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A Veteran's Review of DDI

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  • A Veteran's Review of DDI

    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 marathon (I started a month early but life got busy, so excuse the four-month delay). 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.
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    It should be no surprise to those of you following my reviews that I am not a huge fan of this game, as I am not particularly fond of the era of ND games following the first five and prior to the first "golden era" (i.e., Secret of Shadow Ranch through Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon or Danger By Design). I remember hearing fans laud this game, and I was certain that a game beloved by so many fans had to be great. Then, I played it back in 2014, and I was unpleasantly surprised. Now, let me make this caveat before I continue: I don't hate this game, and I can fully understand why fans like it so much; I just don't think that it capitalizes on the things it actually does right and has a little too much stuff that doesn't work, which I will explain in-depth. Anyway, on to the plot.

    Plot: Here we go again. Poor Nancy decides to go on a vacation and finds herself among crabby people (um, that pun was completely unintentional, but it's perfect) and a mystery. The plot of this game unfolds rather slowly, and when I say slowly, I mean S L O W L Y. When Nancy first arrives, she meets Katie Firestone down at her boat and finds that Katie's boat has been torn to bits. Rather than immediately calling it quits and boarding the ferry back to the mainland, Katie recruits Nancy--who, may I remind you, came to see Katie for a vacation--into investigating, after she initially tells Nancy to just relax and to not bother with calling the sheriff. I get that she doesn't want her insurance to go up, but wouldn't it be better to have a working boat, pay a bit more on insurance fees, and have boat parts replaced by the insurance company rather than lose the money it might cost to replace boat parts herself and lose money from not being able to take customers out on tours? Also, wouldn't the perpetrator have to pay fines for property damage after they were caught? Maybe the writers didn't think adults would be playing this game. Anyway, Nancy goes about meeting the townspeople for no reason other than she has nothing else to do, and gets to do fun things like eat clam chowder, play mini-games at Whale World, go on a whale watching tour, and hunt for Dungeness crabs. She learns that practically no one likes Katie because of her beliefs about the orphaned orca that's shown up in Snake Horse Harbor. And, that's it, that's the extent of the main plot (i.e., I'm calling the main plot the one involving Katie and the orca) until almost the end of the game.

    There are two subplots in the game as well. The first subplot involves these mysterious messages Nancy keeps finding in bottles around the harbor that are supposedly from someone named Hilda Swenson. To me, this subplot is the backbone of the game and might as well have been turned into a full-fledged main plot instead of the business with the orca. Nancy discovers all sorts of secrets about Snake Horse Harbor from its early days from shanghaiing and secret tunnels to sea caves and Benjamin Hawkins' feud with a sea captain. The second subplot involves an unusually sharp piece of driftwood found on the beach from a cargo ship. These two subplots are tied into the main plot at the end of the game, but the connections are disproportionate to the amount of work that goes into them. The chunky Hilda Swenson plot leads to a chance meeting and revelation, but it almost seems unnecessary given that said meeting and revelation could have happened without all that navigational work and puzzle-solving. The driftwood subplot yields a much better reward--a motive!--but the motive comes from absolutely nowhere and isn't explained at all. It's just so frustrating and sloppy, even when the pieces do ultimately come together in an exciting conclusion.

    Setting: Surprisingly, I actually like the setting of this game reasonably well, despite it's rather pallid palate. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous, and I think the game does a pretty good job of including some of the highlights of that region from the rocky beaches to the foggy waters. I really would have liked to see some fir trees--I know there are some in the distance while kayaking but they are hardly visible--and a bit more green in the color palate, but they did a fine job of making things look nice with all that fog. So much fog. I actually don't mind the fog that much because it is really appropriate for the location and it creates a nice mood and aesthetic. The lighthouse area is probably my favorite, despite the lack of trees, because the water is a really beautiful blue and the cliff side is pretty. The lighthouse itself isn't attractive or charming, which is an absolute shame, but still, the colors are nice for an outdoor location and much better than the kayaking scenery. Both The Hot Kettle Cafe and Whale World are not particularly pleasing to the eye. The stained glass is gorgeous at the cafe, but the room is so dominated by brown and not in that log-cabin way that somehow works. Whale World has a nice mural on the back wall of the exhibit space, but there's just so much blue and boring gray in the room that it overwhelms the mural. The lighting is a bit dark, too, which makes the large space feel a bit oppressive, except for the hardwood floor that is way too light and distracting. Aquariums usually use a mix of dark paint, dark floors, and dark light or light paint, light floors, and bright/natural light to accentuate the beauty of the blue light from tanks and marine life. If the tonality had been consistent, it would have been a more attractive space. Maybe I'm just too picky.

