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A Veteran's Review of CRY

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  • A Veteran's Review of CRY

    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!

    Plot: Warning: It's best to play this game in a dark room. If it's daytime, draw the shades. If it's nighttime, turn off all the lights. Or simply turn up the gamma on your computer screen. Legend of the Crystal Skull opens with that foreboding message, which I'm sure caught everyone off guard the first time they played this game. I remember wondering what I had gotten myself into and sending my little brother to turn off the lights. Never had a Nancy Drew game, or any game for that matter, told me that I needed to play in the dark, and the prospect was as thrilling and it was disconcerting. Lo and behold, mere moments later the true impetus for that message revealed itself, but let's back up for a second.

    In this game, Nancy plans a weekend getaway to New Orleans with Bess, expecting to immerse herself in the fabulous sights, sounds, and smells of The Big Easy instead of yet another mystery. Since she is going to be in the area, Ned asks her to check on his acquaintance, Henry Bolet, whose great-uncle, Bruno, died recently. When she arrives at the mansion, the door unlocked and a dark figure is hunched over a table in the living room. As he turns and reveals his skeletal face, the storm knocks out the lights long enough for him to skulk across the room and knock Nancy out with a smoke bomb. It was at this point that my little brother screamed and the real, nefarious purpose of that warning became clear. Poor Nancy; she just can't catch a break. Determined to figure out who this "skeleton man" is and what he was doing at the Bolet's residence, Nancy finds herself at the center of a mystery involving exotic pets, glass eyes, "hoodoo," and a legendary crystal skull said to make its owner immortal. If Bruno Bolet had this crystal skull and it made him immortal, then how and why did he die? Was it really natural causes or was it...murder?

    The first time I played this game (on and post-Christmas 2007), I was not massively fond of the story, primarily because of the ending, which I'll get into later, believe me. With time and age, I have come to appreciate the plot significantly more, not because I think it is executed any better than I originally did, but because I am able to understand the characters more and think the true value of the story lies with them. (More on that later. ) That aside, I think the plot has excellent pacing and the two mysteries are handled so well. A major complaint I've had with the last three games is how the main mystery and subplot are disjointed throughout the game, including the very end. In this game, the main plot and subplot actually reverse roles, and they are so interconnected that both parts are necessary to unveil the whole truth. You start out by investigating this skeleton man who attacked Nancy, and it seems, for a while, that this is the real mystery of the game, provided you ignore the game's title. As you explore Bruno's house for clues about who he is and what he wants, you find some really bizarre things, like eyeballs, and as you start digging more into Bruno's life through Bruno's junk, you discover that he was apparently in possession of a crystal skull and its location was unknown. It becomes obvious that the skeleton man was, in all likelihood, searching for this crystal skull, and the investigation into him doubles as and eventually becomes a hunt for Bruno's hidden treasure, which also draws suspicion on the circumstances surrounding his death. That just demonstrates how organically the plot arises. Nancy doesn't know about the crystal skull--she can't even look at the book about it--until after Bess reports her findings from the curio shop, which is only after checking out the burned receipt. (The only significant problem I have with the plot, besides the entire ending and culprit choice, is the inconsistency of Bruno setting up his elaborate puzzles. I guess he could have done it in the event that he was ever killed, but part of his stated reasoning, which I won't say for sake of spoilers, doesn't make any sense if he believed he was immortal. I think the whole lore surrounding the crystal skull could have been made a bit cleaner, and it would have been interesting to learn more about the actual legends beyond what Hotchkiss wrote in her book.) It isn't the most captivating or complex plot, by any means, but its overall simplicity and straightforwardness is what makes it work.

