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A Veteran's Review of DAN

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  • A Veteran's Review of DAN

    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). 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 for the wait to those who have been following me!

    Before I dive into the review, I want to explain how my upcoming reviews are going to differ from the previous ones. Since they were getting a little too time-consuming and draining, which is part of why they have been so delayed repeatedly, I am going to try to cut back on some of my commentary. I know I got long-winded about certain aspects of the games that interest me, and I may still allow myself to discuss those things if I feel strongly about them in a particular game. However, my 2018 marathon has been delayed because I wanted to review each game after playing it, which made me really sad and stunted my productivity on these reviews. If there is something that I don't talk about that you would like to hear my thoughts on or if you miss my detailed discussions of architecture and color palettes, feel free to comment, and I'll do my best to provide. I don't want the quality of my reviews to decrease, but I would rather be able to actually write them for you than never finish them. I know I haven't been getting a lot of traction on these reviews for a while--the earlier ones did better by way of views and comments--but I hope that, for those that have stuck around this long, my reviews continue to entertain!

    Plot: In Danger by Design, Nancy goes uncover to work as a fashion intern for an up-and-coming fashion designer, Minette, in order to determine why Minette has been acting so strangely, going so far as to wear a mask 24/7 and firing interns left and right without any apparent provocation. When she arrives at Minette's moulin studio, she doesn't expect to also stumble across a mystery involving the previous owner, Noisette Tornad, dating back to the German occupation of Paris in WWII. What, if anything, does Minette's strange behavior have to do with the anonymous threats she's been receiving? How are Noisette Tornad's wartime activities connected to modern events? In order to find out, Nancy must navigate the dangerous Parisian catacombs and cut-throat fashion industry with the same level of care or her cover could be blown...or worse.

    I'm not going to lie, when I saw the teaser at the end of TRN, I was ecstatic about the premise of the game. To eleven-year-old me, there were few things more exciting than solving a mystery in Paris that involved an eccentric fashion designer who wore a mask and lived in a windmill. It was at the same time that I got into Moulin Rouge and The Phantom of the Opera (I was so obsessed with PotO, I watched the movie every day after school and listened to the movie soundtrack and original London cast soundtrack daily), so the game really struck while the iron was hot. Unfortunately, however, the game did not live up to my expectations completely, though I wouldn't call it a bad game by any means. I think the game's largest flaw is that it doesn't know how to balance the two mysteries or tie them together in a way that's cohesive. To date, all the Nancy Drew games I've reviewed have had one major plot and a subplot that turns out to be connected in some fashion. Even if the subplot momentarily takes precedence over the main mystery, it doesn't feel like Nancy has entirely shifted her focus away from that mystery, especially when that subplot turns out to be related to the main mystery or clears up something in the investigation. I think that the connection between the two mysteries is incredibly weak, and it didn't have to be. Without getting into spoiler territory, I will just say that there are two characters who could and probably would have been very interested in Noisette, but there is absolute no connection made between them. Both the mystery surrounding Minette and that of Noisette had massive potential and were extremely interesting, but Minette largely takes the backburner after the first half of the game and her story derails into bizarre territory that can only be explained by bad writing. If the game had put more focus on the Noisette mystery from the start and had that be the main focus with Minette as a subplot, I feel that the plot wouldn't feel as messy and incoherent at the end. Still, I just really lament that the two plots couldn't be tied together more strongly.

    Setting: Ah, Paris, the city of lights, the city of love, the city of culinary delights, the birthplace of Enlightenment, the center of action in the Belle ةpoque and Années folles, and the refuge of the Lost Generation. No matter what you know Paris for, it's undoubtedly been one of the most popular and admired cities of the world for hundreds of years. With its rich history, notable landmarks, and unique charms, it would be impossible to capture every facet of Paris in a game, but I think this game does a good job of trying to capture that Parisian je ne sais quoi (I had to do it ) without falling to old clichés. One of my biggest complaints about Secret of the Scarlet Hand was how the game had absolutely nothing representative of D.C.'s culture, historical or otherwise. This game made a significant improvement by including locations that actually exist in Paris or are similar to locations you would find in Paris! Square du Vert-Galant is an actual park in the center of Paris, and it's apparently quite popular for romantic strolls. The in-game park has street vendors, another very common sighting in Paris, and they are most commonly found along the Seine, so placing them in a park on the Seine is fitting, even if they wouldn't set up there. The different metro stations are all real stops in Paris, and the Denfert Rochereau station is right next to the catacombs' entrance. The édicule Abbesses station is a well-known piece of Parisian architecture, and the Hôtel de Ville, or city hall, is another real location mentioned in the game. While we never actually get to see the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, or Notre Dame, the game provides us with authentic places, or places mirrored heavily off of real places, to enhance the Parisian atmosphere as much as possible. Each of them is reasonably interesting and diverse, especially the moulin (my favorite), in tone, color palette, lighting, and atmosphere. It isn't perfect, but it's an attempt worth recognition and praise.

