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A Veteran's Review of ASH

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  • A Veteran's Review of ASH

    Allow me to preface this review by saying that I have been playing the ND games for fourteen years. Over those years, I have probably played each game well over twenty times--the older ones probably over fifty--and I do at least one full marathon of all 33 games (i.e., all 32 and SCK Remastered) annually. As I have gotten older, I have found myself ranking the games, characters, music, etc., in my spare time during marathons, and this year I thought I would write--and subsequently post--reviews of each game while I go through my 2018/2019 marathon (things have been very busy and chaotic). I have lost access to/forgotten about my previous accounts on here, including my very first one, so I made a new one solely for this purpose. That being said, I hope you enjoy my review, and I apologize, again, for the wait to those who have been following me!

    Plot: Back home in River Heights at last, Nancy teams up with Ned, Bess, and George for The Clues Challenge, a week-long sleuthing challenge for local puzzlers and detectives alike. This year, the winners of The Clues Challenge will get to preside over the Anvil Day closing ceremony, where the town’s time capsule will be opened for the first time. The team that wins may also put personal items of their choosing in the capsule. Determined to win, Nancy and her fellow Team Danger teammates work together to solve riddles and hunt down clues for the location of the hidden medallion. When Nancy receives an anagrammed note telling her to go check out the thermostat at the old town hall, she does not expect to find herself trapped in the building after it suddenly goes ablaze. Even more surprising is that a small crowd has gathered outside the building, including local news reporter, Brenda Carlton, and they all believe that she may be responsible for setting it on fire. Soon afterward, Nancy is arrested by Chief McGinnis on suspicion of arson and thrown in jail! Can Nancy prove her innocence and get herself out of jail before the public turns on her completely? Will her friends be able to find enough evidence to catch the real culprit? Were they trying to frame Nancy or get her out of the picture completely? It’s up to you as Nancy Drew, Bess Marvin, George Fayne, and Ned Nickerson to find out!

    This is not my favorite game. My opinion of it has slightly increased with time, but I disliked it immensely the first time I played it. There are a lot of areas in which this game struggles, but the most significant area is the plot. While I can appreciate the concept Nik and Cathy were going for here, I do not think the execution turned out well. It is fascinating to explore what the people of River Heights think of our beloved heroine and to learn that many of them resent her or find her to be a nuisance. I find that to be quite realistic, as well as the mob mentality that followed suit after the public was convinced that Nancy burned down the town hall. Nonetheless, it does not make for a very interesting or enjoyable game, and it fails to make any kind of powerful commentary about public perception or high profile cases. I can think of plenty of documentaries that have been made about high profile cases that do a much better job of what I think this game was attempting to do. Normally, I love how Nik tries to go for bigger, deeper, more complex themes in his games, but I think this was too big of an undertaking and not something that could really be done in a game rated E.

    Unfortunately, my complaints about the plot do not end here. For one, it is not realistic at all in the crime-solving/pre-trial aspect. Maybe things are different for extremely small towns (I seriously doubt it), but I do not think that a precinct would allow an arrested criminal to walk around the office unmonitored, communicate with the outside world freely, receive and give items to people in the outside world, handle evidence, and try to clear suspicion on themselves by personally gathering third-party evidence. While collecting and presenting third-party evidence is an option for the defense, the defendant would likely not be personally involved in collecting it unless they were a pro se. Moreover, I do not think that Nancy would be released based on evidence she gathered, and I’m not certain the police would have arrested her in the first place without conducting a more thorough investigation. (They don’t want a civil lawsuit.) I have never personally heard of someone being released in this manner, as it is usually that they posted bail or were released on their own recognizance. In plain terms, Nancy should not have been arrested, as I do not believe there was probable cause, and she should not have been released until she saw a judge. (They literally arrested her for having an accelerant at her house before knowing what accelerant was used. It’s not like she was a flight risk.) This is all based on the assumption that they actually charged her when they arrested her, but it is unclear and the game generally does not include aspects of the judicial system that it should. Plus, even though she got out of detention and identified the culprit, I believe she will still have to go to a preliminary hearing and have the case dismissed or go to trial and be acquitted, hence why her arrest was absolutely premature.

