Friday morning I discovered that one of my favorite game designers, Kenji Eno passed away. This really hit me more than I thought it would. I mean, I’ve only played the three games of his released in English, they all have some stand out flaws, and I don’t play them very often, but I couldn’t help but fall quiet for part of the morning. No matter what anyone says about Kenji Eno or his games, they were both unique, quirky, and worth a closer look. The three Kenji Eno games that I own, D, Enemy Zero, and D2 mean a lot to me. They reach out through their storytelling and touch the gamer in a way rarely felt. The pull you inside their world and make you think and feel. I really respect that. I’m not going to talk about the gameplay and technical bits of the Kenji Eno’s games. HVGN already did three great reviews on the D trilogy, so if you want a proper review, go there. I’m going to focus on the feeling of these games and the respect I have for Mr. Eno.
In mid 2004-2005, I bought my own Sega Saturn system after playing one at a friend’s house through the nineties. I was very excited. However, I only had enough money to pick up 3-4 games to go with it and being an unemployed high school student I knew that I wouldn’t be picking up any more games for a while. So I did some research and asked around in some forums and one very zealous forum member highly recommended D. Although it looked pretty dated, I decided to give it a shot and I am very glad I did. D’s visuals may not have aged wonderfully, but it won me over with its storytelling and haunting atmosphere. Even when I was first smitten with it I noted that it had flaws, but they somehow made the bright spots of the game more endearing.
Screenshots from D
I wanted more games that could pull me in and evoke emotion so accurately. I did some odd jobs around my parent’s house and soon had raised enough for Enemy Zero and D2. I was happy that I got the emotional tugs and emersion I was looking for, but I was surprised at the games themselves. All three entries in the (loose) D Trilogy play very differently. D is a Myst-styled adventure game, Enemy Zero is more of a FPS, and D2 is an action/adventure hybrid with a couple RPG elements. I found it so odd that Mr. Eno used so many different styles to tell his stories and take his players on a journey. It felt so weird, and yet it worked. By tweaking the genre and changing the gameplay he managed to make the player-game connection feel fresh and exciting with each title, allowing him to effectively use Laura as a “digital actress”, (She is a different character in each game,) and further explore reoccurring themes like loneliness and human companionship without things feeling old or repetitive.
In D, Laura is the only real character. In Enemy Zero, the spaceship crew is so desperate for life they have virtual butterflies. In D2, Laura wakes up with amnesia high in the Canadian mountains after a plane crash. Talk about lonely and isolated.
Kenji Eno experimented with all sorts of styles and genres, and though he never really mastered them he had a strong vision and voice. For example, Enemy Zero has an extremely steep difficulty, and D2 can feel long and convoluted, but the spirit behind these titles is so strong and vivid, they just can’t be ignored. Kenji Eno’s storytelling abilities are wonderful. So, even if you hate the pace of D, you can’t ignore the thick atmosphere. Even if you think Enemy Zero is crazy-hard, you can’t debate that the characters are excellent. This sort of mad genius is part of why I respect Kenji Eno so much. His willingness to experiment and try new things showed a lot of creative potential, potential that has sadly been put to rest.
The other reason I respect and love Kenji Eno so much was his inability to stay still. He was much more than your average game designer. He was a talented musician, and worked in several fields outside of gaming. He was always up for looking for new and creative ways to make new games and reach new audiences. It was through experiences like this that he even made a game specifically for blind people. According to an interview with 1up.com :
“I had a chance to visit people who are visually disabled, and I learned that there are blind people who play action games…. So I thought that if you turn off the monitor, both of you are just hearing the game. So after you finish the game, you can have an equal conversation about it with a blind person. That’s an inspiration behind this game as well… Sega was asking for exclusive rights to the game, and I said, “OK, if you’ll donate a thousand Saturns to blind people, then I’ll donate a thousand games along with the Saturns…. Sega would go for this idea, I would make that game Sega exclusive. So, that’s how this happened. It’s been several years now, and of course the contract probably isn’t valid anymore, but the reason that I haven’t done anything with this game is that I made this promise with Sega back in the day, and it’s exclusive because of those conditions.”
The game, Real Sound Kaze No Regret was packaged with a game manual printed in braille.
That’s. Freaking. Cool. I can’t think of any other game designers that curious, creative, and loyal. Not only to the people they work with, but with fans. In another example of his eccentric spirit, Kenji Eno hand delivered 20 copies of a special edition of Enemy Zero to people all over Japan as a special promotion. Who does that? No one does that! …Unless you are Kenji Eno. He was a rare spirit we don’t see much of, and for that he will surely be missed.
So, if you want to honor Kenji Eno’s memory, do something different, something creative today. Do something that will make the people around you think and feel a little. Be eccentric. Be your own, strange self.
Kenji Eno, Rest in Peace.