Hermitage: Strange Case Files Review: Chinese Cosmic Horror
When the topic of horror games comes up, it’s easy to think about the classic titles that make us jump — or, in the very least, get our heart rates going from all the action-packed danger we constantly find ourselves in. Their scares are surface level, attached to the moment of the scare — attacking our baser instincts to kick in that “fight or flight” response due to our heightened situational awareness. But what of the cerebral horrors? The topics that truly terrorize long after the controllers have been put away, keeping us up at night when pondering the line between known and unknown? I’m talking cosmic horror — Lovecraft’s own brand of scary stories — and how Hermitage: Strange Case Files nailed the subject matter.
Developed by Arrowiz and published by Giiku Games, Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a Chinese cosmic horror/mystery visual novel following a ragtag group of paranormal investigators. Available on just about any platform for $19.99, Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a 30 – 40 hour journey through the unexplained cosmic events that seem to somehow trace back to the mysterious bookstore, Hermitage. Spanning five scintillating cases with multiple endings and light gameplay in between heavy reading, Hermitage: Strange Case Files is definitely a Lovecraftian visual novel fan’s delight!
Hermitage: Strange Case Files focuses on the goings on surrounding a mysterious bookstore named Hermitage and its learned store manager, aptly referred to as “Store Manager” throughout the entirety of the game. He’s not alone, of course — friends new and old join him to solve the mysteries that crop up throughout the year, investigating crime scenes and running errands that the store-bound manager would otherwise be unable to do himself. A sharp-tongued lawyer, a gold-hearted schoolgirl, a genius hacker child, a justice-bent PI, and a streetpunk hero/troublemaker all join the store manager in these odd investigations, ridding the world of the cosmic horrors that lurk just outside the realm of what’s known and protecting the city from certain destruction.
As is par for the course with visual novels, most of what’s done in Hermitage: Strange Case Files is reading. On occasion, there will be small things to do here and there, like choose an approach to an interrogation (playing dumb vs. acting aggressively, for example), moving across floorplans, or clicking on books to… read even more. Towards the end of the cases, players will have to piece clues together to answer doubts raised over the course of the investigation as well; if there’s one thing you can say about Hermitage: Strange Case Files, it’s that it’s an actively involved visual novel.
When it comes to the storylines, Hermitage: Strange Case Files is half info-dump, half nail-biter. The cases are extremely complex, especially if you don’t have any previous knowledge of Lovecraftian mythos or Chinese culture, since there are constant references to both. For example, there’s an offhand reference made to the “996 workweek,” and a lot of assumptions are made about how much the average non-Chinese person knows about the Chinese school system in the first case. While the cosmic horror is eventually explained, it feels like a lot of context was missing on the cultural side.
As for the cases themselves, the pacing is quite slow at first, making it hard to really catch any sort of momentum upfront. I’d wager it wasn’t until about 2/3rds into each case that everything started making sense, snowballing from feeling along for a confusing ride into an edge-of-your-seat epic where all the pieces started falling into place. I said this was a 30 – 40 hour experience, and I mean it — only those who stick with this from start to finish will truly see what’s happening around the Hermitage.
While I enjoyed Hermitage: Strange Case Files from a macro level and can recall the main points about each case, I can’t specifically remember much about the little bits in between. Although I found the translations to be honestly stellar, I can’t help but wonder if they were wholly accurate or if the source material was just incredibly vague. I constantly felt like I was on the precipice of understanding the gang’s train of thought, only to be blindsided when they posited questions that I couldn’t connect any sort of logical thinking back to. Now, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed so perhaps that had something to do with it, but trying to follow along every last detail in Hermitage: Strange Case Files was like trying to listen to someone lecture high level material with marbles in their mouth.
With that being said, the big picture Hermitage: Strange Case Files paints is extremely cool. When everything does finally come together in the end, be it a boss battle or outsmarting the darkness lurking in the corners of the mind with one weird trick™, it really was an exciting experience that got my heart rate going. The last case’s ending in particular features one of the most creative ways to combat cosmic horror and is not something I’ve seen done elsewhere. Hermitage: Strange Case Files really gave players a unique, scintillating story — one that was absolutely worth waiting 40 hours to conclude.
Hermitage: Strange Case Files is not your average visual novel, nor is it your average cosmic horror title. With relaxing-yet-energetic jazzy tunes that’ll have you sipping coffee and pondering the depths of the darkness that resides within the human mind, Hermitage: Strange Case Files feels oddly comfortable and confusing at the same time. It’s not that I didn’t want Hermitage: Strange Case Files to end — it got to a point where I genuinely didn’t think it would, its unexplained mysteries consuming all that’s left of me. If you’re looking for an interactive visual novel to get absolutely lost in (in every possible sense of that phrase), Hermitage: Strange Case Files has a literal bookstore to delve into.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS4, PS5, Switch, XBox One, XBox Series X|S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Giiku Games; Developer: Arrowiz; Players: 1; Released: October 26, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Hermitage: Strange Case Files provided by the publisher.