    Characters: The characters in this game might be the flattest and most uninteresting characters in all of the games in this era, which is tragic considering how bad they've been in the previous two games. Katie Firestone lives up to her name, by which I mean she has the personality of a stone. If I had to guess how many times Nancy actually talks to her after the beginning of the game, I could probably count them on one hand. Then, after Nancy all but calls her a lying thief after seeing the Save King boat parts that looks suspiciously like the ones missing from Jenna's closet--and have Jenna's handwriting all over them--she tells Nancy that she think she should leave and ignores Nancy for the rest of the game. Plus, she lies to Nancy on at least one occasion. I find this to be incredibly awkward because Katie is supposed to be George's friend, but she is treating Nancy worse than any friend-of-a-friend I have ever encountered, especially one that is a host. What I find even more irritating is that this woman is a marine biologist, but there are very few things that indicate this fact and Nancy never has an intelligent conversation with this woman about the wealth of knowledge she possesses. Sure, Katie talks about how she voiced her opinion about the orca needing to go to a research facility if it is sick, but anyone who knows anything about animals could say the same thing. It's almost like the game forgets she is anything more than a woman who gives whale-watching tours on her boat.

    I say "almost" because there is one character who will absolutely not let you forget that Katie is a marine biologist: Jenna Deblin. For reasons unknown, Jenna despises Katie and will insult her at any given chance. Even if they do disagree about what to do about the orca, I can't imagine something like that would make Jenna dislike Katie so much, and it isn't like staying away from the orca is causing harm to her business. Besides her hatred of Katie, Jenna is probably the more interesting character of the game. She's friendly and offers Nancy free food, so she can't be that bad. Besides her shady family history that is underwhelming, there's not much to her character except as the provider of some not-so-juicy information and bottomless bowls of clam chowder. She's probably the character you talk to the most in the game, and that's still saying something when 50% of those conversations are for another helping of food.

    Holt Scotto is almost a waste of space, as he is no longer relevant after the first twenty minutes of the game except for one small puzzle and a question the end. Literally, there are no conversation options for him for 90% of the game. He's a fisherman. He's gruff and a bit scary. He hates Katie. That's it. That's all.

    Andy Jason is another absolute flop of a character. I remember him making me extremely uncomfortable the first time I played the game because he has this kind of low-key arrogance and aggressiveness about him. His voice (sorry again, Jonah!) just grates on my nerves. He seems so fake and, like Holt, he is not really on your radar for almost the entire game. So flat and uninteresting!

    There's an extensive cast of phone characters, again, but I never talk to the ones that aren't necessary for gameplay. Hilda Swenson is probably the most interesting and fleshed out character of the game, but she's only a phone friend. Casey Porterfield is hysterical, but he's not around for very long. All in all, this game seriously suffers from lack of character development.

