Hermitage: Strange Case Files Review – Spooky Booky Wooks

It's nice to have visitors, but perhaps not so much when they bring the supernatural to your door. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is on PC now.

A bookstore as the hub for peculiar events? Surely Hermitage: Strange Case Files is set at the turn of the century as nobody goes to their local bookstore for information or advice these days? Nope, it’s present-day and somehow remains a relevant place for individuals to go when they have nowhere else to turn.

You play as a nameless Store Manager bound to a bookstore with a tiny apartment tucked away at the top. He’s unable to leave the premises, but regardless of these restrictions – why would you? He has everything he needs: an outdated iMac, instant noodles, lots of books and nobody to bother him. Well, the latter isn’t accurate.

There’s the assumption that this visual novel is very much in tune with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. While there are literal text in the game and plenty of references to his works, Hermitage: Strange Case Files is more of a detective piece that just happens to have themes of terror, but it never really feels that way.

Hermitage: Strange Case Files Review (PC)

Spread out over five chapters, the story introduces new characters that are somehow interconnected, some a part of our protagonist’s past. Unable to leave your HQ, you rely on them to carry out investigations and report in while you have your nose stuck in a book, with a cigarette in your free hand. It sounds a bit like Black Books, but there’s zero humour in it.

Hermitage Strange Case Files Review - Text a friend
Text a friend. Source: Screen capture

Hermitage: Strange Case Files is Chinese in origin, though it touches on a wealth of Eastern and Western texts, philosophy and lore. Connecting the dots between Taoism and Cthulhu was a highlight, and generally speaking, it’s a well written (translated) story. However, it can get a little over its head and convoluted. It never felt showy in the sense of ‘look at me and all this knowledge I have attained, but there were frequent periods of wanting the story to move forward as the reader.

The Store Manager is the key to the story; everybody is drawn to him, and both he and the store are pivotal to developments. These peripheral characters can be a little hit and miss; we needed to flesh out a few more truths about them without it always being from the Store Manager’s perspective. While they were never caricatures or stereotypes, the odd cliche of a hacker and detective who dons a trenchcoat and apparent deerstalker were a little too literal for my tastes.

Mato, Mato Man

I’ve probably spent more hours playing Hermitage: Strange Case Files than any other visual novel. That’s not a testament to it being the best thing since bound books, but the subject matter, ideas and storytelling provoked me to shy away from the screen and swot up on what I’d learned/not understood. But also because I needed a break from the long dialogue scenes.

Many of the authors and themes in the story are areas I’m interested in and prompted some reading about something new, formulating some detective work of my own. I’m always a fan of titles that make me think after playing them, but more so during the playthrough. Hats off (not a deerstalker) to Arrowiz.

However, time ticks by, and the experience feels like sitting at a banquet. You want to eat more, but there’s simply no more room for boar, and you need to unbutton your jeans. That’s when the chapters during this Hermitage: Strange Case Files review felt like a deluge of text – nothing that fills the screen, but it’s predominantly conversation pieces that can drag.

Clue Me In

Not entirely a passive reading experience, you’ll be accumulating clues to put a case together to progress with the story. These clues come from various sources; the books in the store, searching internet forums, texting back and forth with your ‘team’, opting to hear the Store Manager’s thoughts (perfect for the clarity in case you miss something), but most important: through conversing with the characters. 

It’s typically a case of reading through, but you will get dialogue paths with the bonus of the intent of the phrase being displayed:

  • Be straightforward
  • Beat around the bush
  • Bluff
  • Intimidate

This gives the illusion of some control, and in some cases, choice will make a difference and alter the ending of a chapter, but mostly it’s to draw out some clues/build your relationship with one of the characters in the story. That said, it’s incredibly easy to miss clues, and by the time you reach one of the four or so conclusions per chapter, if you haven’t uncovered everything, it’s game over. 

Hermitage Strange Case Files Review - 1LDK
1LDK. Source: Screen capture

There are five pages of save slots, and to make a point, I’d reserve files for each chapter respectively, as having to reload a chapter from the start and click on practically everything to uncover a hint was tiresome.

An Illustrated Novel

Visually it’s good. Hermitage: Strange Case Files gives off hints of The Coma series with its choice of colours and sketch-like illustrations. Coincidentally, the first chapter is based around a high school. In some key scenes, the artwork goes up a notch and is very polished, but the instrumentals were the highlight for me.

There’s something very noir-like about the choice in music with some sleazy, smoky numbers. It fits then, as the Store Manager is a massive chain smoker and will light up at any given opportunity. At least he’s not breathing in Lilac Grass.

I was lucky enough to receive a code for Hermitage: Strange Case Files quite early on, allowing me to take my time with it. In my opinion, this is the best way to play it rather than rush through. You need that extra time to make sure you don’t miss any clues.

How’s That Novel Coming Along?

Hermitage Strange Case Files Review - Choices
Choices. Source: Screen capture

Though there’s a Lovecraft influence, and the game is labelled as a horror, I’d say it’s more detective based and more on par with a Haruki Murakami novel than anything, with a hint of Junji Ito, but not on the same level of terror. That said, the developers know their Cthulhu, but considering the smoke and jazz, I’d have expected the conversations to stray towards jogging and The Beatles.

Does Hermitage: Strange Case Files get a recommendation? Yes… but it is quite testing of your patience and a lengthy affair. It’s this part that makes the game quite tedious. Sure, you get value for your buck and all, but you don’t want to be slumped over a desk tapping away at dialogue for the thrill of the next interactive bit. It’s an intelligent story, but not without some odd dialogue that changes the tone inadvertently. Don’t expect a Lovecraft tale, just one that skims the surface with Lord Dagon beneath.