    Setting: Since I am going to be talking about the setting in a lot of different sections, I don't want to say too much here. However, I will say that I think The Big Easy was the perfect choice for this game. It's such a culturally rich city, and I think the game captured its unique flavor really well, especially for a game with an E rating. There's jazz, delicious gumbo, curio shops, and hoodoo, though it doesn't appear to be anything like hoodoo in real life (yes, it is a real thing, which I wasn't aware of when I played it because I thought it was a play on the name of that with which we commonly associate New Orleans). Bruno Bolet is just the kind of fun and eccentric personality one would expect to find in New Orleans, so having his bizarre house and delightfully creepy cemetery to explore is so fitting. I am going to restrain myself to keep from getting into a long-winded discussion of the (beautiful and interesting) color palette and architecture in the game, but for those interested, know that I am extremely pleased with the choices that were made, though I still don't understand why Bruno Bolet's bedroom was empty or where his kitchen and bathrooms were located. Also, the cemetery is my favorite location in the game without question.

    Characters: Henry Bolet is the great-nephew and only remaining family member of Dr. Bruno Bolet. He arrived in New Orleans a few weeks prior to cremate his great-uncle, per his wishes, and serve as the executor of Dr. Bolet's will. Clearly, there is some animosity for Bruno, and the housekeeper, Renée, believes that Henry may be selling off parts of the estate on the sly. Is Henry abusing his power as executor, and what, if anything, could he have to do with his great-uncle's death or the disappearance of his crystal skull? Does he know the identity of the skeleton man?

    Though I won't be getting into extensive discussions about the other characters, I feel compelled to talk about Henry since he is my favorite character in the game, not to mention he is one of the best looking men in the series. (Confession: I had a major crush on him in seventh grade. I was really into rock/metal band members, goth guys, and emo guys, so he struck when the iron was hot. I still have no shame because he is one good-looking dude.) His looks, however, are not the reason I'm so especially fond of him. I always liked him as a character, but I think I really began to appreciate him more once I got older. (Actually, I fact-checked his age, and if his parents died when he was eight and they died in 1990, then he was born in 1982 and was 25 at the time the game came out, meaning that he is still older than me. Only by a little though. ) I think he is difficult to fully understand as a child, especially since the game sort of writes him off as your average goth kid, because of where he's at in his life and all the trauma he has been through. Even if a child has, sadly, been through similar experiences, that child won't be able to fully process them mentally or emotionally like an adult, so Henry's depth as a character can only be truly gleaned after reaching adulthood. For that reason, I admired him for years, but I didn't connect with him or understand him the way I do now.

    It goes without saying that his life was truly tragic. He was orphaned as a young child, and his only living relative, seventy years his senior, always kept him at a distance, both emotionally and physically, which assuredly had negative impacts on his perception of self-worth and his ability to form relationships with others. Multiple times in the game, it becomes clear that he is living with a lot of unresolved pain, and we find out that he is in an abusive relationship with his girlfriend, though he seems unaware of how toxic it is and that makes me really sad. He just wants to be loved and accepted. With all of this pain and loss in his life, Henry has every reason to be angry at the world and hate his uncle, but he doesn't let that trauma define him. He is getting an education and trying start a better life for himself of his own volition. He is even working to get his great-uncle's affairs in order, which is an extremely time-consuming and stressful experience for anyone to undertake, despite having the option to renounce his role as executor and let someone else manage the estate. He acknowledges to Nancy that he and Ned aren't friends, but he isn't resentful or offended by Ned asking Nancy to come check on him. From his actions, it is obvious that Henry hasn't given up on the hope of living a meaningful, happy life, even though so much has been taken away from him in such a short time. Anyway, I just really admire how real he is with Nancy most of the time, even allowing her to poke around the house and warning her about the exotic pets Bruno kept around. I wish the game spent more time letting us get to know him, but what is apparent from the interactions you do get is that he is a good person who has made it through a lot of bad situations. (I also think he's hilarious and a little sassy.)

