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Video Game / The Cabinets Of Doctor Arcana

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Prepare to be confounded.

The Cabinets of Doctor Arcana is a point-and-click Puzzle Game produced by Joseph Vargo. It is an escape room-esque game about a nameless protagonist who approaches a sinister, abandoned mansion on Halloween night, and is challenged to solve an entire house's worth of puzzles by the enigmatic Doctor Arcana.

More than twenty years ago, Doctor Arcana was a renowned magician, illusionist, and mystic. One day, he vanished, and no one knows what happened to him. His home at Arcana Manor has been locked since, and though there have been reports of strange things happening inside, no one has ever investigated. On Halloween night, you suddenly find yourself at the gates of the impressive manor, with no memory of how you got there. The only clue is a heavy metal amulet, passed down through your family. Within the house are many rooms full of puzzles, clues, and mysteries, and you must navigate the house to find the thirteen keys which will allow you to leave. Otherwise, you will be trapped there forever.


Released in October 2018, this is the first video game that Vargo has published. He intended to create a Spiritual Successor to classic puzzle games like The 7th Guest. The game's title is a Shout-Out to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The game's concept was based on a puzzle segment from Vargo's Dark Realms magazine, and the puzzles that appear hidden in every Nox Arcana album. The story of the game ties into Nox Arcana's album Theater of Illusion, about a secret society of wizards. It features a spooky atmosphere, a beautiful Gothic setting, Nox Arcana's music, and much of Vargo's artwork.

A sequel, Doctor Arcana and the Secret of Shadowspire, is currently in production and will pick up where Cabinets ends. Doctor Arcana and the player are whisked away to an unfamiliar island, where the player will enter the eponymous castle, Shadowspire, and attempt to pass a series of trials left by the Elders of the Arcanum. New artwork for the game was made public in July 2021, and again in January 2022 and September 2022; Vargo is excited by the progress being made.


In October 2020, it was announced on the game's Facebook page that a special installment, The Mystery of Grimstone Manor, would be released for Halloween. In a similar plot to Arcana, the player is locked inside their late Uncle Victor's mysterious mansion on Halloween night and must solve the puzzles inside in order to claim their inheritance. The game was released as a YouTube video, which the player must watch carefully to gather the clues needed, then solve the puzzles and input the correct answers on the Nox Arcana website.

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The entire series provides examples of:

  • Cosmetic Award:
    • Finishing the first game results in the player receiving a diploma of sorts - a scroll bearing their name and a list of how many hints they used, skips they employed, and clues and pieces of art they uncovered. It also grants them a ranking based on this final score; a perfect or near-perfect score puts them in the "Elite Order of Arcana." On the official website is the Hall of Infamy, which shows these awards won by players who beat the game on Halloween 2018.
    • Those who send in the correct answers for the final puzzle of Grimstone Manor get their names added to the "account of the few brave souls" who earned the bragging rights.
  • Featureless Protagonist: We know nothing about the player character of the main games except that the Arcanum Amulet is a family heirloom. They're never seen, are not voiced, and have no distinguishing characteristics of any kind.
    • This is also true of the Grimstone Manor protagonist, who is implied to be a completely different character. We know nothing about them except that they had a weird uncle who dabbled in dark magic and Grimstone Manor is their ancestral home.
  • Functional Magic: Magic definitely exists in this universe, even if the games don't make it entirely clear how it works.
  • Minimalist Cast: The only characters in Cabinets and Shadowspire are the player and Doctor Arcana. Grimstone Manor is even more minimalist, as the player is the only character (Uncle Victor is Dead to Begin With).
  • Old, Dark House: Arcana Manor and Grimstone Manor are both pattern examples, complete with Dramatic Thunder. Grimstone even has an appropriate name for such a place. Shadowspire, meanwhile, is an old dark castle.
  • The X of Y: All of the Nox Arcana game titles fall into this.

