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A Veteran's Review of CLK

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  • A Veteran's Review of CLK

    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 long 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, and I apologize for the wait! (Note: I keep losing reviews to repeated, unfortunate technological circumstances, so the quality and/or length may be altered as I rush to try to maintain my timetable. I apologize for that regrettable side effect!)

    Plot: Unlike any games before or since, the third installment in the "golden era," Secret of the Old Clock, transports Nancy back in time to 1930 where she stumbles upon her very first mystery in the small town of Titusville. Upon arriving at the Lilac Inn, which derives its name from another of the original Nancy Drew books, Nancy discovers that her acquaintance Emily Crandall, whose mother, Gloria, recently died and left her to run the inn with the assistance of her not-so-helpful guardian, Jane Willoughby, wants her to place her mother's jewelry in her father's safe back home in River Heights. Before Nancy can question why Emily would want her to take the jewelry or why she feels it needs to be protected, they hear an explosion and Jane's screams about a kitchen fire. After the fire, Nancy hears Emily exclaim in horror upstairs and runs up to find that Gloria's jewelry has disappeared in the commotion. Determined to help in any way she can and get to the bottom of things, Nancy unravels a mystery involving missing jewelry, a lost will, an eccentric actor, a psychic instructor, secret passages, moving picture frames, and a mythomanic banker all under the backdrop of the Depression Era.

    While I do think aspects of the game's plot suffer, which I will get to later, I love the plot of this game, especially the parts involving Josiah Crowley. Such an eccentric person with a love of Shakespeare and Lon Chaney, I can't help but want to meet him and know everything about him, though that is impossible because he is dead before the beginning of the game. I just love following his bizarre, yet intelligible clues as you hunt down his will. The part of the game that I believes suffers though is what brings Nancy there in the first place: Emily and her mother's jewelry. By the early midgame, Nancy has no new dialogue with Emily, and then she disappears until the endgame, at which point she is incredibly and inexplicably rude to Nancy and refuses to talk to her. I find it deeply frustrating that the focus shifts entirely away from her, and there is absolutely no attempt made to search for her mother's missing jewelry. Maybe it's because this is technically Nancy's first mystery, but I find it out-of-character and odd that she keeps her snooping of Lilac Inn to a minimum. I mean, we've seen our heroine go barging into people's homes, bedrooms, and offices and rifle through all of their personal items without a sense of shame, but she doesn't bother to check around Lilac Inn for any evidence of the cause of the explosion in the kitchen or look around for the jewels. Even if that is the least likely place for them to be when stolen, she still had a suspect that lived in the residence who she accuses at one point of being suspicious (i.e., Jane Willoughby) and didn't bother to check out her bedroom or anything. Furthermore, she volunteers no information to Emily about the investigation she does do of the secret passages. Sure, she doesn't find the second one until later, but it might have helped the poor girl feel less crazy to know that it was possible for people to be sneaking around behind walls. Maybe it's just me, but I think the lack of any investigation into the plot involving Emily, as well as keeping poor Emily in the dark about the few findings she does make prior to Emily's midgame disappearance, is a significantly underlooked issue with the game. It doesn't make the game less enjoyable, both because the Josiah Crowley plot is so good and because it is resolved even without Nancy's direct investigatory work, but it is something to which our attention should be brought.

    Setting: In the previous--and sadly lost--version of this review, this section, despite my promise at the beginning to keep it short(er), was quite long, as I discovered while writing that I actually was greatly annoyed by the design for Lilac Inn and wrote two lengthy paragraphs describing my distaste. After that, I wrote another incredibly long paragraph about the unrealistic locations in Titusville and did research to back-up my intuitions. For the sake of time and my sanity as I rewrite this review, I am going to summarize my problems with Lilac Inn and Titusville in bullet form to minimize my chances of ranting again.

    Before I begin literally listing the problems I have with the design for Lilac Inn, I want to say that this overwhelming dislike was unknown to me until I was writing this review. The image I have in my head of Lilac Inn from the book and what I would expect still from a house allegedly built during the Civil War, and regardless built pre-1930, does not fit the, in my opinion, hideous display of Lilac Inn we receive in the game. I truly envision a two-story house with a white, wood exterior and black shingles/shutters built in either a Colonial Revival style (think something like a plantation house or cottage, but not quite as large-scaled or small-scaled, respectively) or Arts and Crafts movement style. Now, for the problems:

    1. The biggest problem is by far the exterior of the house, which looks like concrete. The texture of the walls looks like something from a 90s Windows screensaver; it's absolutely hideous. You don't realize it at first, but the longer you look at the inn, the more those exterior walls begin to stand out badly.