    Characters: Of all the characters in Nancy Drew games, I cannot say that this cast of characters are among my absolute favorites. That is, except Minette. For whatever reason, I absolutely love Minette, which I will try to explain momentarily. I also have a certain fondness for Dieter, but that comes down to his accent and his undying love for Minette that makes him adorable. Jean Mi is insufferable--though I share his pain over Nancy butchering French in this game--and JJ Ling is extremely annoying. I liked her more as a child, but now I'm really not a fan at all. She loses even more points for making me hungry every time I play. I have mixed feelings about Heather--to be fair, I got the bad ending the first time I played the game and I still stand by that choice--that largely stem from moral concerns, but I won't get into my theories in moral philosophy. She's nice, but problematic. I'll leave it at that.

    Now, since I do love Minette and feel the need to explain myself (and don't want to cut this section too short), I will elaborate as succinctly as possible on why she sticks out in my mind. Firstly, I admire her dedication to creating clothes for average and plus-sized women. All women, regardless of clothing size, are aware of the problems in women's fashion and how clothing is rarely, if ever, catered to women in the upper (or lower) clothing sizes. It's as if designers don't think these women want or deserve to feel as beautiful as they are and wear clothing that shows off their gorgeous curves and makes them feel confident. It's as if the fashion industry, until recently, decided they didn't exist. I know that Minette isn't a real high-end fashion designer, but for her to be a champion for women of all sizes in this game is very endearing to me. When this game came out, I am sure there were many girls and women who felt unseen, and I'd like to think that they encountered Minette and felt positive about their bodies because she saw the beauty in them. Secondly, I just think she's a load of fun. Sure, she's eccentric and all, but I think she would be a cool person to hang around, especially when she isn't under so much stress and perhaps got some help with any mental disorders she might have. I guess I really sympathize with her and can see who she is underneath everything. Thirdly, I adore her character design. As a fellow redhead, I can't help but feel a kinship with her. Her clothing is extremely interesting to me as well.

    Oh, and Prudence Rutherford deserves an honorable mention because her small part in the game is absolutely hysterical.

    Music: If any of you have been waiting for a panned soundtrack review, you're in luck because today is the day. I know there's probably some shock among you, and some of you probably wondering how on Earth I could possibly dislike the soundtrack for this game. However, it is true. This is one of my least favorite soundtracks in the series. The primary reason I am not fond of this soundtrack is that it really doesn't attract my attention. At all. I kid you not, I have played Danger by Design countless times with the same sound settings on several different computers with different speakers and I did not realize the game had background music playing for years. I could obviously hear it, but it was so unremarkable and uninteresting that I was not consciously aware of it playing. It was just French-style background noise. There were probably two or three songs that I actually remembered playing in the game (excluding the themes that play for the metro, culprit confrontation, and Jane's game) when I first listened to the soundtrack outside of it, even though I have since played the game and heard all of the music. In some games, music that doesn't stand out would be a sign of good game design. As long as it is creating/enhancing the atmosphere without distracting the player, it is doing its job. However, Nancy Drew games rarely, if ever, need to have the kind of ambient-type music that has these distraction-free (or terror-inducing) benefits, and, as such, typically has incredibly good music that also enhances the atmosphere. For that reason, I find the soundtrack to be deeply disappointing.

    Furthermore, I do not think that any of the songs, besides those aforementioned that definitely get attention, stand out against each other. There is little-to-no instrument or (significant) tempo variation. Each song kind of rolls into the other until they have all somehow passed without notice of change. I'm not particularly fond of the instrumentation either; it's pretty hokey. I know the idea was to sound French without being clichéd, but French music is not that unvaried and even the more stereotyped traditional French music is enjoyable and can even be beautiful. It didn't have to be as stereotyped as "La Vie en rose" on the accordion, but at least that song is lovely.