The cabinets contain the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: The game ties into Theater of Illusion, and both the game and the album contain additional information about the world.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Not a weapon, but the Arcanum Amulet the protagonist carries was passed down through their family. It's instrumental to solving a number of puzzles, including the very first and very last.
  • Ancient Egypt: Egyptian imagery appears all over the place, especially in the Attic and on Arcana's tomb.
  • Ancient Evil: The Arcanum was wiped out by some ancient evil, but it's never explained exactly what this is. Possibly to be addressed in the sequel.
  • Antepiece: The first two puzzles, which allow you to get past first the locked gate and then the locked front door, serve as this for the rest of the game. They're designed to give the player a taste of the headscratchers which await them inside the manor.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Several.
    • The hint button reveals the location of the puzzle in the room. It changes to a "skip" button once the player engages with the puzzle, allowing them to skip the puzzle entirely. However, using the buttons may subtract from the final score.
    • The protagonist's journal contains clues, images, and backstory that the player finds throughout the game world, keeping it easily accessible to minimize the effects of Guide Dang It!.
    • The map feature in the Library allows the player to teleport to any room they have already unlocked, although the map is fixed in place and can only be used from the Library. The map also clarifies which rooms have had their keys located.
    • If all else fails, the game actually contains a walkthrough accessible from the Options button on the main menu. It's called, humorously, the Cheater's Compendium, and it's brimming with snark.
  • The Apprentice: The protagonist, albeit unwittingly.
  • Arc Symbol: The amulet that the protagonist carries appears everywhere in Arcana's mansion.
  • The Archmage: Doctor Arcana was the most powerful wizard in the Arcanum before it disappeared.
  • An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost: Doctor Arcana seems to be a ghost haunting his abandoned manor, but he's actually alive and hibernating in a tomb underneath it.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: The magic that Arcana and the other wizards practice seems to be Black Magic (the poster advertising their Mysterium show even describes them as masters of "The Dark Arts"). However, the Arcanum is not evil, and they are threatened by something that is.
  • Badass Baritone: Arcana, naturally, being voiced by Vargo. However, Arcana's voice is actually not as deep as Vargo's normal narration voice (which narrates the opening cutscene), being a bit whispery.
  • Being Watched: If it feels like that's what's happening as you begin the game, that's because you are. Doctor Arcana watches every move the protagonist makes throughout the entire game, and doesn't try to hide it as he comments on many of them.
    Doctor Arcana: (after the player skips a puzzle) I saw that.
  • Big Fancy House: Arcana Manor. The protagonist remarks that it "looks like a castle."
  • Booby Trap: In one of the final puzzles, if the player selects the wrong letters, spikes shoot out from the walls to impale the protagonist.
  • Bookcase Passage: A secret passage in the Museum opens with a talisman inserted into the wall. A secret elevator is opened in the Library after two specific puzzles are solved.
  • But Thou Must!: Averted, sort of. After you enter the house, the golden mask of Doctor Arcana appears before you as an apparition and explains the situation. He concludes his monologue by offering you a choice; if you decline the challenge, he will relieve you of your amulet and send you on your way, never to return. Selecting this option returns you to the main menu. Since this obviously ends the game after only two puzzles, it doesn't truly avert the trope, but it does give the player a sense of having some agency in the situation. On the other hand, Arcana is pretty convinced that fate is what brought you to the manor, and the protagonist's in-universe rationale for accepting Arcana's challenge is that they can't deny their destiny.
  • Classical Mythology: Not as much as the Ancient Egypt motif, but references to Greek mythological figures are found throughout the manor, such as Thanatos and Pandora. The Gallery also has a Classical aesthetic.
  • Closed Circle: If you decide to accept Arcana's challenge, the doors of the mansion will lock behind you, and you will be trapped inside until you solve all the puzzles.
  • Cool Mask: Arcana's golden mask, which is as close as the player ever gets to seeing his face.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Arcana's disembodied voice rarely provides any useful information. He doesn't say much, and when he does, it's usually to deride the player or express disbelief at their success; he seems to think that they're extremely lucky.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Arcana's whole mansion is dark and spooky, covered in creepy artwork, and steeped in the occult; but Arcana himself is not evil, nor is anything in the mansion (except for the fact that you can't leave it) a danger to you. Only one puzzle is life-threatening, near the end of the game, and it's explicitly clarified that you avoid the danger if you get it wrong.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The protagonist and Arcana both.
