Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water's Edge
First posted on 15 November 2010. Last updated on 21 November 2014.
Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water's Edge is the 23rd game in the long-running Nancy Drew series from Her Interactive. This time, the game takes the famous sassy detective to the bustling country of Japan. Naturally, this peaceful vacation is quickly interrupted when Nancy finds herself in yet another mystery. Someone—or something—is haunting the Ryokan Hiei, the charming Japanese inn where she is staying. Ghost sightings and other reports of supernatural events have driven away all the other tourists from the inn, and the inn's future looks grim if Nancy cannot get to the bottom of the mystery. All in all, this is a difficult but charming game with good educational value.
This game is the scariest game yet in the Nancy Drew series, with plenty of tense moments and startling encounters. Even though there is no blood or gore depicted on screen, the dark settings, eerie music, and (of course) the terrifying appearances of the ryokan's ghost, may frighten younger players. However, all of the story is not dark. Balancing out the sinister ryokan are a bright and cheerful Pachinko parlor and a booth where Nancy can learn to make bento, a cutesy Japanese meal. She can also learn some traditional Japanese crafts, such as origami and calligraphy. To help fund her trip, Nancy is teaching English to some young students—periodically, she will have the chance to grade their homework.
Nancy will meet a small but intriguing cast of characters, each of whom seems to have a motive tying them to the mystery. The former owner of the ryokan, Kasumi, has supposedly died by drowning in the ryokan's large bathing pool. By tradition, the ryokan is passed down from mother to eldest daughter. However, Yumi, who is next in line to inherit the business, has no intentions of staying behind with the family business. Rather, she prefers to work in the city, making bento and designing elaborate clothes. Miwako, the youngest daughter, loves the ryokan and wants to take the responsibility from Yumi, but the girls' grandmother, Takae, forbids it because of tradition. Meanwhile, Rentaro, a goofy tinkerer who is in love with Miwako, wants to take her to the city, which he finds much more exciting than the quiet old ryokan. Nancy will also meet a couple of other characters—a female paranormal investigator and her assistant. Although Nancy will only talk to them over the phone, they are still important and memorable characters. Nancy's best friends, Bess and George, are also visiting Japan, though they are both tied up with an expo and never meet Nancy in person. Ned, Nancy's boyfriend, is nowhere to be found.
Many of the game's puzzles are based on Japanese pastimes such as Sudoku and Pachinko. Some of them can be quite challenging, particularly a giant Sudoku puzzle that Nancy must complete for George and Bess. Experienced adventure gamers will recognize most of the other puzzles, such as a mirror image color puzzle and a sliding puzzle box. Nancy will also get to do some paranormal investigation of her own, including recording some audio at spooky areas of the ryokan. For the most part, these are fun puzzles, especially for fans of number and logic puzzles.
Unfortunately, for me, not all of the game's difficulty came from the puzzles. On a few occasions, I could not figure out what I needed to do to advance the game, and I wasted lots of time aimlessly wandering or trying to solve puzzles before I had all the necessary information.
The game is also made difficult by its real-time nature. A clock is always running in the background, and Nancy can only visit places and people at certain times. Sometimes she must simply wait for a critical event to be triggered, such as a package arriving at the ryokan or for Yumi to send a picture to her cell phone. To pass the time quickly, Nancy can return to her room to sleep until a designated time.
The game can be played in either Senior Mode or Junior Mode. The Junior Mode includes a checklist that will keep stumbling players on the right path.
The audiovisuals are what fans of the series have come to expect from the developer: picturesque scenes, well animated characters, excellent voice acting, and superb sound effects and music. The interface is also quite simple and effective, allowing players to navigate the game and interact with puzzles with ease. Nancy uses her cell phone to take pictures of clues as well as her notebook to keep track of clues and suspects. The game even includes a few extra touches, such as Easter eggs (literally) and a bonus system that awards fun achievements to particularly careful or persistent players. It is a nice way to add extra value to an already enjoyable game.
Overall, Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water's Edge is another solid entry in this long-lived franchise and is sure to please all fans of the series.