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A Veteran's Review of SSH

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  • A Veteran's Review of SSH

    Allow me to preface this review by saying that I have been playing the ND games for almost thirteen years. Over those years, I have probably played each game 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'm starting a month early). 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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    Plot: This game is the first in the series of games where Nancy gets an incredibly cool internship and conveniently finds a new case to solve. The game starts off a bit slow plot-wise, and would be especially slow during an inexperienced player's playthrough, as the first "day" in the game--which can take the course over many in-game days--involves a hefty list of puzzles to solve and chores to accomplish. Of course, anyone with an interest in museum studies and Mayan culture will find the game interesting from the start. During my very first playthrough in 2014, I personally loved having time to gather information about the culture and thoroughly explore Beech Hill before that glaring red hand print became my primary focus. That being said, once things start to pick up and the story gets complex, it is quite good. Unraveling how several thefts, an amnesiac, a smuggling racket, a monolith, and a missing Mayan scribe fit together--and discovering that they are related--proves to make an engaging game, even if some threads are not tied as nicely as others.

    Setting: I'll say right off the bat that I have mixed feelings about this setting. Beech Hill Museum is pretty neat location, and it is certainly eye-catching with that Mesoamerican pyramid and all the Maya antiquities on display both inside the museum and out in the garden. The color palette is varied--lots of gorgeous earth tones accompanied by red, blue, and green--and it is an undeniably beautiful space (the floor inlay is great). Unfortunately, the space doesn't feel realistic to me. As a lifelong museum-goer and as someone who revisited numerous Smithsonian museums in D.C. this April, I can say that I have never seen a museum with that kind of layout, even in small-scale museums and small exhibits. I'm sure the purpose of the layout was to make navigation easier for the game, but no exhibit designer would ever create such a space. The temple full of games and some exhibit pieces is larger than the actual indoor exhibition space--I am also questioning how and why this place was created, unless Beech Hill has only ever shown Mayan artifacts or has the budget to completely remodel their indoor exhibition area by building a temple facade--which only makes things more unrealistic. Museums often offer kid-friendly areas, or all the exhibits are created entirely for kids, but to have a three-story temple with games and quizzes for, as Henrik puts it, "little rascals" and only six displays in the indoor space (what's this about Beech Hill having one of the largest, most impressive collections of Mayan artifacts ever assembled???) is incredibly unbalanced. To add insult to injury, they put the star of the show, the monolith, and the relief sculptures (i.e., the proper name for the stone sculptures) outside in the garden, exposing them to the elements! Preservation and restoration of ancient artwork and artifacts is difficult enough, but to do so and then just sit them outdoors where temperature changes, rain, animals, insects, and everything else can damage them is unbelievable. Many museums have outdoor sculptures, but I would bet money that none of them include thousand-year-old Mayan reliefs!

    The other locations are okay (i.e., the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Hospital, the Mexican Consulate, Taylor Sinclair's office, and The Colonial Hotel) and look realistic, but they aren't very memorable from an aesthetic standpoint. What is unfortunate about both these spaces and Beech Hill, however, is that not a single one of them reflects Washington, D.C., properly. When most people think of D.C., they assuredly think of the famous monuments, historic governmental buildings, and perhaps some of the Smithsonian museums, but there is so much more culture to the city than the landmarks. I wish that some part of that culture was reflected in the game, rather than only a fake hotel and hospital giving reminders that this game takes place in the nation's capital.

