Publisher: Giiku Games
Release Date: 26/10/21
Platform: Reviewed on PS4 (also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC)
A code was provided for review purposes.
I love a good detective game. As I’ve recently been reading more and more detective and crime fiction, it has seeped into my gaming habits. Just this year, the exceptional The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles released and it quickly became a game of the year contender for me. I also have a love for the paranormal and Lovecraftian horror. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a sort of blend of both of these aspects, so you’d think this would be a perfect match for me.
This is a narrative-based, detective adventure that has you solving various sinister cases with the added focus on folklore and the paranormal. Unfortunately, while the premise and plot are filled with intriguing mysteries and promise, the very sparse gameplay can quite often hold the experience back.
Sinister Things Afoot
Hermitage: Strange Case Files mostly takes place in an old bookstore that sells many regular and obscure tomes. You play as a guy only known as the Store Manager, who as you guessed it, manages the bookstore. His past is a mystery, only knowing that he’s on the run and cannot leave the premises. Soon though, a young girl enters the shop looking for answers on the dreams she’s been having, seeing sinister events happen to those close to her. As the Store Manager has experience with the paranormal, he aims to aid the poor girl with the help of others along the way.
Across a roughly 20 hour campaign, you will be solving a number of horror-filled cases as you meet allies and uncover the truth behind your past, as well as the strange happenings in the city. The narrative is the strongest aspect of the game for me. Each case is an enthralling conundrum that will have you wondering just where it will go next. The paranormal elements are an added bonus that rarely feel too in your face. The strength here, is that most of the cases still have a grounding in reality. They start off fairly normal, but develop into the ghastly and unnatural the further you progress. The folklore and Lovecraftian inspirations are well implemented, and this gives it that more unique premise.
However, in terms of the characters, it’s an area that fell a bit short. Overall, they are decent, albeit forgettable. The Manager’s friend, Scarlet, is the standout for me. Her tenacity and personality shines through in the writing. Aside from her, I didn’t really have any connection or care about them. All in all, the storytelling is the game’s greatest asset. The plot takes many twists and turns, as well as venturing into some difficult topics, and it ends in a brilliant and very meta way. I do have issues with the pacing, but that stems from the gameplay. Speaking of which…
Press ‘x’ to Continue
Unfortunately, the gameplay really lets Hermitage: Strange Case Files down and holds it back from being something quite good. It’s so limited and monotonous, that you’re left with a wholly un-engaging experience. The vast majority of your time is spent tediously pressing the ‘x’ button to click through endless amounts of text. The game is sparsely broken up by anything else, requiring such little mental input, that it becomes a slog to go through. I went through so many periods of time – sometimes over 30 minutes – without doing anything other than clicking through text, that I forgot I was playing a game. It’s just too much, and it not only drags the pacing, but it also makes for a pretty mundane adventure that saps your enjoyment.
In the limited moments where you do more than simply press a single button, it leaves me wistful for what could have been. As you progress through the game, you add various clues regarding the current case to the collection. These can be found automatically, reading peculiar books in the shop, browsing forums on the computer in your apartment, etc. At certain points you raise suspicions/questions that need to be answered. You need to pair the 3 correct clues together to get the answer. I like this feature, as it does require you to really think about the case and clues so far and actually engages the player. However, some of these can be pretty obtuse to understand, leading to agonising moments of trial-and-error and reloading saves until you get it right.
Alongside this, there are sometimes dialogue options or similar choices that can lead to new information or clues. There are even some retro-style, mini-games that are choice-based in specific parts. Again, these made those moments genuinely interesting. It’s a shame, as I can see the glimmers of potential here. However, these moments of proper gameplay are so heavily under-utilised, that it can’t stop the game from being mundane to play.
In contrast, the visuals are charming despite their simplicity. Opting for a comic-book aesthetic, it leaves quite the impression. I think it suits the style of game really well and easily captures the horror aspects when appropriate. While the game mostly takes place in the bookshop as a result of the Manager not being able to leave, you do get to see different locations through the other characters. There’s not a huge amount of variety, but it’s enough. The character and creature designs are another highlight.
Even the music is a solid aspect, where the jazzy tones of the bookshop’s theme keep a relaxing atmosphere. When the game takes a turn for the unsettling, the soundtrack accommodates and bolsters the feeling of dread.
I really wanted to like this game, as it seemed like the perfect fit for my tastes as of late. Unfortunately though, I’m left frustrated by the squandered potential of the gameplay. What could have been an engaging supernatural spin on the detective adventure, is instead, a repetitive experience that lets itself down.
Hermitage: Strange Case Files ends up being an engrossing, narrative adventure held back by overly tedious and uninspired gameplay. I still think it might be worth experiencing for the dark story, but perhaps spread it across a period of time, and take breaks between each case. It might prevent you from being overcome by monotony and make it more enjoyable.
You can buy Hermitage: Strange Case Files from the PlayStation Store.
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