    Music: Here comes a surprise for anyone who has read my other reviews: I am actually not crazy about this soundtrack. Yes, you read correctly. For once, I am actually not totally gaga over a soundtrack. As for why, there are only two words I need: tonal inconsistency. I have no idea what was going through Kevin Manthei's head when he wrote this soundtrack. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the music I associate with the Pacific Northwest--besides grunge, obviously--is folk music, bluegrass, and indigenous music (i.e., the music of different Pacific Northwest American Indian tribes and nations), not Irish reels and jigs. Some of the compositions on the soundtrack are actually nice and incredibly atmospheric, such as "Siren" (which has a flute, but it sounds more airy like a wooden flute that might be used in indigenous music). Anytime "Siren" plays in the game, I can't help but think of floating on the water. "Caves" is probably my favorite just because of how whimsical that opening bar is, and "Dirge" is a pretty but haunting theme. The rest, however, are either terrifying for no reason (e.g., "Tunnel" and "Caddy") or just misplaced Irish/hokey sailor songs that I don't think I would find that enjoyable even if they weren't in an unusual context.

    Puzzles: Ugh, I dislike the puzzles in this game so much, I don't even want to dedicate a section to talking about them. The navigational stuff is fun and exciting at first, but then it just goes on and on. Between solving the navigational puzzles and having to navigate to places after solving them, there's just too much of the same thing. Of the few puzzles I enjoy, the most notable are the Port/Starboard puzzle, the wacky story translation, and identifying the wood type.

    Graphics: The graphics of this game are basically on par with the previous two games, with only minor improvements in facial features (e.g., Katie's freckles). Andy's hair is...special. The postures and movement have again gotten slightly better, but everyone is still suffering from terrifying neck/shoulder/arm syndrome.

    Ending: For a game that is overall pretty blah, the ending is spectacular in terms of action. After the chance meeting, everything gets incredibly fast-paced. Nancy has a stealth mission, and then has to make a daring escape after the culprit reveal. The culprit take-down is pretty stellar, too. However, I didn't find the culprit to be that surprising, even though I was shocked the first time solely because I had no idea what was going on. The ending kind of comes out of left field with no explanation of the motive behind the crime, which is disappointing. Still, it's an exciting conclusion to the game, but I can't say anything else without foraying into spoiler territory.

    Other points of interest: The voice-acting in the game is fine, but unremarkable. Nancy's laptop is, again, annoying, but I only use it when absolutely necessary. The orca is beautiful and sweet. I love her.

    The Takeaway: It's worth noting that the first time I played this game was in 2014, at which point I had played games 1-5, 7-8, 10-14, SCK Remastered, and 17-30. I had been unsuccessful at finding physical copies of some Nancy Drew games (specifically games 6-9, 15, and 16) for years, but I finally got the last few games I was missing from my collection between 2012 and 2014. Thus, I had played the majority of the Nancy Drew games--and all the stellar ones, in my opinion--hundreds of times before I got to these games, meaning that the nostalgia factor was missing and I had learned how to distinguish between a good and not-so-good Nancy Drew game. The first time I played it, I was overwhelmingly excited to finally be playing one of the last ND games I had been hunting for so long, but the puzzles were so tedious that I would look up the answers solely because I didn't want to write anything down or have to navigate somewhere in the game to find the answer again. The lack of character development and slow, boring plot was disappointing to say the least, and the orca plays such a little part overall that it was almost not worth including (even though I really, really love the orca). With that being said and with those caveats in mind, I would give this game a rating of three and a half stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. It really depends on what you're looking for in the games. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, even the really bad ones, then just do it; even with its faults, it's not the worst game. 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 give this one a hard pass and go for one of the classic titles or fan favorites. 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).

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    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 Secret of Shadow Ranch sometime over the next few days (especially now that I am entering one of my favorite game eras), and I will continue to post them as I complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon... it's no secret that I love the next game.

    Previous Review: The Haunted Carousel
    Next Review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

    Other reviews: SCK STFD MHM TRT FIN SSH DOG CUR CLK TRN DAN CRE ICE CRY VEN HAU RAN WAC TOT SCK2 SAW CAP ASH TMB DED
    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12th, 2019, 02:20 AM.

  • #2
    I've finally caught up to myself in reading your reviews!! Which means now I'll get to read your thoughts about the rest of the games immediately after playing them myself, which is pretty cool!! Great review as always!!