    Criminal law issues aside, I think game’s plot suffers because it is very one-note and does not balance the subplots well at all. You practically forget about The Clues Challenge entirely by the time the game is over, and there are a lot of things that are introduced like subplots, like certain character’s backstories, that end up having next to no role in the plot. Plus, it seems like a lot of things happen behind-the-scenes and require context that we simply do not have and is not established clearly, such as Brenda Carlton talking about Nancy on the air or various media platforms. We confront her about it, but do not see it at all in-game. The same applies with the Antiquities of the World show that is literally mentioned in two items and talked about in conversation once or twice. I don’t know; the game just does not seem to juggle anything well at all.

    Setting: Well, I can’t say that I love the setting in this game. I was really excited to see River Heights, but I don’t feel like we got a good feel for it. There are very few locations we can actually go, and none of them are places that I associated with River Heights from reading the yellow spine books growing up. I realize the time period makes things different, and there were probably plenty of places that other fans recognized with glee; however, there was a large disconnect for me. I didn’t study the map terribly closely, so maybe I missed something, but I was pretty disappointed that we didn’t even get to see Carson, Hannah, or Togo. The plot made me dislike River Heights too; it was not a charming place at all.

    Anyway, I don’t have much of anything to say about the environments, except Nancy’s house. It isn’t what I pictured—because I was still envisioning an old-fashioned house—but it is absolutely STUNNING. Honestly, it’s the bright spot of this game. The way they did the natural light is so beautiful. Yellow is my favorite color, so I simply adore the yellow paint on the walls. It makes the house feel so warm and pleasant. I love the green and white living room—which has a lovely ceiling and spectacular windows like the rest of the house—with that gorgeous white grand piano. The octagonal upstairs office with light blue walls is so picturesque, but the real star is that lovely window seat, which is the reading nook of my dreams. I have NO WORDS for Nancy’s room. It’s honestly my dream bedroom from childhood onward. The white wood paneling with yellow accent wallpaper and light blue walls, the soft white and ivory furniture, the sunny yellow chairs, the giant walk-in closet (or en suite bathroom), the whimsical paintings and pressed flowers are divine. I. am. in. love. I could gush about each piece of furniture individually, but I won’t. Just. It’s perfection. It’s beautiful. I love it so much.

    Characters: *sigh* Honestly, I think this game might have the worst characters of all time. If not, it is certainly in competition with CRE, RAN, and TOT for the overall worst cast. Regardless, all but one is at the bottom of the barrel for me. Although Bess, George, and Ned feature prominently in this game, I am going to discuss them in the “other points of interest” section below. Now, let’s start dissecting:

    Antonia Scallari – town councilwoman, owner of Scoops ice cream parlor


    1) Allegedly cares about her local community

    1) Liar (for sure lied in her 911 call to make herself look like a hero, aka gross)

    2) Insanely mean

    3) Two-faced

    4) Immoral and does not care about justice

    5) Desires approval more than justice

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Despises Nancy

    2) Doesn’t hide the fact that she absolutely hates Nancy’s guts

    3) Two-faced and mean

    4) Pressured police for Nancy’s arrest

    5) Might stand to gain on destruction of town hall

    6) Was at the site of the fire and called it in (a known arsonist tactic)

    Other Notes:

    1) Of all the unlikable characters in this game, Toni takes the cake. She is my least favorite character in all the games. Period. I cannot stand her. She is horrible. She is basically evil. She has no redeemable qualities at all. She actually disgusts me. I have never disliked a Nancy Drew character so thoroughly in my life. I’m going to stop here before I accidentally say something that is not allowed on these boards. Ugh. I despise her.

    Alexei Markovic – The Magnificent Markovic, antique shop owner


    1) Kind to Nancy

    2) Former amateur detective

    3) Has his finger on the pulse of this repugnant town

    4) Helpful


    1) Unkind to Bess

    2) Moody, bitter, and overly sensitive

    3) A bit rude

    4) Anger issues

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) He was at town hall during the fire

    2) Bitter and resentful of River Heights community (I mean…same)

    Other Notes:

    1) I like Alexei, despite his serious anger problems. I wish we were able to learn more about his backstory and that it had been fleshed out as a subplot more. Still, I hated that it was pretty much the only facet of his character that we explored, as he brought it up or accused us of bringing it up repeatedly. Still, his kindness to Nancy and sympathy to her situation is a rare glimpse of pleasantness in an otherwise unpleasant game. His quote to Bess about her unceremoniously breaking the vase cracks me up.