    If you take Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls (and make her PG-rated, of course) and cross her with Mama Odie (or Mama Odie and Dr. Facilier for a neutral moral alignment) from The Princess and the Frog, you will essentially end up with Renée Amande. This quirky, eccentric, and charming Southern woman is the late Dr. Bolet's housekeeper, who claims she is still working at his house because he paid in her advance and she wants to keep an eye on Henry's activities in the house. She seems quite nice and is friendly enough to Nancy, but could she, a practitioner of hoodoo, have used her abilities against Dr. Bolet? Did she know about the crystal skull and, if so, could she have been tempted by its proclaimed power? Does she know anything about this skeleton man?

    Dr. Gilbert Buford was Bruno Bolet's longtime doctor and closest friend, a rare honor for someone as old and uninterested in social interaction as Bruno Bolet. He arrived at Dr. Bolet's house as he was having a heart attack, and he told Renée to call 911 immediately, leaving him alone with Bruno for a short time before his passing. Why was he at Dr. Bolet's house right as he was having a heart attack? What happened between him and Bruno when Renée left the room? Does he have any connection to the skeleton man that attacked Nancy? Does he know anything about the crystal skull?

    Lamont Warrick is the proprietor of Zeke's Curio Shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Lover of other people's junk, Lamont has his eyes on Bruno Bolet's estate, which he describes as "knick-knack heaven," and says he would love to get his hands on a crystal skull to make a lot of money off of it. Nancy finds a burned up receipt in the fireplace coming from his shop, but Henry says that Lamont only came in and looked around. Could Lamont have come to the Bolet Mansion to steal items from Bruno's house? Does he know about Bruno's crystal skull? Could he be the skeleton man who attacked Nancy?

    Those are all of the major characters of the game, but I want to give a shout out to Bess since we also get to control her in this game. I'll be talking about her plenty in other games where she is a character, but this is her first in-game appearance, despite not actually being able to see her. I think her segments are really fun, and I like how she handles herself in her interactions with Lamont and Dr. Buford, though it makes me really uncomfortable when the latter keeps hitting on her. She has moxie and really gives snooping her all, even though it makes her uncomfortable. Dr. Bruno Bolet and Professor Hotchkiss also deserve honorable mentions for being their eccentric (and in Hotchkiss' case, wonderful) selves.

    Music: This game's soundtrack is in my top ten favorite Nancy Drew soundtracks, and it might even be in the top five. Plenty of times now I have talked about loving the music from these games, especially the music in the first five, but rarely have I expressed praise for an entire soundtrack. Generally, for the soundtracks I like anyway, I think all of the songs are fitting and atmospheric, but there are usually a good few that I don't like much or only a few that I really like, which is understandable. For Legend of the Crystal Skull, however, I genuinely love over half of the soundtrack and really like the rest of it, except one song, which I will explain. I know I have been trying to get these reviews shorter, and I am certainly planning on making more changes to the format of my reviews in the future to aid me in that process; however, I feel the need to discuss this soundtrack at more length that I have been recently because it is so stellar. As such, I will be discussing my two favorite songs in-depth and addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the soundtrack more generally.

    This game's soundtrack only has one internal flaw, but I just want to say, before I say anything else, that this game does the soundtrack a great disservice by messing with the audio settings. To my knowledge, every Nancy Drew game but this one starts with the volume settings at or near max for ambient noise/effects, voice, and music. All three are at the same level by default, so you can hear all three equally well. This game, however, starts off with the voice and effects volume at the same level, just a bit under max, but the music volume is down at around 65% or so. For that reason, it is often difficult to impossible to hear the music or notice it under the rain and dialogue in the game, and for years I never really listened to the soundtrack because I wasn't even consciously aware of there being one besides maybe "Legend," "Tonic," "Enigma," "Bruno," and "Curio." I do not understand why this choice was made or why attention wasn't brought to the fact that the music was turned down so much, especially considering how quiet some of the tracks are, but I am sure that a lot of people have not noticed the true glory of this soundtrack because they can't properly hear it.