    The first subplot involves these mysterious messages Nancy keeps finding in bottles around the harbor that are supposedly from someone named Hilda Swenson. To me, this subplot is the backbone of the game and might as well have been turned into a full-fledged main plot instead of the business with the orca. Nancy discovers all sorts of secrets about Snake Horse Harbor from its early days from shanghaiing and secret tunnels to sea caves and Benjamin Hawkins' feud with a sea captain. The second subplot involves an unusually sharp piece of driftwood found on the beach from a cargo ship. These two subplots are tied into the main plot at the end of the game, but the connections are disproportionate to the amount of work that goes into them. The chunky Hilda Swenson plot leads to a chance meeting and revelation, but it almost seems unnecessary given that said meeting and revelation could have happened without all that navigational work and puzzle-solving. The driftwood subplot yields a much better reward--a motive!--but the motive comes from absolutely nowhere and isn't explained at all. It's just so frustrating and sloppy, even when the pieces do ultimately come together in an exciting conclusion.
    YES. That is such a great point, that the Hilda Swenson plot really should have served as the main plot of the game. This story really suffers from bad arrangement in my opinion. There were so many different ways they could have told the same story that would have been much more effective. I do like the basic premise that Nancy starts out solving a basically pointless crime (the vandalism) which leads her to uncover the "true" crime, but there was just too much going on, and not in a good way. Things felt very forced because of the order in which HER presented all of the pieces.

    Whale World has a nice mural on the back wall of the exhibit space, but there's just so much blue and boring gray in the room that it overwhelms the mural. The lighting is a bit dark, too, which makes the large space feel a bit oppressive, except for the hardwood floor that is way too light and distracting. Aquariums usually use a mix of dark paint, dark floors, and dark light or light paint, light floors, and bright/natural light to accentuate the beauty of the blue light from tanks and marine life. If the tonality had been consistent, it would have been a more attractive space. Maybe I'm just too picky.
    While I agree with you that Whale World is visually underwhelming and would have benefited from a more "Aquarium" feel, I did want to point out that it isn't actually an aquarium but rather an information center, so I get why they didn't go the aquarium route as far as lighting and color tone. That being said, WHYYYYY on earth did HER not take this opportunity to give us an actual small aquarium or Marine life center?!?!?! Honestly, I get that they want to keep it small. But I mean, Cabela's has more fish on display than Whale World does. Even if they didn't go full-fledged aquarium, it would have been nice to see a small turtle habitat tucked into a corner and maybe a few fish tanks or something. This could have been a really cool location.

    Then, after Nancy all but calls her a lying thief after seeing the Save King boat parts that looks suspiciously like the ones missing from Jenna's closet--and have Jenna's handwriting all over them--she tells Nancy that she think she should leave and ignores Nancy for the rest of the game.
    Either my memory is terrible or I just completely missed this part in my playthrough I must have gotten so tired of Katie that I stopped talking to her before she stopped talking to me lol. Which is really bad, because as you know I normally thoroughly exhaust ALL conversation with everyone when I play. I guess Katie really is just that boring.

    Anyway, another great review!!! It's nice to have something to read besides MID criticism (although I have to admit, I'm excited to actually play through it myself and make up my own mind about it.) It's hard knowing I have so many more games to go, but at least I'm working on a great couple of games in the near future. I finally posted my SHA review and have moved on to playing CUR (which will take me forever if I don't plan on cheating at all if I remember that game correctly lol) I am SOO looking forward to reading your SHA review now that I've finished mine, so I suppose I'll see you there

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jett View Post
      I've finally caught up to myself in reading your reviews!! Which means now I'll get to read your thoughts about the rest of the games immediately after playing them myself, which is pretty cool!! Great review as always!!



      YES. That is such a great point, that the Hilda Swenson plot really should have served as the main plot of the game. This story really suffers from bad arrangement in my opinion. There were so many different ways they could have told the same story that would have been much more effective. I do like the basic premise that Nancy starts out solving a basically pointless crime (the vandalism) which leads her to uncover the "true" crime, but there was just too much going on, and not in a good way. Things felt very forced because of the order in which HER presented all of the pieces.