    2. The roof looks like it is made of wood shingles or slack shingles, which normally would make a cottage look quite charming; nonetheless, they do not match the disgusting color of the exterior walls well at all, and instead give the house a short of shanty look to me. With different exterior walls, I think would be extremely happy with this choice, but they just clash.

    3. I like the windows and their blue trim, but they feel a bit small to me and I think they need shutters, especially on the dormer windows. They might feel small because I dislike the exterior walls so much, but there's a large gap between them and the roof overhang that bothers me and is bigger than the gap between the bottom of the windows and the ground. I am also not a fan of how they are not touching on the sides, but only by a sliver, which leaves unnecessary and wasted space on the interior wall. I would rather see larger windows with larger small gaps between them, and I still feel like the house could benefit from some shutters. It just looks too bare.

    4. Speaking of things looking too bare, the flowerbed(s) around the house are pathetic. Seeing naked walls all the way to the ground is not attractive on almost any traditional house, which is why nearly every house has a flowerbed at its base on the front side at the very least, if not also around the sides and back. The flowerbed at Lilac Inn does a measly job of covering the base, and it isn't an attractive arrangement at all. As if to add insult to injury, there is no flowerbed or flora to speak of, except one small tree/shrub, on the opposite front wall or on the side with the sidewalk where there is clearly a flowerbed dug. It's just...appallingly ugly and confusing to me why there would only be a flowerbed on one of the front walls of the hosue. The only plants that I have no complaint about are those in the window boxes on the dormers. I am sad, however, that for a place called Lilac Inn, there is a profound lack of lilacs and trees in general besides those that border the house at the edge of the woods.

    5. My last real complaint is about the sidewalk and downspouts. While houses had both long before the 1930s, I am unsure that the former would have wrapped around to the back of the house, unless we are to assume that guests exit from there, though I can't imagine a house back then would have a rear exit separate from the kitchen, which we know is not on that side or in the back of the house. Regardless, it looks like it ends at the edge of the side flowerbed. I also do not understand the placement on the downspouts on the front walls of the house rather than on the side walls, even if still near the front. I don't know, it all looks tacky to me.

    All of that being said, I still can't say that Lilac Inn is an eyesore; I just seriously question some of the design choices, especially with this being a location information to Nancy Drew fans because of its presence in the books. I find the inside to be much more pleasant, though I don't personally love the color palette, and more what I would expect: cozy and charming. The parlor is my favorite room in the house by far.

    As for Titusville, I am going to try to keep it even shorter than I did the Lilac Inn list. It's a cute town, but as I will expand on shortly, I think that some of the locations make absolutely no sense for a town described in-game as "small" and a "backwater burg."

    1. No town that small should have an observatory in the 1930s, much less one so close to town (too much light pollution) and of that size. I did research and found that there were only two observatories in Illinois, which is where I presume Titusville is, and one was for private use and the other for a watch company. The private one had a refracting telescope instead of an optical reflecting telescope, which almost assuredly what Dr. Bob would have offered Nancy to look at as a tip. Anyway, it's just not realistic at all.

    2. I cannot imagine that a town of that size would have or need a resort like the Deer Mountain Lodge, which gives me The Shining and Twin Peaks vibes for whatever reason. A summer camp I could see, but a resort/mountain lodge would not have made sense in that area in 1930.

    3. A grand estate like Twin Elms, which uses a photo of the gorgeous Biltmore House, would probably not be located in or near a town like Titusville. Biltmore House was specifically built near Asheville because of the beautiful Appalachian views, but it does not appear that Titusville has anything like that to attract and old, wealthy family to build a Biltmore-like estate, much less so close to town.

    Josiah's house is probably my favorite location in the game, despite being dark inside, because it is so quirky and weird, like him. I love the carousel horse and throwback to The Haunted Carousel as well! I don't have much else to say about it or any other location except that the suit their roles.