    This point naturally leads me to a brief discussion of the soundtrack and what I think is one of its best features. If you listen to songs like "Bones," "Hoodoo," and especially "Chatter," you almost get this sense of walking through New Orleans at night. There's this cacophony of sounds, some eerie and some comforting, and everything sounds distant and jumbled, yet fits together perfectly. It's so distinctly representative of New Orleans, charming and spooky and mystical and beautiful. I love it! The game's atmosphere--the darkness, the sound of rain, and the overall eeriness of both Bolet's mansion and the cemetery--adds to the music just as much as the music adds to the atmosphere, so it is exceptionally wonderful to hear those tracks in the game and feel like the French Quarter is just a few blocks away. A jazz band is playing in a restaurant down the road, individual street performers are playing the trumpet, harmonica, saxophone, and upright bass. Passing cars honk their horns and muddle the sound. Instead of simply sounding like music I might hear in New Orleans, the soundtrack delivers the feeling of being there and hearing it from afar. It's genius! There are, of course, two songs in the soundtrack of which I am not fond, namely "Tonic" and "Bayou." Both of them sound hokey and do not really fit the rest of the soundtrack at all, and "Tonic" makes me feel like over-enunciating my r's and walking around with a parrot on my shoulder. I'm not a fan, but I guess you can't have a soundtrack with such incredible songs and not have at least one or two that flop.

    Of all of the incredible compositions on the soundtrack, my absolute favorites are "Curio" and "Chatter," which should not come as a surprise. I'll start with "Chatter" since I have already indicated what I like about it in general, namely the overlap of sounds. The trumpet, harmonica, saxophone, and clarinet solos make the song for me, but they wouldn't stand out quite as much without the cacophony of horns, steam, percussion, and eerie sound effects muddling the sound. Truly, when I hear all of that noise, it makes me feel like I am walking in the city in the middle of the night, far enough away from the crowds but not far enough not to hear cars and music. It's so unsettling and pleasant at the same time.

    "Curio" on the other hand is like being wrapped in a warm blanket or drinking sweet tea on the front porch on a hot afternoon. It makes me feel lazy and cozy, like the world has slowed down or the day has just started and I have nowhere to be. The sun is shining, the magnolias are blooming, and everything is all right. The piano, the clarinet, and the trumpet are pure perfection, and the melody is so charming. It's an especially nice touch that the song sounds like it's being played on an old vinyl record. You can even hear the needle being placed at the beginning. This song is one of my favorites in any of the games because it just makes me feel so good, and it's such a nice change of pace from a lot of the soundtrack, but it still fits the game and location so well. That just goes to show how well-crafted this masterpiece of a soundtrack truly is.

    Puzzles: Legend of the Crystal Skull is easily one of the most difficult games in the series due to its highly complex, original, and complicated puzzles, many of which require out-of-the-box thinking to solve. It is definitely one of the games where I actually need to write things down still to this day, and it was early enough in the series not to give you hints on how to solve puzzles (like we see in the most recent games). For this reason, it was not among my favorites for a long time--it really stumped me the first time I played it--but as I have gotten older and played plenty of challenging (and rewarding) puzzle games outside of this series (e.g., my favorite, FEZ), I have come to appreciate this game's puzzles a whole lot more. Since it is so puzzle-heavy, the difficulty can be a turn-off for some fans, which is understandable. Anyway, I am going to list the puzzles according to how good I think they are--except a few of the eyeball locations that aren't really puzzles--and briefly explain why I think they belong there, highlighting my favorite in each category.

    Great: Cemetery scavenger hunt

    The cemetery scavenger hunt puzzle is one of my absolute favorite puzzles in any of the games, much less this one. It is so unique and incredibly clever; I remember having so much fun with it the first time I played the game. Not only does it require you to truly familiarize yourself with the layout of the cemetery, but it makes you solve these really good riddles with solutions that are especially clever puns. It's just so fun and clever, and it is difficult enough to stump you without feeling impossible to figure out on your own.

