Almost two months ago I played my first Nancy Drew game, Secrets Can Kill. With that being the first true exposure I had to the Nancy Drew franchise, I had no idea that I would enjoy it as much as I did. With Shadow at the Water’s Edge, I unfortunately can’t say the same.
In Shadow at the Water’s Edge, we see Nancy take a trip to Japan with her friends Bess and George. They are there in Kyoto to teach English and also because George has an Expo she must attend. Nancy chooses to stay at Ryokan Hiei, a traditional Japanese inn, that has a history for being haunted.
Now, I love Japanese culture. I’ve been studying it on and off for over two decades. I love the food, I love the language, I love the history… I love everything about it. One thing I will say is that, despite the flaws in the game, they were accurate with the way they portrayed the Japanese.
At the ryokan, you can take lessons under Takae Shimizu, the grandmother, and she’ll teach you katakana, origami, a traditional tea ceremony, and much more. I hadn’t studied hiragana or katakana for years, so it was so nice getting the chance to, especially while playing a game. I also enjoyed the soundtrack that would vary from Taiko drumming to shamisen.
Graphically it’s on par with Secrets Can Kill, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather have the graphics stay the same from game to game, than the artists deciding to get crazy and going in a completely different direction. I liked how they showed a lot of detail in the ryokan garden, how you could almost see the fibers in the tatami floors, and the transparency in the shoji screens. Even though I’ve (unfortunately) never been to Japan, it is as I would imagine a real ryokan to be, so that deserves praise.
A major complaint for me were some of the puzzles. In most hidden object/mystery/puzzle games, there are hints or an option to skip a puzzle should you find it to be too difficult. That option doesn’t exist in Shadow at the Water’s Edge. The first puzzle the game throws you into involves the backing of a picture frame, and I wanted to smash my mouse into tiny bits because of it.
The objective in that puzzle is to move around 10+ little dots that have string attached to them. Some have as little as 3 strings attached, while some have as many as 7. You have to figure out a way to move the dots around the frame so that none of the strings overlap. Thinking that I was just a complete idiot, I took to the Internet and found out that I wasn’t the only one who was having a ridiculous amount of trouble with it, so at least my ego wasn’t too badly bruised.
Other puzzles weren’t too bad, like where you meet Miwako’s older sister, Yumi who works at a Bento Bar. If you’ve never heard of bento before, it’s basically a boxed lunch, but better, and Japanese. With that puzzle, you help her put some together with different things like a sandwich, an egg, and rice. I also liked the one where you had to go inside Yumi’s apartment and use a key to unlock this Avatar program. I know it seems a little girly, but I had a lot of fun creating these over the top anime chicks and then messaging them to the contacts in my phone. Logic fans will love how you can play full games of Sudoku, Nonograms, and Renograms.
Going back to the story, at times it felt a little too tedious and a little too drawn out. Nobody wanted to tell you how Kasumi, Yumi and Miwako’s mother, died. It also took ages to be able to get to somebody who was willing to translate the newspaper article about her without risking a prompt saying how you failed. The overall tone and feel for this game is darker than Secrets Can Kill, and the music really emphasizes that. There was even a time where, when Nancy was sleeping, a shadowy figure, similar to the one in Ju-On (The Grudge here in the U.S.), floated on by her balcony window.
If you’ve never played a Nancy Drew game, you might want to download the free demo for this one prior to buying, just in case. Longtime fans of the franchise will probably not have any problems at all with Shadow at the Water’s Edge and I honestly can’t blame them. Despite the flaws and drawbacks, it’s standard Nancy Drew, but in a different setting.
To purchase a copy Nancy Drew: Shadow a the Water’s Edge, you can either obtain a physical copy from Target or Walmart, have one shipped to you from Her Interactive or Amazon, or download a copy straight from Her Interactive. It currently retails for $19.99.