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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 this game ends.


This game provides examples of:

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  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cosmetic Award: Finishing the 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.
  • 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 found 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.
  • Featureless Protagonist: We know nothing about the player character except that the Arcanum Amulet is a family heirloom. They're never seen, are not voiced, and have no distinguishing characteristics of any kind.
  • 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 official soundtrack CD, and a collectible brass coin engraved like the Arcanum Amulet.
  • Functional Magic: Magic definitely exists in this universe, even if the game doesn't make it entirely clear how it works.
  • 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.
  • Instant Awesome: Just Add Dragons!: Multiple puzzles involve dragons, such as the Museum Cabinet, the Guest Bedroom Cabinet, and the East Tower Cabinet.
  • 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 be 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 level.
  • Magical Society: The Arcanum was a secret society of wizards.
  • Mentor Archetype: Arcana, if incessantly mocking the protagonist can be called "mentoring."
  • Minimalist Cast: The only characters in the entire game are the player and Doctor Arcana.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • All of the characters in Vargo's paintings are given names. One of the pictures in the gallery is labeled "Rianna." One of the two in the entrance hall is labeled "Endora."

  • 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, Dark House: Arcana Manor is an almost stereotypical example, Dramatic Thunder and everything.
  • 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 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:
  • 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 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.
  • Spikes of Doom: Spikes shoot out from the walls if you make a wrong move in the final chamber.
  • 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.
  • Teleportation: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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


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