic towards the said side character.

Besides the appeal of a universally acknowledged (at least in the world of Enigmarella) handsome and exceptional love interest, Faust’s route is a delight to play because it is only in one of his storylines where about everybody gets their good endings as well. Sadly, such a grand happy ending occurs in just one of his storylines. Furthermore, the pacing for this epilogue-like portion is quite awkward and has led me to wonder, more than once, when everything would finally conclude. There is no major emphasis that Alice was deeply concerned for her friends’ happiness prior to her taking the initiative to resolve things either, so this section of the storyline felt kind of out of place having occurred seemingly out of the blue. Nevertheless, the conclusion at the end of this storyline is satisfying.

The Anti-Heroine Orphan

An anti-heroine protagonist who can be wilfully stubborn and stupidly brave, Alice Rahner (voiced by Sophie Wilkinson) is the exact type of character I easily envy, love, and hate — all at the same time. In terms of age, Alice had past her teenage years and crossed into young adulthood. But in terms of her behavior, she was quite the teenager at heart and the youthful fire in her soul never once weakened. At times, her impulsiveness and blatant obliviousness annoyed me, and other times, her firm resolution to pursue whatever her heart desired astonished me. And once, her exasperated lamentation about it being so difficult to be her at times even made me want to laugh and cry due to how relatable that sentiment is.

On the whole, I like Alice while she was with Faust better. From the beginning of Enigmarella, Alice may have held childish grudges against one of her friends, but unlike the possessive green-eyed monster she became in Esmond’s route, she was more amiable and willing to open her heart to her friend in Faust’s route. Alice’s candid introspection about her married life is another interesting aspect of the newlyweds’ story; her uncertainty about how she should act around her husband is seriously adorable. Moreover, I simply cannot get enough of the hilarious bantering between Alice and Faust.

There are a total of 16 fates awaiting the young protagonist by the end of the final choices in various storylines. The early common route ending is one of the more light-hearted conclusions, though there are a few less cheery and even tragic ends. Unfortunately, none of the endings is as memorable as the journey itself and I find most closures to be abrupt.

The Mysterious World of Poseidia

Enigmarella has an element of mystery encompassing its main characters, starting from Alice’s fragmented memories to Esmond’s preoccupation with Alice’s locket and finally, Faust’s arranged marriage with Alice. However, the mystery is overall not a huge component of this otome visual novel and neither is it exactly the game’s strong suit. Major plot information is planted carefully inside several storylines and ending scenes, and while this has kept me invested in going through each storyline to collect those key revelations, the final puzzle put together is a let-down due to its noticeably jagged bits. I was especially looking forward to understanding the deal behind Alice’s locket but the answer provided is so regrettably inconclusive, I did not wish to find out why Esmond was hung up on such a puny accessory anymore. That said, there aren’t any glaring plot holes I noticed, only dangling loose threads that led frustratingly to nowhere.

Another lackluster aspect of Enigmarella is its generally minimal but passable world-building. Even though the story is described to be set inside a nautical steampunk universe, I never got a vivid impression regarding the “nautical” part. Other than the location’s name being Poseidia, some mentions about a tentacled creature of the Depths, the presence of sailors at the docks, and the on-off discussions of the seafaring life, there are not many indicators pointing towards the supposedly rich nautical aspect of the world. The entire cast spent nearly all their time on land and not at sea or on a ship. In addition, there are hardly any nautical aesthetics or motifs observed in the environment, fashion, and character designs. Perhaps the only noticeable things are the statue of Poseidon at the wedding hall and some of their navy-colored clothes. All in all, rather than a full-fledged nautical steampunk universe, what Enigmarella delivered feels more like a steampunk setting that just so happens to land beside an ocean.

The disappointment from a mystery not fully resolved and an underdeveloped nautical steampunk world sure weighed Enigmarella down. Fortunately, its cast of characters are able to carry the entire visual novel afloat. Their individually colorful personalities make them the most prominent stars in the game. Alice’s clique of unlikely friends, for instance, consisted of a pair of quibbling pals and an older sibling figure who was the most levelheaded and diplomatic out of the trio. The normally small yet dramatic arguments Alice had with Leah are entertaining in a way. Their petty name-callings are often a surprise with the myriad of new nouns both girls could creatively come up with to insult each other. I also love the dynamics between Faust and Esmond, where at one point, the former effortlessly thwarted the latter’s plan to keep his name a secret by a simple well-timed — or deliberately calculated — entrance. Throughout the story, there are plenty of hilarious moments despite the relatively small number of characters present. Most memorably, the unexpected words that spilled out of Leah’s mouth after she accidentally fell into a hole in the garden left me chuckling for a good ten minutes or so; I totally would have tumbled into the hole myself from my fit of laughter if I were there!