    Characters: The ND games' character development takes a drastic turn southward in the sixth installment in the series. Joanna Riggs is possibly one of the worst characters in any of the games. She brings you in to help her, and then either doesn't give you the time of day for the rest of the game or insults you (e.g., "if you want to put your little magnifying glass up to the scene, it's fine with me" and "I'm not here to babysit"). I think the most lines she ever says to Nancy in the game is what she says in her desperate voicemail. I happened to pick alternate dialogue options this time and got her to be a little more chatty at the opening of the game, but I swear she literally says "Henrik can help you with that" or "I'm afraid I can't help with you that" or "Who knows?" to over 75% of Nancy's questions. Like, why does she even exist, except to add to the possible culprit tally, if all she is going to do is send me to Henrik and stare in her microscope all day?! I think I noticed this problem even on my first playthrough, but the latest one made it painfully clear that she is only around for plot convenience. Also, I love how she gets low-key offended when Nancy asks her if she knows where Henrik is because she needs a glyph translated, and Joanna is like "I can read glyphs" even though she didn't even know the significance of the red hand print and literally sends Nancy to Henrik for any other question. Ugh.

    Taylor Sinclair is another complete dud in the game. His hideous tie, shiny lips, awful mustache, and disgusting-looking hair make more of an impression on me than anything else about him, except maybe that his taste in art is also garbage (Poppy Dada's work is horrific, I'm not sorry). Anyway, he is an incredibly boring character and sounds shady from the get-go, making him overall pretty creepy. Alejandro del Rio, our third POC character and first POC male, is significantly more interesting than Sinclair, but even that isn't saying much. I admire his desire for justice and hatred of how his country is constantly exploited by the art world and archaeological communities--he has some nice dialogue on these topics--but that's really all there is to him at the end of the day.

    The last non-phone character is Henrik van der Hune, who is inarguably my favorite in the game and actually has character development. I'm not going to lie, when I first saw Henrik in the mask in the lab, I had two visceral thoughts: "This guy looks like he could be Hannibal Lecter...with more hair, a paper mask, and a background in epigraphy instead of psychiatry." and "They put a mask on this guy to save on animation. Wow." However, I did not let his slightly disturbing appearance get in the way of my initial opinion of him as an incredibly intelligent and generally helpful person. After he lost his memories and revealed aspects of his plan to Nancy, I found myself liking him even more. He clearly has more complex moral beliefs than most characters in these games for going to the lengths he did at the risk of personal loss. His trust in Nancy and their friendship is one of the highlights of the game. His background is also quite interesting (i.e., the journal mentioning Big Bunny) and morally complex, so I find his present motives all the more fascinating.

    There are an ungodly number of phone characters in this game, and I don't really feel like mentioning them all. The true gems of the phone characters, or in one case a non-phone, not-present character, are Prudence Rutherford and Sonny Joon, as well as Poppy Dada (her dialogue is refreshing). Prudence is easily one of the most hilarious characters in the games. Her incredible voice-acting adds to the humor, but her lines are pure gold, from talking to her husband like a pet and talking about frolicking in orchards in her dreams. Sonny Joon, another fan favorite, makes his debut in this game with his iconic doodles, obsession with Koko Kringles, and capability of destroying everything in his path.

    Music: For all the things done poorly in this game, the soundtrack was thankfully not one of them. I love the Latin and indigenous music influences heard in the compositions, especially the instrumentation. I loved how Pacal and the Whisperer were both sonically represented in the game. I think her theme is particularly strong because it starts out so soft with only a single flute, then another layer is added--chanting, strings, percussion, and brass--and the quiet voice becomes boisterous and confident. My two favorite songs, though, are the ones called "Town" and "Exotic" on the soundtrack. "Town" was the first one I heard during my first playthrough, and I was immediately in love. It's such a soothing track. "Exotic" is one of the few upbeat tracks--I am such a sucker for the classical guitar, and it is fantastic in that song--and it reminds me so much of the music from The Amazon Trail: Rainforest Adventures (a PC game from The Learning Company that I practically worshiped as a child. and I got it out of a cereal box), so there's a massively unrelated nostalgic factor as well. So good!

    Puzzles: There's a good many puzzles in this game, and a lot of them are pretty challenging, or at least require that I write things down on a piece of paper. I can't say that any of them are stellar or standout to me in a good way, except the monolith (but even then I just wing it by trial and error). I honestly don't have much to say about the puzzles. They are related to the plot--even the ones that are part of Nancy chores are educational about Mayan culture--and require some thought.

