Alright, so a game that begins with a character named Marie Peanutbutter isn’t likely to make you thrust your hips in the air shouting, “Now, that’s what I call Lovecraft!”, The Miskatonic, might have you surmise this is a cosmic horror. Yes and no.
Located in the infamous Arkham institution that appears in many Lovecraft stories and games , you play Charlotte LeStrange, recently hired as the university’s security guard. Before that sparks off these notions of wearing a hi-vis, walkie-talkie pranks and strolling back and forth the corridors listening to the echoes of your own farts, fear not: this game is a reading exercise.
My sincere apologies, dear reader, but The Miskatonic is a visual novel. Bleurgh! It hadn’t crossed my mind when I bought this on Steam while going through a horror phase. Nursing several hangovers and tired of repeat runs of Elf, I decided to give Rapscallion Games’ title a try over Christmas on the Steam Deck. As always, the save games didn’t sync to my desktop, so I started it again on the desktop. Here’s the report.
The Miskatonic Review
The world is more transparent than before in this alternate universe, as the nations have shown their true colours. Humans now worship the likes of Cthulhu and their associated cults. There are cults for everyone, each picking one that best suits their palate. Oh yeah, the Aussies are immortal, and the Brits are cannibals. Our hero worships Shub-Niggurath, the all-mother, and little fact for you; she’s a practising witch. She can also do this weird thing with her eyes. Quite sultry, really.
Introductions are immediate: walk around the corridors, meet the characters, and ogle at the illustrations. There are no animations, just static images and hotspots to click on to get the story underway. The only interaction in this game is the left mouse button. There are no dialogue trees, inventory, or back and forth arrows for conversations, just a change to the mouse cursor when you can interact with someone/something. That’s all there is to The Miskatonic ‘gameplay’, so if you can’t be arsed to read the text, you may as well skip it.
Usually, I wouldn’t blame you. In fact, I’m impressed you’re still reading this. Good for you. One of the problems with visual novels is the need for interaction, so the story has to be good and prevent any sort of skimming or skipping. It doesn’t help that the text is uppercase throughout. WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING? Apart from the connotation of writing like that, the text here can be ugly and cumbersome to read. The character names are written in lowercase. Sort it out.
A Cheek At Most
But you’re not going to skip the text in the game because of two fundamentals. 1) what’s the point? 2) it’s well-written, with some amusing exchanges. 3) it’s a short experience. I know I wrote ‘two fundamentals’. Yes, this dark comedy, once you yield to it, gets better, but a bonus here is that the artwork is bloody brilliant and suits the playful text. The illustrations don’t replicate any particular style – it’s not pixel art, a doe-eyed Toriyama-like generic anime, 3D generated, nor ecchi. That said, there’s lots of talk about rump steaks, and as an ass man, well…
After getting acquainted with the players in our tale, LeStrange receives her first assignment, and with her pseudo-detective assistant, they uncover a bit of a conspiracy involving the university. This is good, as there wasn’t any direction up until now. Give it a chance, or the Brits will bite your bum.
The Miskatonic is neither a point and click nor a puzzle game. There’s certainly a story here, and though the artwork carries it in places, the writing is funny, if a little crass and unbelievable in areas. But maybe I’m too old, and the kids do talk like this. Still, there are plenty of references to Arkham, Innsmouth and even Deep Ones. Just don’t expect a typical Lovecraft adventure per se. But, for the price and the fact that the runtime won’t stop you from finishing the bathroom tiles, it’s alright.
Though the characters are off the rails, The Miskatonic gameplay is pretty much on the rails. Eh? Eh? It’s an alternative to other Lovecraft-inspired games, notably the words and pics. Short, sweet, and mildly seductive in places, it’s unlikely you’ll come back to it unless you want to re-read the exchanges. Be grateful you didn’t get the shiggles.