      While I agree with you that Whale World is visually underwhelming and would have benefited from a more "Aquarium" feel, I did want to point out that it isn't actually an aquarium but rather an information center, so I get why they didn't go the aquarium route as far as lighting and color tone. That being said, WHYYYYY on earth did HER not take this opportunity to give us an actual small aquarium or Marine life center?!?!?! Honestly, I get that they want to keep it small. But I mean, Cabela's has more fish on display than Whale World does. Even if they didn't go full-fledged aquarium, it would have been nice to see a small turtle habitat tucked into a corner and maybe a few fish tanks or something. This could have been a really cool location.



      Either my memory is terrible or I just completely missed this part in my playthrough I must have gotten so tired of Katie that I stopped talking to her before she stopped talking to me lol. Which is really bad, because as you know I normally thoroughly exhaust ALL conversation with everyone when I play. I guess Katie really is just that boring.

      Anyway, another great review!!! It's nice to have something to read besides MID criticism (although I have to admit, I'm excited to actually play through it myself and make up my own mind about it.) It's hard knowing I have so many more games to go, but at least I'm working on a great couple of games in the near future. I finally posted my SHA review and have moved on to playing CUR (which will take me forever if I don't plan on cheating at all if I remember that game correctly lol) I am SOO looking forward to reading your SHA review now that I've finished mine, so I suppose I'll see you there
      Yay! I'm thrilled that you are all caught up on reading and can read my reviews right after playing. I always liked to read what others have to say about a game immediately after I play it, too, so I hope that turns out to be a fun experience for you reading my reviews each time. Thank you!

      You're absolutely right that the plot does not suffer so much as the arrangement of it does. It still might be a little too clunky, but with certain things rearranged, it might seem more cohesive and less like a bunch of random, spontaneous events happening to coincide around the same time. I also appreciate how the mystery starts with something as simple as a vandalism and then unfolds from there, but there is still way too much going on. Having three seemingly disjointed storylines that all magically get wrapped up at the end is not a good move.

      That is fair. I still think it's pretty common for information centers and museums, both large and small, to use those kind of all light or all dark aesthetics. (At least, the ones I have been to usually fall under one of those two options.) However, since it is not an aquarium and is a pretty small facility, it makes sense that it would not be visually stunning or a blank canvas. I completely agree! Now, I have never been to Washington or the Pacific Northwest (tragically), but I know for a fact that there are small marine life centers and aquariums in that whole region. With that area being known for fishing communities and its sea life, especially whales, it really strikes me as odd that Whale World would not be a small public aquarium or, even better, a marine life center. I'm glad they didn't turn it into something like Sealand of the Pacific (i.e., the place where SeaWorld's Tilikum was kept after first being captured and sold) and have captive orcas, but it would have been nice to see small tanks with actual marine life in there or a small rehabilitation center.

      Well, I cannot blame you for not wanting to talk to Katie, as there is literally no reason to for most of the game. I was trying to exhaust all dialogue with the characters so I could write my review having all knowledge on hand, and I just happened to trigger that dialogue the last time. I honestly do not think I had encountered it on any of my previous playthroughs since, as you said, there is no reason to want to talk to Katie. She is the worst.

      Thank you so much for reading my review! I completely agree that it was refreshing to read your review after reading and skimming through dozens upon dozens of MID reviews on the forums, Facebook, and Steam. I, too, am greatly looking forward to playing it and judging it for myself. My physical copy has yet to arrive, but I don't want to play it until after my reviews are done, which I am hoping to have done before Christmas at this point. I am not sure who to believe right now, though everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I tended to favor the reviews that were written after the game was beaten and were as balanced as possible in their approach to the game. I have a feeling my final thoughts will lie somewhere along the same lines. Anyway, I hope you end up enjoying my SHA review as much as I enjoyed yours, and I'll be looking forward to your thoughts! Thanks again for the comment!

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