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Review: The VII Enigma

27 Jan 2022

Is anyone else tired of some modern games not being able to put forth clear narratives? I recently experienced this with The Good Life, SWERY’s newest title, and now find myself in the same boat with The VII Enigma, a character-driven sci-fi mystery visual novel developed and published on PC via Steam by Spire Games.

Perhaps it wasn’t done on purpose, and I can certainly understand the appeal of wanting to tell a larger-than-life story. But an important part of good story-telling is adequate cohesiveness, and I find myself getting frustrated when that is not delivered.

Back to the Past

The VII Enigma lives up to its name, if for no other reason than the story itself being kind of impossible to take in. You experience most of the events through the eyes of Dr. Elijah Shaw, a mysterious man who doesn’t remember anything but finds himself in the midst of a plot to overthrow a shadowy organization that controls information from the future.

The cause of Elijah’s amnesia is one of the game’s biggest mysteries, but for the most part, it takes a back seat to the more immediate plot, which is the happenings of a man named Iker and his group. They are people in society that are dissatisfied with the organization that runs their world for different reasons, among them their need for absolute control and negligence of certain members of the existing population.

These feelings cause them to eventually heed the message of someone called “The Founder,” a mysterious entity from the future who sends them orders so that they can take down the main antagonist organization, “BOSC.” One of those orders included saving Elijah from his initial capture and interrogation by a police officer named Beckett, so it’s at this point that the two groups meet. Most of the game is spent traveling from place to place attempting to follow the Founder’s instructions and running from Beckett, who becomes obsessed with finding Elijah and crushing the group.

Now, I will preface this part of my review by saying that sci-fi is not my favorite genre. I have strict criteria for when I like sci-fi and at the top of that list is that it has to be done well. I do not feel like The VII Enigma did that. The story is convoluted and gets way too hard to follow at some points.

For example, the game takes its time explaining the concept of the “tempus system,” a device that allows information to be sent from the future to the past. While it seems like Spire Games based these explanations on the real laws of physics, my reaction was not one of interest but rather of confusion. I often felt myself resonating with the one character who kept asking for layman explanations. Much of the game is this way. It tries to pack too much information, based on complicated concepts, into the story-telling and this definitely bogs what could have been an interesting premise down.

The premise is not the only thing shaky about The VII Enigma. I also struggled to connect with a lot of its characters, despite each member of the cast having their own backstories and motivations. For starters, we have Iker, the group’s leader. He is presented as a reliable person with a major sense of justice, but ironically has no qualms about doing some questionable things to Elijah when you choose the wrong option in the game. Other characters like Amelia or Levi come off as very one-dimensional, with the former relentlessly flirting or making sexually charged jokes towards Iker despite none of it being reciprocated or funny, and the latter being unable to think outside his role as a musclehead despite living in the year 2060 where convoluted concepts are a thing.

The two more likable characters are Jasper and Zyla, but despite their more interesting backstories (one use to work for the evil organization you’re trying to bring down and the other comes from an abusive orphanage), they still feel pretty flat for most of the game. Elijah himself is no better as a protagonist until much later, but this is mostly due to him having nothing to contribute as an amnesiac. He does become more interesting once you uncover more about his backstory but it’s a painful journey to get there.

The villains are not much better. Beckett, the agent who initially finds and questions Elijah, is ruthless in his pursuit. While his backstory explains the reason why, it felt very much like a caricature of those types of characters. The hardass cop who loses a parent and takes their final words as law. BOSC felt much the same. They initially saved the world from a deadly pandemic but then decided to take power for themselves and, using information from the future, continued to exert more and more control until they couldn’t be challenged.

The unfortunate part about all this is that there were characters I was interested in getting to know, but they were only brought up at specific times and not explored as thoroughly (looking at you Tarah).

In terms of gameplay, The VII Enigma is a visual novel with a basic two-or-three-choice system. This wouldn’t be worth mentioning except for the fact that I am unsure why Spire Games even opted to have choices in this game. Was it so they could say there were multiple endings? I don’t get it.

The game is VERY linear; it isn’t until the much later chapters that you actually have some divergence in the story’s actual endings. It has a lot of “bad” endings you can get, but that just comes with choosing the wrong option out of the two when Elijah is prompted. Having options at all mostly felt like a waste of time and provided a false sense of control since you were immediately punished for choosing what you actually wanted to do. I did get a little excited when I saw that you’re able to experience the story through the lens of a few of the other characters and choose their actions as well, but this followed the same premise as what I just mentioned so I was instantly disappointed.

Overall, I did not enjoy my time with The VII Enigma. That’s not something I am happy about given the fact it’s a game you have to pay attention to and can feel kind of long if you’re not enjoying yourself.

Saved by the Beats

Here I can talk about something positive in regards to The VII Enigma: the music is actually pretty good. Spire Games boasted more than 30 tracks for this game and most of them were fitting. The beats get your heart racing when they needed to and kept up with the sense of mystery or urgency at an appropriate pace. I didn’t find myself muting the game too much, although I would have LOVED some voice acting to get me through the messy dialogue.

Speaking of messy, I do not share the same thoughts on the graphics as I do the soundtrack. The visuals were not very impressive. They were a mixture of realistic yet cartoonish-looking blends that felt underwhelming most of the time. The picture above was the first time I found myself liking one of the game’s backdrops, but those kinds of images were few and far between. It was especially bad when the character portraits emoted. Beckett and Elijah were the biggest victims of this. They looked straight-up crazy in some scenes if their faces weren’t in a neutral state. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I didn’t mention the spelling errors. WHY OH WHY. There were so many and I hated it, especially because the dialogue is so heavy that having to correct it all in my brain while reading through it felt like an even more daunting task than usual. I hope to one day review an indie game that actually cares about grammar and spelling. So far, it’s been all misses.

Time Doesn’t Fly

If you can’t tell by now, The VII Enigma is not a game I can recommend. The story is convoluted and sloppy, the characters are caricatures of themselves, and the choice system feels pointless when the game is obviously linear and should’ve just stuck to telling the story it wanted to tell without the false sense of choice. 

Unfortunately, the only passable part of it all, the soundtrack, wasn’t able to make up for the janky visuals and tons of spelling errors. I was just left tired by the time I reached the end.

Fortunately, Spire Games isn’t charging an arm and a leg for this game, but even ten bucks at the time of writing feels like a lot when the experience is so lackluster. For those that are somehow able to stay engaged, The VII Enigma has a total of 17 endings and 26 achievements, so there’s that to consider. I was just not one of those people.

~ Final Score: 3/10 ~

Review copy provided by Spire Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Spire Games.