    • Arcana constantly sneers at the player's abilities, even going as far as to remark, "What took you so long?" after one specific puzzle.
      Doctor Arcana: You have an uncanny knack for blindly stumbling upon the right moves.
    • The protagonist occasionally snarks about the puzzles, and also makes witty comments about Vargo's paintings (which may count as meta-Self-Deprecation).
  • Death Trap: One of the final puzzles in the Crypt, a booby-trapped floor puzzle with Spikes of Doom.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom:
    • Doctor Arcana renamed the Sarcophagus of Dreams the "Sarcophagus of Doom" for his escape trick.
    • The solution to the Booby Trap puzzle. "Tread wisely as you cross this room. One wrong step spells certain doom."
  • Dramatic Thunder: A quiet thunderstorm surrounds the manor house as the protagonist enters it. Rooms with windows, such as the Library, occasionally display lightning flashes.
  • Enclosed Space: If the player chooses to accept Arcana's challenge, the protagonist is locked inside the manor house until they complete it. As Arcana himself notes, you will either succeed or die trying.
  • Enter Solution Here:
    • The door leading to the Death Trap puzzle works this way. The final Cabinet gives you the solution to open it, but two other sets of four symbols found elsewhere in the mansion will open the solutions to several Cabinets and another map function. These count as "Secrets" on your final score. It's difficult to find these two clues, since the protagonist does not remark on them or write them in the journal; their obscurity eventually led the devs to make reference to them on Twitter. They are located in the Gallery to the left of the Cabinet (where you find the red jewel), and on the Carnival of Lost Souls poster in the secret passageway.
    • The final step of opening all the main doors is to input the name that goes with the sigil. In the second half of the game, you have to translate it into magic symbols.
  • The Faceless: Arcana's face is never shown, only his golden mask.
  • Feelies: Although the game is available for download on Steam and Big Fish Games, a physical copy can also be purchased. The "Prestige Collection" includes a DVD copy of the game, the Theater of Illusion CD, and a collectible brass coin engraved like the Arcanum Amulet.
  • Hermetic Magic: The magical imagery in this game relies heavily on Hermetic Magic, such as the Alchemy chart in the secret room and the Instant Runes that appear when you use the hint button.
  • Hint System: The player can press the hint button at (almost) any time, but all it does is reveal the location of the puzzle in the room (which isn't that hard to find anyway). It doesn't provide hints towards solving the actual puzzles. Using it also subtracts from the final score.
  • Klotski: The Cabinet in the Gallery with the Classical aesthetic is a very simplified version of this.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The protagonist has no memory of how they ended up at Arcana Manor, but that seems to be the only thing they can't remember.
  • Last of His Kind: Doctor Arcana is the last remaining sorcerer of the Arcanum.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle: All of the sigil doors have to first be unlocked by inserting the correct colored jewel into the door, and then swapping and rotating tiles to create the correct sigil and inputting the name found somewhere else in the house. Many other gates and passageways open by inserting a certain talisman or the Arcanum Amulet.
  • MacGuffin Title: Even without knowing anything else about the game, it's obvious just from hearing its title that there are cabinets which are essential to the plot.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Doctor Arcana was a real wizard who performed as a successful stage illusionist until he mysteriously disappeared at the height of his career. The other Arcanum wizards are implied to have been this, too, as they all performed for each other in the Mysterium.
  • Magical Library: Arcana's library, which the player accesses at the end of the first act.
  • Magical Society: The Arcanum was a secret society of wizards.
  • Mentor Archetype: Arcana, if incessantly mocking the protagonist can be called "mentoring."
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The album cover artwork for Blood of the Dragon, Theater of Illusion, Transylvania, Grimm Tales, and Darklore Manor all appear in-game. The protagonist mentions that Darklore is a "legendary haunted mansion," implying that it (or at least stories of it) exists in-universe.
    • There's a picture of Rianna in the gallery.
    • An entire poster not-so-subtly advertising Carnival of Lost Souls appears in the secret passageway. (The protagonist remarks, "I wish I could have seen this show!")
    • The magic circle in the West Tower is the design on the Theater of Illusion disc.note 

