First impressions last.
And Enzai is a game that definitely leaves a lasting impression. It somehow reminds me of Divi-Dead, very serious, but has an utterly beautiful interface. The title screen showcases both English and Japanese text. In all honesty, I could say that Divi-Dead comes distant second to Enzai in terms of overall look and feel. This leads me to say the next sentence with full-bodied conviction: Enzai is, hands down, the best digital novel I have ever come across. The artwork is breathtaking! The gothic feel is captivating and I lost no time getting absorbed into the stories. The colors and rendering seem professionally done. The downside for those who love realism is the fact that everyone is gorgeous, with only one or two ugly people, in the entire game.
There are many elements in Enzai that reminded me of real console RPGs. For one, you can pick your fonts. Two, the face of the person talking is displayed beside the message window. Three, there are no irritating female voices — although Guys's, Io's and Vallewida's voices sound really feminine. Four, the musical scoring is nothing short of excellent. I have never played a bishoujo game that has captivating BGMs like this, especially Treue, which predominantly features some romantic guitar plucking. Genosse, with its melodious piano inserts, is also another track worth listening to.
I was actually astounded when I realized that I had become completely engrossed in the plot. Unlike all the bishoujo games I've played, where the setting is Japan by default, Enzai is set in France. Then again, Enzai isn't a bishoujo game. Most bishoujo games' premise is that you'd be expecting to hook up with the girl of your dreams. Enzai is a yaoi game, where you are supposed to be a dude — not necessarily homosexual — expecting to hook up with the guy of your dreams. The difference in settings is just the tip of how astonishingly different b-games and yaoi games are.
You know from the very beginning that most of the scenes in Enzai happen inside a prison, so the developers got to work on a realistic setting. What better way to pick up dudes than to be in a place populated with men, right? But Guys' ordeal is no laughing matter. He is not in prison because he wants to get laid. He is in prison because he is a kid who wanted to survive the unforgiving streets of old France and he just happened to be the wrong person stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like most impressionable young men his age, he had hopes and dreams of meeting a girl, getting married, and starting a family. To see all of it dashed so cruelly is exhausting. In the first path I chose, he gets beaten and raped in almost every scene. And this is just the first day alone. Of course, he does master the ropes after a while and to quote him, "I learned how to get tobacco and dirty pictures from the guards, and how to deal with guys who grope other guys."
There are a lot of interesting prisoners that I found myself exploring. There's Evan, the former journalist; Vallewida, the former soldier; Belbet, an adorable lunatic; and Josť, the bully. Even the sinister Inspector Guildias has his own sickeningly twisted secrets and you, playing Guys, must uncover all of them if you want to get out of hell alive. Almost everyone in that place is psychologically damaged and this is made even clearer by the fact that points-of-view may shift to the other men. The crimes, the drama, the suspense! Every route exposes an entirely different case to be solved, though Guys' own personal journey remains constant. Even the courtroom sessions — despite the questionable way in which the trials are being conducted (the judge not objecting to new evidences being introduced on the spot) — are exciting. The plot is well-written, if you can suspend your disbelief for several moments.
The most difficult part of being female and playing a game about hot bishies is making the crucial decision: which man should I pick first. As a woman playing a bishoujo game, picking a random colorful female character isn't too hard. I normally think, "Pick a girl, any girl," and it's usually the one that doesn't grate my ears or the one with the nifty hair color. As a girl surrounded by delicious anime hunks, how do you survive not wanting to chew on them? I suddenly understand that my gender plays an important factor in games like these.
The gameplay may seem pretty straightforward; you have your "Auto-skip Read Messages" mode and all the other tools needed to maximize your reading pleasure. The story branching, however, is not. The choices are pretty tricky. For instance, if you get raped by a particular guy you're eyeing, there's a huge chance that you won't get to know him better. There will also be options that might make you think you'll score, but you won't. Retracing your steps may not be enough. Sometimes you have to start over in order to check if you may have unlocked new routes, as what had happened to me when I stumbled upon a hidden character named Shion. It took me four tries before I finally achieved a good ending and I experienced a couple more bad conclusions before I got another good one. Thing is, the bishounens are just so yummy I couldn't keep still until I got all of them. As of this writing, I managed to complete all Events and Endings 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7, and missing only 3 CGs.
As for hentai scenes...the word "overabundance" comes to mind. I just get a little queasy when it comes to the ass-violation parts. I think that's one thing I will never get used to, no matter what genre a game or a hentai anime is. I must also impart a little warning: expect a chockful of blood and gore. This is a psychological thriller so there's plenty of S&M to assail your senses.
What really bugs me is that I have never encountered a bishoujo game that's as exquisitely made as this one. How can something that feels so horribly wrong (I was praying they'd mosaic penetration CGs. Yowch!) be done so magnificently right? Why can't normal heterosexual bishoujo games be created like this? It's twisted, I tell you. Twisted!
And I loved every inch of it.