    Graphics: The environment graphics in this game are on par with the previous games, meaning they are very well done. The most impressive location would obviously be the museum. The character design is hit-or-miss in this game. Joanna looks significantly better than everyone in the game, and she looks better than the characters in The Final Scene; however, the remaining characters have some problems. Henrik's model is probably the second best, but his hair is stiff and strange and his arm in the lab coat is terrifying. Alejandro might be kind of cute, but he is suffering from the shoulder/arm/neck problems that other models have in previous games. His face is also slightly weird...maybe because he is still smiling at rest? Taylor Sinclair's model is an abomination to my eyes, but they did a decent job of making his face look aged. Still clay-like though.

    Ending: I have mixed feelings about this ending. The build-up to the culprit reveal is great; the final puzzle is challenging and exciting! That reveal was entirely unexpected--I didn't do a lot of reading in my first playthrough--and slightly horrific, but incredibly cool. However, as soon as the culprit was revealed, I was disappointed. It was so obvious that it was going to be this character that I wasn't even remotely surprised; I was suspicious at almost the beginning and then when the twist happened with another character, it was completely obvious that I was right all along. Unfortunately, the culprit's dialogue was on par with the culprit's dialogue at the end of Treasure in the Royal Tower, so cheesy and just plain awful. Then, in true ND style, Nancy was thrust into a perilous situation with a "solve-it-or-you-die" timed puzzle. It isn't difficult, but I died a thousand times in my first playthrough because I hadn't read that important clue in Henrik's translation notes. Once Nancy is no longer in danger, suddenly everyone EXCEPT the culprit is just standing there smiling and quoting weird stuff at her when they could have, oh...I don't know, gotten her out of said perilous situation! It's so cringe-worthy and awkward, like how did they know she was there but did nothing to help and didn't apprehend the culprit??? On top of that, we pan over to the culprit and they scream "ARRGHHHHHHHHHH! Confound you, Nancy Drew!" while shaking their fist at the screen, even though the reason they are angry has literally nothing to do with Nancy's actions. Truly, another one of the endings that could be fantastic and is ruined with incredibly cheesy dialogue and obvious villains.

    Other points of interest: The voice acting in this game is pretty good, although Alejandro del Rio's accent is clearly put-on. One of the things that really bothers me in this game is how much reading is involved. I normally don't mind having to do a bit or even a lot of reading in a video game, but almost all of the reading material is stationary, written in awful fonts/colors, and at incredibly inconvenient locations. I have no desire to go to Nancy's hotel room every time I need to check Henrik's or Sonny's notes, or rummage through Henrik's desk to find only half of what I need to do the HAM radio puzzle. It's incredibly frustrating, and even now I find myself ignoring that content even though it would probably make aspects of the game make more sense. I also hate how much time Nancy spends on the phone--there are more phone characters than in-game characters--and how she can only call from certain phones, but no matter what phone you're using none of these 11 digit phone numbers get logged in the registry at the bottom of the screen.

    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, 17-31, and SCK Remastered. 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--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 Secret of the Scarlet Hand, I had just beaten Creature of Kapu Cave, a blight in the series for certain, and Danger on Deception Island (honestly, I think it's overrated, which I will explain once I review it) the day before, so I was feeling a bit depressed that these last ND titles I hadn't played (and this was before SEA came out and before all this mess with MID) were not up to par with the other titles I loved. Hence, I was overwhelming excited that SSH was not a bad game, or at least not like the ones I had just played, and my response to it was incredibly positive. However, on replays, I have become more shrewd, as time and familiarity allows, and noticed the numerous flaws. With that being said and those caveats in mind, I would give this game five stars out of ten, largely because of the poorly developed characters, obvious culprit, and cheesy ending.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. It depends. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, even the really bad ones, then you should go for it; it is definitely not the worst game in the series by any stretch. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, I'd say it depends on what else you haven't played, but this is a decent game, so it may be worth looking into. 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 to get you started. 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 Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake sometime over the next few days, and I will continue to post them as I complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon...it won't be many moons until I start posting more reviews.