    Good: Curio shop/Rube Goldberg puzzle, ventriloquist dummy puzzle, Time Will Tell puzzle, Charlie Wicker puzzle, dressing Iggy puzzle, the eyeball puzzle

    The puzzles in this category are among the more clever and unique ones, and most of them are also pretty (or very) complicated, especially at first glance. My favorite among them has to be the curio shop puzzle. Hearing that little jingle makes me smile every time, even out of the context of the game. It's really cute and fun, and it takes some serious trial and error to work everything out perfectly. Then, when it is actually executed correctly, we get to watch that hilarious cutscene with poor Lamont. I feel bad for the guy, but that whole scenario is still just as funny now as it was nearly twelve years ago.

    Mediocre: Coffee table puzzle, mausoleum key puzzle, portrait puzzle, both spider puzzles, Renée's chest puzzle, Eye of the Beholder puzzle, mushroom puzzle, to-go gumbo puzzle, A Librarian's Tale puzzle, The Key to the Statues puzzle, Zeke's backdoor puzzle, crypt puzzle

    The puzzles in this category aren't really mediocre overall, but they are not as strong as some of the other puzzles in the game, largely because they are simpler. However, being simple doesn't make them bad, which is why "mediocre" doesn't really describe how I feel about them. The game benefits from having some easier puzzles interspersed among the challenging ones, and they are all very unique and flavorful. My favorite among them is probably the mausoleum key puzzle.

    Bad: Arranging books puzzle, skee-ball/Toss-Across hybrid puzzle, Newton's cradle eyeball puzzle, The History of Quincy T. Booker's Teeth puzzle, crypt memory puzzle, Hamlet reference puzzle, post-crypt ending puzzle

    The puzzles in this category are either insanely obtuse (and thus challenging), insanely annoying, or insanely easy. The teeth puzzle is probably the best among them because there is a decent clue on how to solve it, but I was so confused about all of that and annoyed that I had to run back to the secret room to look at the teeth diagram. The Hamlet puzzle would be okay if the game didn't presuppose that children would understand what it meant for those references not to exist and know how to notate/cite Shakespearean works.

    Horrible: WASPS PUZZLE

    Ugh, the wasps puzzle is one of the worst things to exist in the games. If Nancy could collect as many loquats as she wanted, this puzzle might not be as irritating, but when I have to interrupt my investigation to go smoke wasps at least three separate times, it gets old. The difficulty goes up with each attempt as well, and it is really difficult to get all the wasps when playing on a laptop without a mouse. Thankfully, I have a touchscreen computer, so my touchscreen actually gets used for once when I play this game because I can click-spam with all of my fingers rapidly and beat the thing in a few seconds. Still, whoever thought that puzzle should exist made a serious mistake.

    Graphics: Despite being the second game with the new user interface--and assumedly new engine--Legend of the Crystal Skull is the first to showcase some updated graphics. The biggest and most noticeable change is definitely in the character models. Striking a nice balance between cartoon and (hyper)realism, the models look, emote, and move convincingly without entering the uncanny valley. I could envision them as human beings or see resemblance to them in real people, but they are still cartoonish enough to not be disturbing. The textures definitely aided in this process, as the skin and hair textures in particular are done well. The clothing drapes and bunches more like actual fabric--Renée's cardigan and Henry's shirt are great examples of this--even though the fabric textures aren't as advanced. The lighting in the game is truly magnificent in parts, with the best example being on Henry when he's conversing with Nancy. The environmental graphics also take it up another notch or three. The interior of the Bolet mansion is the best example of how detailed and realistic the environmental graphics look in this game. Overall, I am extremely impressed with the graphical advancements made in this game.