    Deirdre Shannon – local college student, Nancy’s nemesis and rival


    1) Somewhat helpful

    2) Somewhat funny

    1) Rude

    2) Boyfriend stealer

    3) Mean

    4) Terrible friend

    5) Liar

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Dislikes Nancy

    2) Was at town hall during the fire

    3) Wants to date Ned

    4) Relishes in the fact that Nancy is in jail

    Other Notes:

    1) Well, I am happy that we finally got to meet Deirdre Shannon after all this time. I do not like her very much in this game compared to later games, but she was everything I expected her to be after reading the books.

    Brenda Carlton – local news reporter


    1) Efficient at her job


    1) Mean

    2) Cares more about a good story than the truth

    3) Twists words around in her reporting

    4) Has dirt on everyone and ready for blackmail

    5) Manipulative

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Clearly hates Nancy

    2) First to accuse Nancy of arson

    3) Known to impersonate Nancy before

    Other Notes:

    1) I cannot stand Brenda. She has no redeemable qualities. That’s all I have to say.

    Music: As everyone knows, I love almost all of the ND soundtracks, but this is one that I don’t really like. This is especially sad because it’s Kevin Manthei’s last soundtrack for the series. The track that places in Nancy’s house, aptly titled “Home,” is sweet, but that’s really the only track that I enjoy from the soundtrack. The rest fit the atmosphere of the game, I guess, but they don’t really stand out at all. It’s more like background noise than music, if that makes any sense. Usually, the soundtracks grab my attention because they are so delicious to the ear on top of setting the mood for the game. I often find myself mindlessly humming to them. In this game, however, I filter it all out. The instrumentation is incredibly annoying to me, which might be why I block it out while playing the game. It’s so hard to explain, but I don’t feel like the music reflects River Heights well. Or maybe it does and the problem is that I do NOT like River Heights in this game. Either way, I’m not a fan of this soundtrack.

    Puzzles: Like everything else in this game, the puzzles are lacking. There’s some decent sleuthing in the game, but the game basically tells you want to do, which kind of ruins the fun. Altogether, there really aren’t that many puzzles in this game either and they are all extremely easy (except two), which does not exactly help with the length. Anyway, here’s the breakdown:

    Great: Number Punch, interview frequency/mixer puzzle

    Number Punch is my favorite thing in this game. It’s such a simple idea, but so much fun. The interview puzzle is also really fun and creative.

    Good: Evidence locker drawer, Swap-A-Lot

    The evidence locker puzzle is really fun! It doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the game, but I enjoy this puzzle. It’s a little too easy though, but not as easy as some puzzles in this game. Swap-A-Lot isn’t really required, but it is also pretty fun.

    Mediocre: Stacking fire puzzle, fire escape puzzle, finding and getting Detective Ryan’s key, computer password, fingerprinting, jammer connection, antenna wires

    All of these puzzles were too easy or completely uninspired. There’s not much else to say.

    Bad: Lock picking, fingerprint analysis, chromatograph puzzle

    The lock picking puzzle isn’t the worst puzzle, but I have no idea how you’re supposed to figure out which solution to use without repeated trial-and-error. I would be more inclined to do that if we didn’t have a small window of time to complete the puzzle. The fingerprint analysis puzzle is too easy, especially given how easy it is to collect the fingerprints. I was hoping they would make it where you actually had to do some legit fingerprint analysis and match the full prints to the partial print using shared characteristics and lines, but…nope. Same for the chromatograph puzzle.

    Horrible: Shape puzzle, tunnel puzzle

    I still have no idea how to solve the shape puzzle, and the fact that solving it is necessary to do the tunnel puzzle makes it all the worse. I’m all for logic puzzles and mazes, but this combination of the two with the time pressure factor makes it awful.

    Graphics: As per usual, the environmental graphics in this game are lovely. While there aren’t a lot of environments and all are quite small, they are all well-designed, especially Nancy’s house. The lighting and textures are stunning. The character models are not quite as polished. I’m not sure what changed between CAP and ASH, but the models look a little more unusual in this game, especially Deirdre. The lighting on her model is strange and unnatural, and it makes her look really weird. I really don’t like the new character models for Bess and George though, especially George (not that her original character model was good either), but I don’t get why Ned doesn’t get to have a character model too. Everyone’s mouths move unnaturally and look a little weird too. I appreciate the increase in facial expressions and body movement, but I think the previous character models looked better. Still, I love that each character model has really distinct facial features.

