Nancy, Bess, and George are in Japan–Nancy to teach English and her friends to attend a technology convention. The ryokan Nancy is staying at, however, seems to be haunted by an aggrieved ghost. Can Nancy solve they mystery in time to keep the ryokan open?
Though I love playing Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew PC games, the quality of each varies, making each new adventure somewhat of a surprise: you might find yourself playing in a complex, interactive world like that of The Secret of Shadow Ranch, or you might feel trapped by the limited locations of games such as Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon or Alibi in Ashes. Fortunately, Shadow at the Water’s Edge combines many of the best elements of previous offerings to create a game with just the right mixture of complexity, mystery, and fun.
Immediately I’ll note that I enjoyed this game so much largely as a result of its plethora of mini games. Players can spend hours solving Sudoku puzzles or nonograms, assembling bento boxes (a logic puzzle), playing pachinko in the arcade, and creating avatars to send to Nancy’s friends and to save on her phone as contact pictures. The mystery itself follows the trend in later games–Nancy captures the villain in the act, instead of having to confront different characters and accuse them of the crime (hopefully correctly, if you don’t want it to be game over)–so these mini games are really what allows players to tap into their logic skills.
Other interactive elements include Nancy learning about origami, tea ceremonies, and calligraphy, but these are one-time deals; once Nancy leaves the origami lesson, there’s really now way to go back. And these elements are too obviously supposed to be educational opportunities to be as much fun as the puzzles–after all, as a player, you’re not really doing origami. Clicking on the correct dotted lines won’t help anyone create something in real life.
The puzzles Nancy is required to solve to advance the mystery hit just the right spot between too simple and too challenging. Often I find I need to look up a hint to solve a complex puzzles, but in Shadow at the Water’s Edge I generally felt I could solve the mini games given enough time (I took three or four days to solve one, but I got through it). I don’t like feeling exasperated when playing something meant to be fun, so this was a relief.
They mystery itself is a little dull. That is, there are only four suspects and players can rule out two immediately. The game does not focus on figuring out who is behind the ryokan hauntings, but instead just advances along as new clues fall into Nancy’s way–a broken mirror, some footprints, a key card to access locked rooms. Fortunately Nancy has enough locations to explore–Yumi’s bento booth, Yumi’s apartment, the arcade, and the ryokan (with access to various rooms and the garden) to keep things interesting.
I do wish Her Interactive would focus on making the mysteries a little more…mysterious. I miss the days when the player had to figure out who committed the crime, instead of being told or instead of it being just so obvious. On the other hand, the focus on interactivity in regards to the puzzles and mini games is also a positive step. If more of the later games are like Shadow at the Water’s Edge, I’ll keep on playing.