  • Necromancy: Multiple magical items imply that Arcana is a necromancer, such as the "Skull of Necros" and the ritual setup in the Crypt.
  • Noodle Incident: Exactly how the Arcanum was destroyed and what threatened it is never explained.
  • Nothing but Skulls: A ritual setup in the Crypt includes a pile of skulls. Additionally, skulls feature in several puzzles.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Players may find the complete emptiness of the manor to be unsettling, and anticipate a Jump Scare, but none ever comes.
  • Numerological Motif: Thirteen. There are thirteen primary rooms in the house, not counting the entrance foyer; these are entered by finding thirteen colorful gemstones scattered throughout the manor; and there are thirteen skeleton keys to be found, each locked inside one of thirteen cabinets.
  • Old Master: Arcana, an aged sorcerer and master of both magic and puzzles.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Or in this case, Magician. Although Arcana seems to be a necromancer, as noted elsewhere on this page, the various rooms also indicate that he's an Egyptologist, astronomer, astrologer, and alchemist, along with being a puzzle master, art collector, and bibliophile.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Arcana's challenge is meant to be so confounding as to thwart all but the most intelligent and worthy. This is because Arcana is training the protagonist as The Apprentice.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Arcana's method of teaching the protagonist how to be a proper wizard is to set them to solving puzzle after puzzle, with no hints, and nothing but condescension as a reward.
  • Passing the Torch: Arcana intends to share all of his magical knowledge with the protagonist, once they prove themselves, in order to carry on the Arcanum and combat whatever evil force destroyed them.
  • Point-and-Click Map: Found only in the Library, and only usable in the Library, meaning that you can only travel one way with it. Expect to be doing a lot of backtracking.
  • Portal Door: It's implied that the protagonist is teleporting every time they enter a room, since the doorways are all portals. A more obvious example is using the map feature.
    Protagonist: (each time they solve a door puzzle) The door turned into a portal. Cool.
  • Portal Network: The entire house is implied to be this, as the doorways to each room are all glowing portals. The protagonist finds a book that mentions portals that bring wizards to other places and times; it's also mentioned that the Theater may exist on a completely different plane of reality.
  • Really 700 Years Old: It's implied that Arcana is centuries old. The Arcanum was formed "in the twilight mists of the Dark Ages," and it isn't clear if he's a descendant of its founder or if he really has lived since then. Although his face is never seen, his hands are long, pallid, and almost skeletal-looking. This could just be from being old and hibernating in a sarcophagus, but he might be The Undead.
  • Ritual Magic: Implied to be a form of magic used by the wizards in the Arcanum, since two magical rituals are set up (one in the West Tower and one in the Crypt).
  • Scarab Power: The Cabinet in the Attic consists of a magical golden scarab beetle pushing golden balls into a hole. It's generally regarded as the most difficult puzzle in the game; after completing it, you may never want to look at another scarab again.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: Doctor Arcana sealed himself inside his Sarcophagus to protect himself from an Ancient Evil. The protagonist's unwitting objective is to release him.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The Arcanum was a secret society of wizards who practiced Black Magic, though they weren't exactly evil. Their leader, Doctor Arcana, wears a red robe and a very elaborate mask.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title of the game is one to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
    • The Carnival of Lost Souls poster, as well as being the most direct one to Nox Arcana itself, reads "Something Wicked This Way Comes".
    • All of the characters in Vargo's paintings are given names. One of the two in the entrance hall is labeled "Endora," and the other is labeled "Orlok". A painting of an Egyptian sorceress in the Attic is labeled "Akasha".
    • Sometimes, if you solve a puzzle correctly, Doctor Arcana will exclaim, "Inconceivable!"
  • Sigil Spam: The Arcanum Amulet, which marks one as a member of the Arcanum and grants entry to it, is everywhere. It adorns shelves and tables and the backs of chairs, it appears in paintings, it appears on the walls of the elevator and the hallway leading to the crypt, it is the "occult ritual circle" in the crypt, it is also the final swapping-tile puzzle on the Sarcophagus... It is absolutely everywhere. The protagonist usually remarks "this looks familiar" when it shows up, since it's identical to the amulet they brought with them. Arcana's "A" insignia is everywhere as well.
  • Skeleton Key: The main objective is to collect thirteen Skeleton Keys from the thirteen Cabinets.
  • Spell Book: There's one in the Library. You have to solve a puzzle to open it, and then use the clue inside to solve three other puzzles.
  • Spikes of Doom: Spikes shoot out from the walls if you make a wrong move in the final chamber.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: Possibly. The Arcanum Amulet is an Ancestral Weapon that had been passed down through the protagonist's family, potentially implying that the protagonist has innate magical abilities that must be trained. The later reveal about the loss of the Arcanum suggests that the protagonist is probably descended from one of Doctor Arcana's former colleagues, or (less likely) Arcana himself.
  • Trickster Mentor: Arcana expresses doubt in the player's abilities throughout the entire game, and often outright insults or mocks them, even occasionally encouraging them to "give up now and save yourself the embarrassment." He's just testing them; his real intention is to train them to become a wizard.
  • The Voice: For most of the game, Arcana's disembodied voice comments on the player's progress, sometimes accompanied by a hovering image of his mask.
  • Walkthrough: The in-game walkthrough is called The Cheater's Compendium, narrated by Arcana himself. His comments towards the reader are even more scathing (and funny).
  • Western Zodiac: The symbols of the western zodiac (plus one extra) appear on the thirteen skeleton keys.