    Previous review: The Final Scene
    Next review: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake

    Other reviews: SCK STFD MHM TRT CAR DDI SHA CUR CLK TRN DAN CRE ICE CRY VEN HAU RAN WAC TOT SCK2 SAW CAP ASH TMB DED
    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12, 2019, 02:22 AM.

  • #2
    I was really looking forward to this review, considering how much I DESPISE this game, and I'm happy to see that we finally seem to disagree about a few things in our reviews lol. With that being said, I'll try to focus on the things I DON'T necessarily agree with, (along with a few I do) because it's more fun

    During my very first playthrough in 2014, I personally loved having time to gather information about the culture and thoroughly explore Beech Hill before that glaring red hand print became my primary focus. That being said, once things start to pick up and the story gets complex, it is quite good.
    I couldn't possibly disagree more lol. I absolutely HATED all of the information gathering, which is sad because I normally genuinely enjoy reading everything these games give us. More on that later. I also didn't feel as though it got much better after the crime takes place, because rather than being able to SNOOP and INVESTIGATE, we're pretty much stuck just GATHERING MORE INFORMATION which by this point I care even less about than before. You already know all of the reasons I think this plot is terrible so I'll just move on

    To add insult to injury, they put the star of the show, the monolith, and the relief sculptures (i.e., the proper name for the stone sculptures) outside in the garden, exposing them to the elements!
    I thought this too during my playthrough, but I came to the conclusion that I don't think it's ACTUALLY outside. I could 100% be wrong here, but the garden has a distinct night-time vibe to it, and we know that when we arrive at the front door of the museum it's always daytime. Additionally, we never actually see the sky in the garden. So I just figured it's probably part of the exhibit and made to look/feel like the outside while actually being indoors.

    Prudence is easily one of the most hilarious characters in the games. Her incredible voice-acting adds to the humor, but her lines are pure gold, from talking to her husband like a pet and talking about frolicking in orchards in her dreams.
    While I enjoyed Prudence's character, I actually thought her voice acting was horrendous . I feel like she sounds like someone trying really hard to impersonate a sophisticated and slightly cooky old woman, and her voice just genuinely bothered me during my playthrough. I LOVED her dialogue though, and she was a great character overall! I also loved Poppy Dada, I thought her voice actress did a great job.

    There's a good many puzzles in this game, and a lot of them are pretty challenging, or at least require that I write things down on a piece of paper. I can't say that any of them are stellar or standout to me in a good way, except the monolith (but even then I just wing it by trial and error).
    ^^^ The trial and error point is spot on, and not something I mentioned in my own review. BUT YES. Honestly, the amount of puzzles that I just guessed my way through in this game to avoid having to do the work is ridiculous. The monolith for sure, but also all of the matching quizzes in the temple and probably a few other things. And this is a huge downside to this game, because if I find it so tedious that I don't want to even try to play it correctly, the developers definitely made a mistake.

    I also hate how much time Nancy spends on the phone--there are more phone characters than in-game characters--and how she can only call from certain phones, but no matter what phone you're using none of these 11 digit phone numbers get logged in the registry at the bottom of the screen.
    I think this is something that we'll consistently disagree on throughout the games, because I've noticed you mention you rarely call the phone characters on repeat playthroughs. Meanwhile, the phone characters are honestly one of my FAVORITE parts of these games. I exhaust all conversation with them every time. I really enjoy chatting with Bess and George and the Hardy Boys and seeing Nancy interact with people that she knows and is close with (as well as seeing what they're up to), and I generally enjoy new phone contacts that are story specific as well. They're often more well done than the main characters we're given.That being said, I thought the amount of phone conversations we get to have in this entry is a positive (though maybe that's only because I dislike the rest of this game so so much lol)

    I would give this game five stars out of ten, largely because of the poorly developed characters, obvious culprit, and cheesy ending. It is definitely not the worst game in the series by any stretch.