Visuals: A Realistic World With Some Haphazard Clutters

Complementing the characters’ spirited personalities are their dynamic facial expressions and body language. Rendered realistically in 2D, the character sprites of Enigmarella’s cast look wonderfully lifelike, what with the freckles and stubble. Apart from two or so minor side characters who have only one variant of their sprite and one who is shown as a static silhouette, all other character sprites come with at least two different expressions and unique poses. Alice and Faust also have more than one outfit variation, though Faust’s long-sleeved silk shirt looks somewhat mismatched as it seems to be rendered less meticulously than the rest of his body.

One remarkable highlight of the character sprites is how everyone’s special poses pair with their facial expressions perfectly. From her gleaming eyes and relaxed stance to her annoyed frown and tightly crossed arms, Alice’s ever-changing expression is a joy to watch. As for the love interests, Faust’s cunning smirk never fails to make my heart flutter, and Esmond’s wrinkled face with his teeth clenched around his thumb forms an unforgettably amusing sight.

Drawn with the same realistic art style used for the character sprites, the CGs in Enigmarella are vibrant and eye-catching. Of the 32 CGs, most of which depict one or more characters under various settings, I love the picturesque common route CG of Alice and Faust looking fondly into each other’s eyes the most. It is a mesmerizing sight with the soft rim lighting flowing down Faust’s wavy long hair and Alice’s side profile, which beautifully highlights the duo against the background dipped in a romantic purplish hue. If there is anything to nitpick, it would be the somewhat inconsistent depiction of Alice. In some CGs, the freckles on Alice’s face become invisible, and the locket worn around her neck looks different at times too. I also find certain CGs to have appeared way before they should, causing me some confusion when the narrative does not match up with what is currently displayed on-screen.

Similarly realistic-looking as the character sprite and CG art is the background art, though they generally look like photographs with a painting filter applied. While the background art suitably showcases multiple locations that pop up in the story, they sadly feel bland and do not bring out the core of Enigmarella’s nautical steampunk world.

The user interface (UI) design, like the matching dresses Alice and her friends wore, has a muted rustic color scheme. Brass borders surrounding the buttons on the main menu screen add another layer of steampunk vibes on top of the chosen color scheme. Some nautical steampunk elements can be spotted as well. For example, the credits screen is composed of weathered paper with a drawing of the Lord of the Depths and a neatly centered block of text written in a typewriter font. In-game, the visual novel’s ADV mode also comes with a subtle rectangular brass frame with round bolts that resembles a submarine’s porthole frame. Furthermore, the speaker’s portrait is enclosed within a rusty gear and the pause menu button is in the form of a similar toothed wheel one could find inside a mechanical pocket watch.

While most of the UI has a visually pleasing design, the Art Gallery screen does not look appealing to me. When no image has been seen yet, the dark grey placeholder images look terribly unattractive with the unusual and seemingly disorganized manner they are laid out in: two rows of rectangular images at the top and bottom of the screen, and three character silhouettes lined up side by side in the middle. I did not even notice the two emerald horizontal scrollbars for scrolling through the top and bottom gallery rows respectively until a bit more fiddling around later. Another component on the same screen that I initially did not notice is the very small and inconspicuous “Exit” button tucked away at the bottom right corner.

Ultimately, the Art Gallery screen is too ambitious in what it wants to be. It acts as the one-stop gallery for CGs, endings, unlockable extras, and music. The move to combine several sub-menu screens as one may be efficient, but the UI design does not really support a good user experience. Not only are the buttons and scrollbars placed at unintuitive locations, but there is also no way to view the music track names and control how they play or shuffle too. 

Audio: An Entire Story Brought to Life

Enigmarella is fully voiced in English and the voice acting in this otome OELVN is top-notch. All the voice artists are truly expressive and their voices made everything — be it character thoughts, conversations, or story events — much more immersive. There is never a boring moment in Sophie Wilkinson’s crisp and animated narration or her impeccable interpretation of the feisty protagonist. Simon Snashall lent a melodic voice to the snobby Esmond, and Alex Wilson made Faust the ideal husband even more dreamy with his soothing voice. Katy Federman has also put up an excellent performance with her natural yet fiery impersonation of Leah that made her dialogue lines sound a lot funnier than they read. Except for Alice’s exclusive voice artist, everyone voices more than one character in the visual novel, and it is an amazing treat to hear the range of accents and personalities each one of them is capable of.

In addition to a stellar cast of voice artists, Enigmarella features an enchanting original soundtrack by Nicolas Gasparini (Myuu). From the main portion of the game trailer alone, the magnificent medley of two music tracks evoked feelings of a curious but magical adventure, as well as the uncertainty yet optimism towards a brand new beginning in the future. Similarly rich emotions are brought forth in the otome visual novel through its orchestral background music, where some sang a sad empty tune, some warmed the heart gently, and some pranced around the darker side of fate.