Uncle Victor left the following tropes inside Grimstone Manor:

  • Anti-Frustration Features: Averted. The entire game, apart from putting in the answers on the Nox Arcana website, is a video. The player has to provide their own Anti-Frustration Features by writing down everything that looks like a clue. Taking screenshots (either with the Print Screen button or by literally taking pictures with a cell phone camera) is also basically required at least once for anyone who doesn't have a photographic memory. Hint  Rewinding the video and watching it repeatedly can also help, and is not at all against the rules.
  • Big Fancy House: Grimstone Manor.
  • Black Sheep: Uncle Victor was this to the player's family. According to the game's opening narration:
    "My family rarely uttered his name and when they did, it was in hushed whispers. My parents kept me sheltered from his influence my entire life and I had come to learn that it was because of his dealings with black magic and the occult."
  • Bookcase Passage: One opens up during the course of the game.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Submitting the seven correct answers will result in Nox Arcana sending the player a link to a special reward video. It's about a minute long and is just a bit of Halloween fun, but it pretty much constitutes this since you have to be very clever to get everything right.
  • Celtic Mythology: The player finds references to Druids and their ancient beliefs in books throughout the manor. Grimstone Manor is said to be built on top of the gate the Druids created between the worlds of the living and the dead.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Implied, since the player is said to be Uncle Victor's last living relative. This means that their parents can no longer stop them from visiting their ancestral home or following in Uncle Victor's footsteps.
  • Creepy Painting: The very first room has a portrait of Uncle Victor over the mantel. The eyes don't move, but the face briefly turns into a skull, and the narration notes that the player character feels like Uncle Victor is watching them.
  • Cut and Paste Environments: All of the rooms in Grimstone Manor, as well as the exterior, are recycled from Cabinets. Justified in that this is not a full game, just a YouTube video.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Just like in Cabinets, there's an ambient thunderstorm happening throughout the video.
  • Enclosed Space: Like Arcana Manor in the first game, the player is locked inside Grimstone Manor on Halloween night. A 'welcoming' message from their departed Uncle Victor informs them that they will either succeed in solving the riddles or die trying.
  • Enter Solution Here: The player must gather and translate clues scattered throughout the rooms of the manor, then go to the special URL provided at the end of the video to put in six special codes and an incantation.
  • First-Person Perspective: As the video is non-interactive, the player instead watches through the eyes of their avatar, who narrates what they do as they do it. The narration is only written, however, and is interspersed with the clues and location shots.
  • Halloween Episode: Grimstone Manor is this for players; it's just a special treat from Nox Arcana while they await the release of the full sequel.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle: The end goal is to unlock the Spirit Gate.
  • Nothing but Skulls: Skulls feature into several puzzles, and one of the codes needed for the end of the game is represented by a skull.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Pretty much the whole point. Uncle Victor is only willing to leave Grimstone Manor and its mysterious contents to his last remaining relative if they can correctly solve the puzzles he left.
  • Passing the Torch: Uncle Victor wants to hand off his valuables and his magic to his last living relative.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The whole thing kicks off because Uncle Victor has, well, kicked off.
  • Red Herring: One set of clues turns out to be this. Solving the "puzzle" presented by the books bearing a crescent moon emblem will tell you to SEEK ALL CROWNS, IGNORE ALL MOONS.
  • Ritual Magic: Mentioned in some of the books about the Druids.
  • Sdrawkcab Speech: Players may get to the end of the video, see that an incantation is needed, and wonder where to find it. The clue is written on the Spirit Gate itself... backwards.
  • Sigil Spam: Throughout the rooms of the manor, the player will see many odd symbols embroidered on chair cushions or framed as wall art. They're important - but the game doesn't say so. The player must figure out for themselves what they are and what they mean.
  • Solve the Soup Cans: Finding the six codes and the incantation to open the Spirit Gate involves a lot of this.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Because the player character has been carefully kept away from Uncle Victor their whole life, they don't know him at all, so it comes as quite a surprise to learn that he's died and left them everything - conditionally, of course.

The secrets in Shadowspire will include the following:

  • Anti-Frustration Features: Replacing the diary from the first game will be something called the Oracle, which will allow the player to keep track of all the secrets they have uncovered.
  • Being Watched: As in the first game, Doctor Arcana will be watching (and commenting on) everything the player does.
  • Creepy Cemetery: One of the scenes shown in the original sneak peek on the Nox Arcana website displayed one of these; it's no longer available, having been replaced by the new sneak peeks in July 2021.
  • Haunted Castle: Shadowspire has the look of one, certainly.
  • The Maze: The game's description on the Nox Arcana website suggests that the castle includes (or consists entirely of) one of these.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: The entire castle is apparently laid out as a series of tests by the Elders of the Arcanum, and to formally join the ranks, the player must solve the puzzles they left. According to the updated sneak peeks in July 2021, surviving the trials of Arcana Mansion was "merely a testing ground to prepare Initiates for what lies in wait" at Shadowspire.
  • Time Travel: The images released in January 2022 include an indication that the puzzles within Shadowspire are scattered not only throughout the rooms, but throughout time.
  • Zip Mode: An improved version of the first game's teleportation system is planned to allow the player to visit any location they have already unlocked.

Most mortal minds will be confused, but a clever few will be amused.