Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water’s Edge

7.0 Overall Score

Written by on January 5, 2011 in

It’s a good thing that the Nancy Drew games from Her Interactive don’t actually require you to play them in order. I was last solving mysteries in #21 – Warnings at Waverly Academy and going into Shadow at the Water’s Edge, I had no idea what had happened in-between. What you learn prior to setting off on the newest adventure is that Nancy has been invited to teach English in Japan and will be staying at the Ryokan Hiei, a small traditional hotel known to be haunted.

Before I tell you how the game progresses, let me tell you now that if you’re the type of person that is very bad at number puzzles, or quickly loses patience with numbers or the type of puzzles you might find in the newspaper, this is not the game for you. Shadow at the Water’s Edge throws a lot of Japanese culture at Nancy, not the least of which is the puzzles.

I knew I was in for something different with this game just after opening the packaging, it’s the first of the Nancy games I’ve seen on two discs, which told me I was in for a game with a little more oomph to it than before. I’m not new to the Nancy games, I’ve played about six of them now and I find that I enjoy the puzzler/mystery feel of the games and having been a fan of mystery stories (Nancy Drew Mysteries specifically) for years, I’ve got a pretty good mind when it comes to figuring out what to do next in these games. They traditionally haven’t been terribly difficult or time consuming, finding the right mix of puzzle and mystery with story and repetition.

Having arrived in the ryokan, I met Miwako, the young lady at the front desk and Suki, her robotic cat. I’m later introduced to her grandmother, Takae and her boyfriend (slash hotel Handyman) Rentaro. Rentaro specifically is important in the beginning of the game, as it’s he that introduces Nancy to three puzzle types: Renograms, Nonograms, and Sudoku. The latter two puzzle types play pretty huge parts in getting the game to progress, so it’s important to not only do the easy puzzles, but to go back to Rentaro for a few more, just so you can get the practice.

Soon after arriving at the ryokan, Nancy happens to be in the lobby as a furious hotel guest is checking out early. They’ve been frightened away by the haunted hotel and it’s then that Nancy’s detective senses start tingling. She’s raring to crack the case before it’s even really started and it’s time to start grilling Rentaro, Miwako and Takae about the ryokan’s past. Nancy knows they’ve got a secret, but their traditional family values and concern over the ryokan means they’re not saying a thing.

Also in Japan, are Bess and George, two of Nancy’s good friends and she’s got them on speed dial so she can keep in close contact with them. George is working a technology expo at the exhibit center in Misako and tries to get Nancy tickets to join her and Bess, but the tickets are sold out. This means that for the entire game, you’ll only ever interact with Bess and George through the phone with calls and the occasional text message. However, Nancy does travel down to the exhibit center many times to meet with Miwako’s sister, Yumi. If you’ve played many of these Nancy Drew games before, you might find it interesting to note that Nancy’s boyfriend Ned, is not available to talk to. Usually Ned is available to call when Nancy needs to rehash the plot a little bit and he’ll give hints. In some games, Bess has been available, or a combination of Bess and/or Ned. Bess and George fill that role in this game, though they’ve conferenced their phones so when you call one of them, you’re really calling both of them. As hints go, Bess and George are fairly useless – though they will try and help you with your puzzles, it’s normally tips/ideas that you already know and just don’t know what to do with it. The best way to know how to keep your game moving forward is to keep an eye on Nancy’s check-list, where you can check tasks off as you complete them. Not being able to check off one of the tasks has more than once made me realize I haven’t completed something or investigated something as thoroughly as the game wanted.

Nancy also has a responsibility to the school where she’s teaching English. She has a few students and each night, and she keeps her students assignments in a box in her hotel room. For several nights, you’ll want to keep up with the assignments to make sure Nancy grades them as new ones come in. I only saw four assignments total, but played through more days/nights than that, so it’s fairly easy. You’ll never have to take Nancy to the school either. In fact, there’s only a few places in all Japan Nancy will be able to visit in the game. There’s the ryokan, there’s a small Pachinko parlor in Kure that Nancy needs to visit several times throughout the game for different reasons. There’s the exhibit hall in Misako where you’ll also find Yumi and her bento stand. And a few times, Nancy will make a trip to Yumi’s apartment.

So, after Nancy’s been good and settled at the Ryokan Hiei, the strange things start to happen. Lights flicker, doors slam, Nancy sees a strange dark haired lady in the bathroom mirror and the mirror cracks, and that’s just the beginning. Nancy finds a book on supernatural hauntings written by an American named Savannah; the book has a whole chapter on the ryokan. Nancy manages to get in touch with Savannah, who happens to be in Japan at the same convention Bess and George are working, and talks to her about the ryokan. Eventually, Nancy’s the only guest left in the ryokan. After some not-so-subtle Nancy Drew styled prodding, she learns that Takae thinks the ryokan is haunted by her daughter’s spirit and that the spirit (also called Yūrei) is angry with her.

The story in Shadow at the Water’s Edge (while I think having little to do with the title – there’s water, and it’s Japan, but it’s kind of eh- not really related) mixes good old traditional detective mystery with a little supernatural fascination and it’s Nancy’s job to figure out what the real mystery is and who (or what) is behind it all. If you’ve played any of the other 22 Nancy Drew games, you’re going to be for the same sort of ride you’ll find in the other games (difficult number puzzles aside). However, you should expect to put in more significant amount of time with this game. I think in the past some of the games can be beat in 4-6 hours if you’re pretty quick on the uptake. Shadow at the Water’s Edge probably took me closer to 10 hours which is a pretty big upswing in time, and probably explains the 2 disc install. I think the game’s had a bit of a graphics adjustment as well, it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not the typical three-dollar mystery puzzler you’ll find at most online game portals either.

I did have one minor concern about the story in the game. This is one of the first times I’ve played one of the Nancy Drew games and really had an issue with timing on certain things. Events didn’t always trigger when I thought they would, and sometimes I had to revisit things I’d already seen or done, because I didn’t do it after the event that the game had it planned for. For instance, I looked up records on the ryokan’s computer as part of my investigation, but because I didn’t do it after a certain conversation with a character, I had to do it all over again after triggering another conversation. Little things like this might mean retracing Nancy’s steps a few times, but it’s quick to get around, and conversations are linear enough, you can cover everything you need to without too much trouble. It’s not like there’s a time-limit on the game, so, this wasn’t a huge deal, but since Nancy can only go places during certain times (the trains stop running after midnight) it does mean repeatedly returning to Nancy’s room and setting the alarm on her phone for another time. On the good side though, I didn’t run into any major glitches that prevented me from completing the game, like that time I played game #14 and a glitch near the end of the game meant having to start the whole thing over again. (One of the valuable lessons learned about keeping multiple saves happened that day.)

There are two levels to the game; you can play as a Junior or Senior Detective, which changes the difficulty level of the puzzles. As with many of the more recent games, there’s trivia and achievements at the end of the game, based on your game play. They’re minor additions and don’t necessarily add anything to the game, they’re more to reward you for doing the more esoteric things in the game, like playing with the robotic cat, or relaxing in the hot springs. There are however, two different endings to the game, based on a choice Nancy makes when she figures out the culprit. It changes the post game wrap-up a bit, but not so much that it’s worth repeating those last five minutes or so of the game.

For the money, Nancy’s got a pretty big mystery in store for players. It’s not going to keep you busy for long, but if you’re in to it for the mystery, for the Nancy Drew lore, or a chance at different type of puzzler (as long as you like numbers), I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

A copy of Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water’s Edge was provided to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.

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Author: Elizabeth Parmeter View all posts by

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