    Characters: Unfortunately, the characters in this game are not among my favorites, except Josiah and we don't even get to meet him. Emily Crandall is a nice girl, but, as I said before, she isn't really an active character for most of the game. By the middle of the game, she has nothing new to say and then disappears, only to come back and refuse to talk to Nancy. I understand that she is suffering immensely from the loss of her mother and everything happening at the inn, and I sympathize with her greatly. I just wish she played a more active role in the story and had more dialogue with Nancy to make her less one-note. Jane Willoughby is a slightly annoying character whose name should be changed to Debbie Downer. She isn't very helpful to Nancy at all, and she spends most of her time warning Nancy not to take any wooden nickels, saying that Emily has lost her marbles, bemoaning that she is incapable of helping Emily (or Nancy), and staring, with extreme and alarming interest, at the empty surface of her podium for long, uninterrupted periods of time. Honestly, she isn't that bad, but her negative attitude and lack of helpfulness gets on my nerves.

    Richard Topham is by far the most interesting character in the game, besides Josiah, but the man has an ego bigger than the continental US. Truly, he insults Nancy and all of the townspeople from the start, saying that talking to anyone inferior to him has deleterious effects on his brain. Yikes. On top of it all, it is uncertain whether he actually believes in what he says he can do or if he knows he is full of crock. Anyway, I do like his voice actor's performance and think there's something about him that's plain hilarious. Jim Archer, on the other hand, I do not like, and I didn't realize the degree to which I don't like him until this most recent playthrough. The guy literally lies through his teeth to protect his pride, which makes Nancy have to do extra legwork and investigation to debunk his falsehoods. Even though he always comes clean, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable that he can sit there and tell stone-faced lies to Nancy repeatedly. He also forces Nancy to sew his wife's dress because he says he has no reason to open the safe deposit box. Let's just think about this for a moment. He, a middle-aged man who went to school with Nancy's father and knows who she is and why she wants to open the box (which could benefit him as well), tells Nancy that he has no reason to help her. He has every reason to help her, not only because opening the box could benefit him if a will is found, but because he repeatedly lied to Nancy, which should put him in her debt. I find his behavior to be extremely concerning, and I am not convinced that the behavior he displays is a direct result from his stress from the Depression.

    I really like the townies in this game, especially Mrs. O'Shea and Clarence, who is a true hero for chomping down on a pine cone without batting an eyelash. Yuri, the cat, is also kind of ugly and simultaneously ridiculously cute. He can't help his animation is a bit wonky, and I really love cats, so I would happily have him live with me.

    Music: The music in the game scores big points for me, so much so that it is in my top ten favorite Nancy Drew soundtracks! It is so fitting for the era--mainly drawing from jazz, blues, swing--and the instrumentation is spot on with muted trumpets, a saxophone, a clarinet, a string bass, drums, violin, and a piano. There's a nice balance of upbeat themes (i.e., "Common," "Drive/Chase," "Urgent," and "Amuse"), slow to mid-tempo suspenseful themes (i.e., "Gloom," "Humble," "Mystery," "Melody," and "Lilac") and eerie, tense themes (i.e., "Eerie" and "Tension"), all of which really make me feel like I am momentarily existing in the 1930s. (If you are wondering, I did not recall their names when I categorized them as eerie and tense. ) "Common" is my favorite of the upbeat themes and might be my favorite in general, though it is really hard for me to choose because I love the entire soundtrack. It makes me want to get up and dance around the kitchen with a broom or map like they did in movies and cartoons, or go driving in an old convertible dressed up like an old Hollywood star or 40s/50s housewife. Of the slow/mid-tempo themes, my favorites are tied between "Lilac" and "Melody," which isn't surprising since "Melody" is a slower, stripped down version of "Lilac." It should be no surprise to anyone then to learn that "Eerie" is my favorite of the eerie, tense songs, and it is actually the other contender for top favorite song in the game. The very first time I heard it in the game was when I went into the loft of Josiah's barn and saw the old clock for the first time, so it made a huge impact on me and that moment. It's so hauntingly beautiful, and I love how it sounds like you are hearing the music from far away, like it is coming from the past itself when you go into that loft. The trumpets Kevin Manthei added give a sense of tension and terror, too. It's just delicious to hear!