    You are WAY TOO GENEROUS in my opinion towards this monstrosity of a game, it deserves nothing but hate.

    Annnnd that is all I have lol. Apologies for the amount of hate I unleash upon this game, I know I'm in the minority for thinking it's SOOO bad. But, different opinions are what make things more fun!

    Looking forward to the next one , as always!! ​​​​​​​

    Comment


    • #3
      Hahaha, I was also looking forward to your thoughts on it, given how much you dislike SSH. As much as I enjoy reading similar opinions, I, too, am quite excited to see where we will differ in opinion. I know I'm in the minority for a few games, so I expect to see more disagreements moving forward.

      I couldn't possibly disagree more lol. I absolutely HATED all of the information gathering, which is sad because I normally genuinely enjoy reading everything these games give us. More on that later. I also didn't feel as though it got much better after the crime takes place, because rather than being able to SNOOP and INVESTIGATE, we're pretty much stuck just GATHERING MORE INFORMATION which by this point I care even less about than before. You already know all of the reasons I think this plot is terrible so I'll just move on
      You're not wrong about this game requiring insane amounts of reading and info-gathering, and, as you know, some of it I absolutely hate. However, I tend to be extremely lazy about reading in-game content if it gets long and wordy, unless I'm extremely interested in what it has to say. (No idea why I'm like this with ND games. I love reading and usually read everything in other games, but I have become increasingly reluctant to read huge blocks of text in the ND games.) The reason I actually like the slow start to the game is that it gave me the opportunity and desire to actually explore my environment, rather than getting distracted with plot points, character interactions, or tasks I need to complete. I'm not massively fond of the internship "puzzles" you have to solve near the beginning of the game, but that general disinterest made me want to walk around and read/look at things instead. That's probably why I actually did read everything at the beginning of the game, but couldn't be bothered to do more than skim Henrik's notes later on. I had things to do, people to see, puzzles to solve, packages to wait for repeatedly, etc. Now, I can't say that I go around reading everything now that it isn't my first time playing the game, but it was nice not feeling pressured to do other things and actually enjoy the museum space for what it is: a museum. Anyway, to each their own, but that's why I appreciate how this game starts. Not sure I would like it in another context.

      I thought this too during my playthrough, but I came to the conclusion that I don't think it's ACTUALLY outside. I could 100% be wrong here, but the garden has a distinct night-time vibe to it, and we know that when we arrive at the front door of the museum it's always daytime. Additionally, we never actually see the sky in the garden. So I just figured it's probably part of the exhibit and made to look/feel like the outside while actually being indoors.
      You're right, and I also noticed that it remains perpetually dark outside. The only thing that makes me wary/skeptical about it being an indoor exhibit fashioned to look like an outdoor garden is the, for lack of a better word, moat in the floor. You could fake a hedge wall, trees, and grass, I suppose, pretty easily. No one would think it's real, but it would certainly create the impression of being outside. I've seen plenty of impressive museum exhibits that attempt these kinds of landscapes. However, I imagine it would be extremely difficult, not to mention extremely dangerous, to create a moat for an indoor exhibit, and that looks like it's supposed to be "real" water. I'm trying to envision how this would be done (elevated platform over water tanks? hole in the floor/ground/foundation with water tanks), but nothing I mentally build seems to be very safe. If any kind of electrical equipment got in the water...well a stolen Pacal carving would be the least of their problems. Plus, having open, stagnant water in an indoor space would be a breeding ground for mold, rust, and mildew, and the humidity levels/air moisture inside would probably damage the art. So, even if it actually is some kind of impossible indoor space, the art is in jeopardy. If it isn't actually water, then the possibility of it being an indoor exhibit is very high.