Content Rating and Accessibility Aspects

Enigmarella is intended for a mature audience. The developer described the mature content in the game to contain some nudity, depictions of consensual sexual acts, alcohol abuse, some violence, and references to self-harm. Additional content warnings I would supplement include death, deceased parents, hostage situations, and pregnancy.

In terms of sexual content, there are a few sex scenes in Enigmarella, all of which are consensual and written non-explicitly. Kissing and caressing are described in plainer words, but the intercourse itself is alluded to using abstract poetic phrasings. Each sex scene is also accompanied by a single CG, which does not show any genitals but sometimes does depict the characters’ nude tops and bare butts in full view.

Built using Unity game engine, Enigmarella requires a mouse to play as it provides barely any keyboard support. Players may call up the in-game pause menu with the “Esc” key, use the spacebar to progress to the next line, and toggle the Skip function with the “K” key. However, any other interactions with the UI, such as the selection of a choice and dragging the slider of the volume channel, can only be done through mouse controls. The keyboard control for advancing to the next line is a little buggy too. Right before you press the spacebar, if you have previously clicked on the in-game menu button, the key press will also open or close the in-game menu. Luckily, one may swiftly unlink the spacebar from the in-game menu button by clicking anywhere else on the screen.

Under Settings, players may alter the individual volumes for the Master, Music, SFX, and Voice channels. There is a small “Mute” checkbox next to each channel but no “Mute All” button. The text speed may be changed under the same sub-menu too. 

While I’m used to using instantaneous text speed for all kinds of games, Enigmarella is one visual novel where I find it impossible to play with an instantaneous text speed — or any speeds where the texts show faster than the voice clips could narrate, for that matter. Several sentences are frequently grouped under the same line to be shown within the text box. And the awful part with the implementation is not only how the text box is not tall enough to display the entire line in full, but also how there is no way to scroll vertically within the text box to check earlier portions of the line. What’s more, there is no history backlog to fall back on should you miss any part of the previous line. When I used instantaneous text speed, I only got to see the ending sections of long-running lines and had to rely solely on the voice clip to hear what the entire line should read. When the text is displayed faster than what the voice clip says, I found it difficult to process the unsynchronised text and spoken words together. The only way I could enjoy this visual novel decently was by tuning the text speed to follow as closely to the voices as possible so that the words would work like subtitles playing in time with the audio.

Besides the Settings sub-menu, the in-game pause menu also shows five more buttons, namely:

  • “Quick Save” which lets you perform a quick save
  • “AutoPlay” which lets you toggle the AutoPlay mode
  • “Skip” which lets you toggle the Skip All mode
  • “Save” which lets you make a manual save in the Auto/Quick Save slot or one of the nine manual save slots
  • “Quick Save & Exit” which performs a quick save before returning you to the main menu screen.

To me, the best feature in Enigmarella is its AutoPlay mode. The Skip mode would have been useful in my subsequent playthroughs if only it actually skipped read lines rather than skip everything. And if it was to skip everything anyway, I would have preferred a “Skip to Next Choice” function instead since there are often long story chunks in between the choice menus. The “Save” button is quite the essential tool for me but the number of manual save slots available is sadly much fewer than the number of choice menus present in the game. Additionally, there is no “Load” button under the in-game pause menu, and I have to go through a roundabout procedure of exiting to the main menu and then loading a saved slot from there.

Some system functions are somewhat buggy as well. Notably, loading a save file will always reset the character sprites’ positions and they could later re-appear in the wrong position or outfit until the next sprite or scene change. During several ending scenes, the in-game pause menu would disappear completely too. The shortcut button would be gone and pressing the “Esc” key would do nothing, which means I could neither save my progress nor quit the game until I reach the ending screen.

A few ending card images have part of their texts cut off-screen due to the zoom-in applied, but they all can be reread via the Art Gallery. Another accessibility concern of note is a CG where there is plenty of text but none of it is captioned nor narrated in the game.


Put together with some suspense here and much humor there, Enigmarella is a mature otome OELVN featuring a peculiar mystery, an angel and devil pair of love interests, and many memorable moments. Whether you walk down the aisle with the angelic fiancé or play with fire with the devilish suitor, there is no lack of differently flavored romance to relish. Characters are also full of life by virtue of their realistic characterizations, animated movements, and excellent voice artists, so much so they brighten up the otherwise uninspiring nautical steampunk world. Barring some minor annoyances with certain aspects of the game system and UI, a rich tale regarding friends and foes, adoration, and animosity nevertheless awaits anyone who is willing to plunge into the world of Enigmarella.


Platforms: PC

If you would like to see more Visual Novels, you may be interested in our review of Bustafellows. Or some of our other Otome reviews.

Many thanks go to Metal Dragon Studio for a PC review code for this title.

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