    Puzzles: I like the puzzles in this game. When I first played it as a child, I was definitely stumped for a while on some of them, but they are nowhere near the level of Blackmoor Manor puzzles (which I was playing around the same time), even on senior detective, so I was relieved that I didn't have to consult the Hints and Tips boards repeatedly (since I finally learned that they existed by then). None of them really stick out to me as amazing, but there are some that are quite original, like the logic puzzle Topham has Nancy do. I really like the old clock (i.e., the one in the barn since there are so many in this game) puzzle, and I suppose the errand puzzle to get the trivet is another one I like, though it can get old. The puzzles that I dislike are the mini golf one, which I use to love but is horrible on senior detective with a touchpad, and the sewing, which I also used to enjoy. However, it is horrible on a laptop with a touchpad and even worse on senior detective. I have had to do it so many times before that I start mocking Nancy saying she made too many mistakes and needs to do it over. Ugh, it's just...awful.

    Graphics: Once again, the character animations are increasingly unique with a wide variety of body types, faces, hair types, clothing types, etc., among this cast of characters. Emily is very pretty, and Jane has some serious period makeup going on, if you know what I mean. (Those eyebrows. ) I think the animators were making some changes to the character models because textures and such started changing around CUR and got a bit worse progressively for a while. The characters don't look bad, some of them just look half-baked compared to others in previous games. However, I feel like this process was necessary to create variety and more expressive models, and it paid off once the character animation reached CRY. Like all the games of this period, and really every period but one, the environment animation is very detailed and nice.

    Ending: I feel like this game does not suffer as much from an obvious culprit as its direct predecessor, but, even on my first playthrough, I was feeling strong suspicion for one person very early in the game. For anyone that isn't a child, however, I feel like the culprit is appallingly obvious from early in the game, which is a shame. The reason that the obvious culprit doesn't bother me as much in this game, however, is that the plot with Josiah's lost will overshadows much of the game, so the culprit reveal is sort of the less exciting major plot event at the endgame. The chase at the end is hilarious, fun, and very easy, which is plus given the chases in later Nancy Drew games that cause me true suffering.

    Other points of interest: I think the voice acting in this game is very impressive, especially with all the townies voiced by Lani, Jonah, and a few other cast members. You can truly hear their range and ability as so many different accents are put on and ages represented. Jane Willoughby's voice actress is really good; both her accent and manner of speech really suit the time period and her. Richard Topham's voice actor, as I said, also really adds another level to his quirkiness and absurd humor. Emily's voice is very sweet and suits her perfectly, and if you look up the other roles her voice actress has played, it is truly amazing that she has such range and doesn't retain anything that I can pick up that sounds the same between roles (and I usually can regardless of who it is or what medium their voice work is being used in). Most of the talent in the game are long-term Nancy Drew cast members in several games, so it is no surprise that I like their performances so much.

    Another fun little tidbit I wanted to mention is that the grandfather clock in the foyer of Lilac Inn actually has a diagram of the mirror puzzle in it. I had never seen it in all the times I played the game, but this time I clicked in that direction and noticed I could approach it when Jane wasn't at the podium. So, if you have never found that before, it's a fun little discovery.

    The Takeaway: This game, while not as strong as its two predecessors in the golden era, is still a shining example of a good Nancy Drew game. The plot is interesting and well-paced, the characters are unique and quirky, the music is exceptional, and the puzzles easy but engaging. It is a definite classic and incredibly nostalgic for me because, as I've said, it was among the first four games I played after receiving the original five for Christmas in 2005. If I were to rate this game on a ten star basis, I would give it seven and a half out of ten 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, this should be higher on your list; even with its faults, it's a fun 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, this one is on the shorter side and pretty easy, making it an especially great game for a first-time player or a young one. I would still recommend it for those who have played a good many, but if you are looking for a challenge or a longer game, I would give this one a hard pass for now. If you are looking for something else to play, I would highly recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, 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 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 Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon hopefully sometime before next week, so long as my reviews don't keep getting lost and forcing me to write them twice, and I will continue to post them as I scurry to complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon...this next one will not be my last.

    Previous Review: Curse of Blackmoor Manor
    Next Review: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12, 2019, 01:19 AM.