    Ending: The weakest part of the game is easily the ending, which was such a disappointment. After a dramatic, yet unrealistic cutscene, Nancy makes her exciting discovery and the culprit is revealed. Truly, this was one of the most unsurprising culprits in the entire series, right up there with MHM and SSH in terms of poor choices so far. The first time I played it, I was really hoping they would go another route, but alas, they didn't. After solving another puzzle, Nancy chases down the culprit in a sequence that is way too easy. I was hoping for more of a challenging hunt--imagine how much better things would have been had the ending played out similar to VEN's--but instead, we are given a clue immediately and then the final showdown isn't much of a showdown at all. Given that all the suspects have sufficient motive, I was hoping for a strong explanation for why the culprit did everything and perhaps even some backstory for more context, but instead it was the most unoriginal, uninspired cookie-cutter explanation possible that could have accompanied any suspect from anything. There was no personality in it at all; it was straight from Hotchkiss' book and all the real-world myths about crystal skulls. The ending partially redeems itself by giving some closure to the remaining characters, though one character's arc doesn't quite reach the point I wanted, but the whole disappearance bit is pretty annoying and unfulfilling. All in all, the ending left much to be desired.

    Other points of interest: The voice-acting in this game has always stood out to me, especially for Henry and Renée (probably because we spend more time with them and they have more lines since the voice-acting for the other two characters is really good). Henry's voice is really attractive, much like him, but the reason his voice stands out to me is the intonation. Renée's accent is absolutely delicious, and the way her lines are delivered has an almost musical quality to it. For whatever reason, I can always remember her lines the most because of how they are said, followed by Henry's. Just really solid voice-acting all around, as we've come to expect from these games, and Keri Healy gets to reprise her role as our beloved Professor Hotchkiss.

    (Side note: Oh, I forgot to say that this is the first game since TRN that has had a male African-American character, and this game is blessed with two characters, both of whom are likeable and respectable. It makes me happy to see some diversity in the ND games. It's also hilarious that Dr. Predoviciu is Henry's mom in the portrait.)

    On another note, I cannot stand the way Nancy says "skeleton" most of the time. As a Southerner, I can tell you that t-glottalization happens to a lot of words in many of our regional dialects, but I have never heard t-glottaling in the word "skeleton" in my life. If Nancy spoke with a Cockney, West Country, Mancunian, Yorkshire, or particular regional Scottish accent, I would understand that choice completely, but it really drives me nuts when I hear it with a standard American accent for no discernible reason.

    The last thing I want to say is that I hate how little interaction we have with the characters in the second half of the game. There is absolutely nothing Nancy can talk to them about, and it is really frustrating since I care about these characters, or want to question them anyway, and no longer get to interact with them. I don't know what happened there or if the developers thought we would be too busy solving puzzles, but that is a major flaw in the game for me.

    The Takeaway: For such a dark game, it is ironic that Legend of the Crystal Skull brings us back towards the light after such a dreadful period in the Nancy Drew series. Still, with the major flaw in the game (i.e., the culprit choice, motive, ending explanation, limited character interaction after the midway point, etc.), I do not consider it to be a full leap out of the dark ages, though it is a significant step in the right direction. I played this game just a few months after it came out, and it was the first Nancy Drew game that I knew about before it actually came out, so it was the starting point for me in terms of following the games' release dates. For that reason, this game is certainly pretty nostalgic, but I think my opinion of it has grown higher in the last three years because I was able to notice or appreciate things better. If I were to rate this game on a ten-star basis, I would give it six and a half stars.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. Absolutely! If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, I think you will enjoy this one. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, I would recommend this one if you really want a good challenge, otherwise I might say play something else and come back to it later. If you are new to the ND games, I would recommend choosing something else with a stronger plot and less difficult puzzles, unless the idea of a challenge excites you. If so, then I say go for it! It is only mildly spooky though, so that might be something worth considering for those of you who like the scary games most. If you're looking for another Nancy Drew game to play, my personal favorites are Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, and Secret of Shadow Ranch out of the older games. 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 Phantom of Venice within the next six or so days, and I will continue to post them as I continue my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon into 2019...I'll try not to become a phantom before I get this next one out.

    Previous review: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek
    Next review: The Phantom of Venice

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 05:56 PM.