    Puzzles: I'm generally a fan of the puzzles in this game. One of my least favorite things in the games is when a puzzle is added or introduced for the sake of there being a puzzle. This game, however, implements its puzzles incredibly well, as the vast majority has a purpose rooted in the plot of the game. There are a few chore puzzles, but they are actually pretty enjoyable as well and remain relevant to the game. Since there are so many puzzles in this game, I will pick two puzzles to discuss in each category, namely: good puzzles, mediocre puzzles, bad puzzles, and chore puzzles.

    Goodness, there are so many good puzzles in this game, it was honestly difficult for me to decide which ones I wanted to discuss. Probably the strongest puzzle for me is navigating the waterlogged tunnels. I wouldn't say it is my favorite in the game, but I like the complexity and uniqueness. It isn't a maze for the sake of being a maze either--and has an important item hidden in it--which is nice. The tunnel police section adds a whole new dimension to the outer portion, though they have never been hard to avoid for me. Again, it isn't my favorite, but I think that segment of the game is pretty fun and it takes time to go through it all. Besides the tunnel puzzle, the other one that (somehow) like is the photo development puzzle. I know this one probably divides a lot of fans, but that's what I love about it. To this day, I die at least once during that puzzle--I have gotten through unscathed before--because it is challenging, and I have to count aloud to make sure I don't leave the photo in the basin too long. There aren't many puzzles left in the Nancy Drew games that I can't solve without problems, except the monster ones, so it is nice to have one of this moderate difficulty that still trips me up after all this time. Honorable mentions: the cookie puzzle, the cockroach puzzle, tea puzzle (my three favorites).

    For the first puzzles I consider mediocre, it's largely because I think they should have been more difficult, especially given their importance in the story, namely the M380 decoder puzzles. I am a huge fan of ciphers and cryptography, so it is disappointing to me that the cipher puzzles in the game didn't require more...thinking. I know it's a decoding machine, but it would have been more fun if we had the opportunity to learn more about ciphers, especially some used in WWII, and do some decoding by hand before cracking open the M380. Alas, we did not, so it is a mediocre puzzle at best. The second puzzle I consider mediocre is the fashion ensemble, mostly because it was too easy. I really enjoy that puzzle, but I was hoping for more outfits to design or slightly more difficult instructions. The outfits are absolutely hideous and outlandish, but that's another matter entirely.

    The bad puzzles are unnecessary in the game and frankly boring as well. My two least favorite are the photography hunt for Dieter and the paint bomb. I'm fairly certain the paint bomb wouldn't have done any significant damage to Minette's studio, and the photography hunt was just an excuse for Dieter to be MIA for most of the game and get Nancy to find certain locations in the game if she hadn't already. I should also say that the park puzzle is fun, but it gets demoted by that unnecessary thirty-second walking animation that we are forced to watch twice.

    I specifically separated the chore section since there are some puzzles that are more chores than puzzles, but I love them nonetheless. My favorite chore puzzle is when Nancy has to go shopping for totally rude stuff for Minette. It's Nancy's first encounter with the vendors, and I love them, and it challenges the player to think about similarities in form and color, as well as try to envision a clothing line based on those objects. The first time I played the game, I actually got the objects right without her throwing anything away, so I was quite proud of myself. The other chore puzzle is fixing parfaits at the Cafe Kiki. It is such a simple "cooking" puzzle, and a chore one at that, but it is still fun and always makes me really hungry.

    Graphics: Firstly, I should say that this is the first game to feature Nancy's desk at the beginning of the game! I actually loved when they added this hub at the start of the game, as it allowed us to see into Nancy's room for the first time and was full of little Easter eggs and throwbacks to the previous game(s). I actually used the scrapbook to figure out how many games I didn't have when I first played this one, and reading the descriptions heightened my interest in those games. I also absolutely adore Mr. Woogle Woggle to the point that I will open the detective book and go through that tutorial every single time just to see him. I have never done another tutorial from that book, but Mr. Woogle Woggle is worth doing the questioning suspects one.