      While I enjoyed Prudence's character, I actually thought her voice acting was horrendous . I feel like she sounds like someone trying really hard to impersonate a sophisticated and slightly cooky old woman, and her voice just genuinely bothered me during my playthrough. I LOVED her dialogue though, and she was a great character overall! I also loved Poppy Dada, I thought her voice actress did a great job.
      That's not only fair, but that is exactly WHY I like Prudence's voice acting. It's one of those things that is so outrageously horrible that I absolutely have to love it without question. Like how some people (not me) love those awful Syfy B-movies. It's a thoroughly campy performance for a thoroughly campy woman, and I love it. I'm not sure if she has the same voice actor in the later games (I think so), but I definitely think the performances in DAN and VEN are more solid than this one. Yeah, Poppy's voice acting is great. I really wish they had used her again for a major character instead of only Dr. Predoviciu in DDI and Charleena Purcell in SHA.

      ^^^ The trial and error point is spot on, and not something I mentioned in my own review. BUT YES. Honestly, the amount of puzzles that I just guessed my way through in this game to avoid having to do the work is ridiculous. The monolith for sure, but also all of the matching quizzes in the temple and probably a few other things. And this is a huge downside to this game, because if I find it so tedious that I don't want to even try to play it correctly, the developers definitely made a mistake.
      YES. I think I solved most of them through trail-and-error OR cheating because I got so fed up. There were plenty I tried to solve myself, but for the most part, trial and error is the way to go, especially with all the temple puzzles and mini-games. *insert groan*

      I think this is something that we'll consistently disagree on throughout the games, because I've noticed you mention you rarely call the phone characters on repeat playthroughs. Meanwhile, the phone characters are honestly one of my FAVORITE parts of these games. I exhaust all conversation with them every time. I really enjoy chatting with Bess and George and the Hardy Boys and seeing Nancy interact with people that she knows and is close with (as well as seeing what they're up to), and I generally enjoy new phone contacts that are story specific as well. They're often more well done than the main characters we're given.That being said, I thought the amount of phone conversations we get to have in this entry is a positive (though maybe that's only because I dislike the rest of this game so so much lol)
      It definitely is going to be something we'll disagree on. Like I hinted at in my first answer, I get really bull-headed when I'm on the case, especially the first time through. Unless I am really enjoying soaking up all the little details, which is a sign that I am really into the game, I'm like a sniffer dog on the case. I want to get to the bottom of the mystery. Everything else can wait until later. (This usually only applies to ND games, for whatever reason. In other games, I generally want to milk every single ounce of that game out during my first playthrough.) I do, actually, try to exhaust phone conversations in the games I really, really like a lot (e.g., GTH or SAW), but if it's a game I don't like as much, I have no interest in prolonging things by chatting on the phone repeatedly. It may also have something to do with the fact that I don't like talking on the phone much in real life either.

      HOWEVER, I am going to try and make a point of making more phone calls as I replay the last couple games (and, obviously, play MID) in the next few weeks. If I have any particular insights or strong opinions, I will be sure to include those in my reviews. I think I decided not to include them in my reviews, unless they really stood out, because I wanted to give more attention to the main characters, but they do sometimes add a lot of positive things to the games.



      You are WAY TOO GENEROUS in my opinion towards this monstrosity of a game, it deserves nothing but hate.

      Annnnd that is all I have lol. Apologies for the amount of hate I unleash upon this game, I know I'm in the minority for thinking it's SOOO bad. But, different opinions are what make things more fun!

      Looking forward to the next one , as always!! ​​​​​​​
      Hahaha, just wait until you see me rip into some of the later games, including some fan favs. You are not alone in having scathing opinions, and I honestly find it refreshing to see well-defended, strongly articulated negative opinions about the games, including the ones I think are okay (or even good). You've made some excellent points that have made me look at SSH differently than I did, and while I still don't hate it like you do, I have definitely been reevaluating certain aspects of it. Looking forward to your next review and your commentary on mine!

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