Title: Hermitage: Strange Case Files
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Giiku Games
There’s an eerie feeling in the air. You feel like you’re being watched, but not by someone else. No, it’s definitely not someone else–they’re not human. But they seem human. Regardless, you must run, or else this unknown being will envelop you and your soul. This kind of tension and atmosphere permeates Hermitage, a horror/mystery visual novel by developer Arrowiz.
The narrative revolves around an unnamed bookstore owner and the bizarre people that come upon his bookstore–the Hermitage. The story is divided into several chapters, each focusing on different mysteries and characters. But there is an overarching theme present. Something is amiss in the city, and strange occurrences are happening all over. Random giant sinkholes pop up, people vanish without a trace, and some mysteriously disappear just to return without their memories. These cases find their way into the hands of the bookstore owner who aims to solve these unusual mysteries.
However, he doesn’t go through this journey alone. In fact, he can’t. You realize soon enough that he cannot leave the premises of his bookstore for some unknown reason. Luckily, he has connections with extraordinary individuals, such as a genius hacker girl or an impatient legal consultant. Using all the help he can get, he examines each occurrence and unravels the truth behind the events.
However, as he delves deeper into each mystery, he discovers a dark and paranormal root to the cause. Many of the incidents involve fantastical creatures and beings that affect the world around them. The influence of these entities is immense as they bring out the corrupt and malevolent nature of people and their communities. It’s no wonder many of these cases go unresolved; how would any ordinary police officer tackle a cult of morphed individuals or a gigantic horse-beast?
This is where you, as the bookstore owner, step in. For Hermitage is no ordinary bookstore–it holds mysterious literature of the unknown, the occult, and the ethereal. The books you encounter all hold the history, knowledge, and information regarding the unusual. Reading through some of the books provides information and context about the odd practices and rituals that resemble the city’s current events. You use this information to figure out a way to resolve these cases.
Hermitage approaches each story with a lot of exposition and context. Not only do you find clues in the interactions you have with other characters, but many other resources can give you additional insights, such as books, online forums, TV programming, and text messages. Despite there being an information overload, every tidbit of information is fascinating and offers substantive details. Even if the bits of information don’t directly correlate to the event at hand, its context to the story’s setting is enjoyable.
This brings me to the writing of the game, which is superb. This novel is originally Chinese, so there are slight translation errors, but they typically take form as simple typos–nothing substantial. Otherwise, the story flows well. There were many points where I felt entranced by the secrets behind each situation. The narrative did well in pacing out the reveals of each crucial piece of information–I yearned to know more.
And yet, despite my curiosity, I also felt hesitant. Hermitage does a great job of creating a tense and creepy atmosphere. The characters were wondering if they should dig deeper, and so was I. There are moments where the characters do falter in terms of relatability as they say and do things that may take you out of the scene, but these rarely happen and don’t hinder the experience in any considerable manner.
There’s plenty of detail thrown at you, so it’s essential to pay attention as you will need to use the acquired knowledge in moving forward with each case. For example, maybe a symbol was mentioned in a book you’ve read, or a reference is made to a specific character. You’ll face several trials when exploring certain areas or making deductions based on the number of clues you have.
While they aren’t complicated, there are some instances where minute details pop up, so it’s in your best interest to actively follow leads. Otherwise, when it comes to certain investigation portions, it can lead to a bad ending if you answer incorrectly. Luckily, it’s hard not to pay attention as the dialogue and tension are gripping and full of compelling ideas.
Regarding the influence behind the story, it’s clear as day just how much of H.P. Lovecraft’s works shaped the lore and setting. The game shows off the influence by including tidbits of information about his works, focusing on Cthulhu. You’ll see books of Cthulhu lined up in the bookcase, and even some online forum posts give a detailed history to Lovecraft and the impact of his stories.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert in Lovecraftian media, as my exposure is limited to a couple of games and movies. However, it’s easy to tell just how much detail and effort went into producing a work that borrows from his tales. With Lovecraft’s horrors, the horror is emphasized in hiding in the shadows, influencing the dark and twisted actions that some people would take. In Hermitage, the presence of evil and darkness is carefully woven into the brims of society. The more you learn, the more you realize just what people are capable of, and in a sense, that is the true horror.
To complement the mysterious atmosphere is the soundtrack that plays throughout the novel. Numerous tracks fit the perplexing and obscure ambiance, most of them heavily influenced by jazz. The trumpet and saxophone-laden tracks are reminiscent of noir detective films, where the jazz evokes powerful emotions of woefulness and solitude. Despite the heavy topics that get introduced, the jazz music does well to keep me in my composure and read on.
The visual aesthetic is quite unique, as it has elements of both manga/manhua and the western comic book. The key visuals are gorgeous and full of saturated colors with the proper dynamic lighting to indicate pivotal moments of the narrative. Otherwise, much of Hermitage presents blackened shadows and darkened shading to give that graphic-novel kind of look. From the horrified expressions of the characters to the designs of the otherworldly, the presentation was excellent and kept me engaged throughout.
There was a lot of love put into crafting this Lovecraftian visual novel. I felt the need to keep reading, wondering just what supernatural influence was affecting the city this time. The exceptional writing brings out the geek in me that I never knew I had when it comes to this kind of mythology. The dark and gritty atmosphere, combined with the pleasing visuals and soundtrack, engrossed me into the bizarre life of this bookstore owner. He can’t leave Hermitage, and I didn’t want to either.
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