    Ending: And the award for the most obvious culprit goes to…Alibi in Ashes! In the history of the games, there have been a few obvious culprits, but this one might be the most obvious to date. Naturally, this fact alone ruins the possibility of a strong ending, but this isn’t the only thing that makes this ending bad.

    The ending officially begins after you confront the culprit. I have to admit that I was extremely confused about why this confrontation happened so late after Nancy got out of jail. The initial subject of the confrontation is also something that we learn long before the ending and we know about the motive long before then, too, but Nancy conveniently doesn’t talk about either until this final moment. I honestly didn’t even realize picking that dialogue option was going to lead to the culprit reveal, since I kind of thought we already knew who it was and wasn’t sure why were weren’t confronting them. After this conversation, we have to solve some puzzles that are honestly quite silly and run around town—when we could, I don’t know, go talk to the POLICE, as you do—and then have another “reveal” in the culprit’s secret hideout, as well as physical evidence. No surprise here when the culprit shows up and foils our extremely nonsensical method of stopping them. One more insanely tedious puzzle and forgotten plot point later and we arrive at the ending cutscene.

    The ending letter reveals that everyone, including our culprit, received their comeuppance, though I’m not sure some of them received as much as they deserved. Nancy is incredibly forgiving of the townspeople—too much so, if you ask me—and everything seems to work out for the best. Still, even the ending letter feels a little…stale.

    Other points of interest: The voice acting in this game is as solid as ever, though none of the performances stand out to me. The voices really seem to fit the characters’ appearances though, which is pretty cool. One thing that bothers me though is that Bess, George, and Ned all have the exact same dialogue, unless they are interacting with the character that prefers them. It’s literally identical. I get that they didn’t want to make you feel like you were missing anything by playing as one character versus another, but that kills replay value and is pretty unrealistic. Bess, George, and Ned have different personalities and speaking patterns, so I don’t think they would all handle these interactions the exact same way.

    On that note, I don’t think the game handles them well period. They have next to no personality, except in key moments, and you can’t even see Ned (or George for most of the game) hanging out somewhere. Only Bess gets to be visible at all times, unless you’re playing as her. It makes no sense to save on animation for one character. It also annoys me that they have no reason to call each other, and you can’t switch between them without calling Nancy first. That really drives me crazy, and it makes that whole aspect of the game even more tedious than it already is by default.

    The Takeaway: I may not have said everything I needed to say, but this game is such a big disappointment to me that I didn’t want to keep on about it for too long. The plot, the characters, the music, the puzzles, and even the setting are lacking. For this game to be the twenty-fifth game in the series and the first to take place in River Heights, it only makes its subpar quality even more unacceptable. For these reason, I give the game two stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. Sorry, but no. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, prepare yourself for some disappointment. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, I recommend almost anything else first. If you're a new fan trying to decide what game to play first, you should definitely pick another game. This game is quite short, and I do not believe it is a promising title for a first-time player. If, however, you are looking for something else, I recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, Shadow at the Water's Edge, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (all in my top ten).

    Thank you for reading my review! I hope that my perspectives and ramblings make you feel validated in your opinion of this game, whatever that opinion may be. I should be posting a review of Tomb of the Lost Queen within the next week, provided the forum is back online by then, and I will continue to post them as I try to finish up my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon before MID comes out or 2019 ends (whichever one comes first)...hoping all is not lost on the boards by the next I finish this next review.

    Previous review: The Captive Curse
    Next review: Tomb of the Lost Queen

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 02:32 PM.

  • #2
    Cool review! ASH was the first game I ever pre-ordered from HeR Interactive and for awhile, I wanted to like this game so much until I replayed the game again and it's not really the type of game I like. It's not a bad game in my opinion but it's not my top favorite.

    Love your reviews! Awesome job! =D
    ~ MD12 ~


    • #3
      I was really excited about the premise of the game, especially since we were finally going to see River Heights, but it really fell flat for me. It's most definitely not the worst game in the series, but it has a lot of issues that I think extend beyond just my personal preferences. Even without those issues, I'm not certain it would have become a favorite for me though. I tend to favor the scary games most. Thanks for the comment! :)