    As I have said in previous reviews, I think this period in the games was a time when HerInteractive was working out the kinks in their character design. We saw massive improvements, and a few minor setbacks, in the last few games as they tried to make the characters appearances' increasingly unique and refine both textures and movement animation. In the last game, I mentioned that all of the characters had terrifyingly narrow jaws and chins, but in this game, we see a good variety of facial shapes. The clothing and hair textures are a little wonky on some characters, but others are textured quite beautifully for this period (Minette in general and JJ's clothes look really nice). Dieter and JJ's eyes/eyebrows are slightly unsettling, Heather suffers from the weird arm/shoulder syndrome of the past, and JJ's arm are a smidgen too thin for her body, though her body is animated really well compared to most characters. Still, everyone looks pretty good.

    I don't have much to say about the environmental graphics, as they are generally on par with everything we have seen so far, which is fine!

    Ending: Oh, what a massive disappointment this ending is on an otherwise good game. Honestly, I cringe every single time that line is uttered (you know the one). I don't know what the writing team was thinking when they made this decision, especially when the culprit reveal was actually decent. However, things took an unfortunate turn for the worse, and thus, one of the most terrible endings I have ever seen (in anything, much less Nancy Drew) was born. The tone is inconsistent with everything that has happened so far. The...gameplay is unexpected, especially if certain reading material was never seen, as was the case my first time. It isn't necessary to see it and you can learn what to do (and when) by observation, but it still comes out of left field if you don't see that item. What's worse is that when the second "reveal" happens, it is the most embarrassing, laughable option that could have been on the table. Anyway, besides that segment of the ending, I like that there are two possible endings, and I feel that there is great closure on both mysteries.

    Other points of interest: The voice-acting in this game is on par with most games in the series, meaning that it is really good and suits the characters really well. Really, really well. Minette's voice actress in particular did splendid work in my opinion, especially given that we had a character whose face couldn't provide us with much emotional information (much like Linda Penvellyn's voice actress who knocked it out of the park). All of that work was done with voice alone, which I think commands praise and is extremely impressive. I know voice actors do their work before the characters are animated, so to them it doesn't necessarily matter that their character's face is hidden, but to the players, the vocal performance is going to hold more weight because that the only thing, beyond some body language, that lets us read that person.

    The Takeaway: If you've read my previous reviews, I often talk about a golden era in the games, and I never quite specified when it ended because I wanted to see if my opinion on that changed during this process. Despite this game's merits, of which there are a good many, I do not consider it to be a part of the golden era. It falls right between the golden era and the dark age, and that unique position, ironically, can be seen in the game itself with its glories and pitfalls and where they fall in the game. I played this game for the first time not long after it came out, and it was the last game I played before I began purchasing new Nancy Drew games upon their release, starting with Legend of the Crystal Skull. There are definitely some elements of nostalgia for that reason, but even then, I did not view this game with as much regard as the ones I had previously played at that time (specifically, #1-5 and #10-13). With the things I mentioned in this review in mind (i.e., the good but troubled plots, the strong puzzles, the lackluster soundtrack, terrible ending, etc.), I am giving this game six out of ten stars.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. I do! If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, I think, even with its serious faults, this is a good and enjoyable game in the series, and you won't be completely disappointed by playing it. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, or if you're new to the ND games, I'd advise you to first consider what kind of Nancy Drew games have been your thing so far. If you are really into history and want to play a moderately difficult Nancy Drew game with good length, then this one would be a prime choice for you. If you are more into scary games than treasure hunts or world adventures, then this is not the game for you. If you are looking for something more challenging, I would go for the classics or one of the newer games for sure. Of the classics, I would recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower and The Final Scene (both in my top ten), and I would recommend the legendary fan favorites (also in my top ten): Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, and Secret of Shadow Ranch. If a new(er) game is more your speed, and especially if you have already played the aforementioned titles, then I highly recommend Shadow at the Water's Edge, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (again, all in my top ten).


    Thank you for reading my review! I hope that my perspectives and ramblings inspire someone to play this game, replay this game, look at it through fresh eyes, or try it for the first time. I should be posting a review of The Creature of Kapu Cave within the next day or so, and I will continue to post them as I continue my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon into 2019...I promise I won't disappear into a cave before I post this next review.

    Previous review: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon
    Next review: The Creature of Kapu Cave

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12, 2019, 01:17 AM.