Review: The Miskatonic

Reviewed On
27" iMac, Core i7 Quad 4.2Ghz, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 580 8192 MB. High Sierra 10.13.2.

The Miskatonic is a challenging game to review because it is not a game, but rather a visual novel presented with some minor animations and audio. I’m not in the habit of discussing visual novels, but the “game” was something fun and different, so I was inspired to write it up.

The Miskatonic bills itself as a “Lovecraftian revoltingly dark comedy” which is reasonably accurate, though the revolting part only applies if you find adorable mutations to be a turnoff. I don’t believe a single regular looking character appears in the story barring our hero, Charlotte herself. Everyone else along the way has tentacles, exposed goo brains, and other Cthulhu inspired curious protruding from all over their bodies.

So if this isn’t a game, what do you even review in a visual novel? A surprising amount transfers over from a regular game review - visuals, script, audio, and story are all relevant here, we just skip out on gameplay.

The story is set in 1925, with the world being exposed to the horror of the dark gods. As a result of this madness, England is overrun by cannibals, and New England is covered in a mutagenic mist that messes with all the humans. And naturally, there is a university (the titular Miskatonic) that studies all the weird and nasty occult stuff.

Our main character is Charlotte Lestrange, a witch with magic eyes who ends up at the university to be hired as a security guard. There’s nothing to do but click on characters or doors to go to the next section, everything is also linear, much like a book itself. The story is solid, with some unexpected twists and turns and will take you around 2-3 hours to complete depending on how fast you read.

As for the Lovecraftian theme, it is used as more of a surface element, and presented with much humor and even cuteness. So if you were hoping to plunge into the depths of madness and horror of true Lovecraft storytelling you’re out of luck here.

The good news is that this novel has gorgeous artwork. I found it very striking and helped keep me reading to see the next scene or character. Things are static for the most part, but minor idle animations exist for the characters standing around, and when you talk to them they will change poses.

The script is very sharp and frequently had me laughing out loud either at the sheer absurdity, clever wit or funky jokes. My favorite characters ended up being Nutty Annie the cannibal who wants to eat your bum, and Lizzy of Dunwich. Lizzy is a happy little demon/imp looking being whose real form is too terrible for the human mind to comprehend, so you end up rendering her like a shadow with eyes. She may be a personal avatar of Yogg, but really she just wants grilled cheeses.

My only complaint with the writing is that your character is hired as a security guard for the university, but you never actually do your job in any capacity. The position is just a pretext for Charlotte’s protagonist to patrol the halls, talking to every oddball she can see. Situations in which you’d be needed are frequently mentioned but never shown. I wanted to see an inter-dimensional portal monster trying to eat the engineering team rather than just hear another character talk about it.

The last gripe is the audio - or mostly the lack thereof. A very minimalistic audio track plays in the background, and occasional soundbites will chime in, but for the most part, it’s silent. Some more use of immersive audio would go a long way towards making the format more compelling.

And while you wouldn't expect voice acting in a $6 game, it’s a shame there isn’t voiced characters since the script is so epic and hearing it aloud would be vastly more entertaining.

The Miskatonic won’t be for everyone - understanding that it’s a fancy visual novel will go a long way towards your enjoyment of it, but you’ll need to enjoy dark humor and adorable mutations to play through this one.

Sharp writing
Gorgeous art style
Entertaining characters

Audio overtly minimalistic
Small story discrepancies