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A Veteran's Review of SAW

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  • A Veteran's Review of SAW

    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 and chaotic). 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, again, for the wait to those who have been following me!

    Brace yourselves because I think this review is going to be a long one. I don't want to wax poetic, but I have a lot of feelings about this game. Seeing as how it's highly unlikely that I will write another review series, at least at this level of detail, I want to give this review everything I've got. I've put as much as I could give into my other reviews, and I'm proud of them all, but this game is special to me, so I'm going to let myself write as much as I want for as long as I need.

    Plot: As a reward for her dutiful sleuthing in TOT, P.G. Krolmeister sends Nancy to his favorite ryokan in Kyoto, Japan. Apparently, the Ryokan Hiei is a famous tourist destination for its reputation as one of the scariest, most haunted places in Kyoto. Upon her arrival, a portrait of late innkeeper, Kasumi Shimizu, falls off the wall, which is only part of the unwelcome reception that greets Nancy. Current innkeepers, Miwako Shimizu and Takae Nagai, seem to be at odds about whether Nancy is welcome at the ryokan, with Takae claiming that someone, perhaps Kasumi, does not want her staying there. Shortly afterward, terrified guests start leaving the ryokan in droves, citing the horrific supernatural occurrences as their collective reason for leaving. Miwako is afraid that they may have to close the inn permanently, but ensures Nancy that they are not haunted and the only thing plaguing the guests are overactive imaginations. Ever the skeptic, Nancy decides to do a little poking around, but she doesn't have to wait long before the resident ghost pays her a visit. What is really going on at the Ryokan Hiei? Could someone be faking these hauntings to force the inn to close? What secrets are the Shimizu family hiding? Why do they seem so reluctant to talk about Kasumi's death? Will Nancy be able to learn the truth before its too late? It's up to you as Nancy Drew.

    I cannot tell you how long I have been waiting to write this review, especially since I had to go on several hiatuses during my marathon. For years, Treasure in the Royal Tower and Curse of Blackmoor Manor had fought each other for the top spot in my heart, but that all changed when Shadow at the Water's Edge entered my life. Anyone who has read a fair number of my reviews will already know that most of my existence has involved me admiring and obsessing over foreign cultures. Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone when I say that I am fascinated by various Asian philosophies and cultures, including that of Japan. Ironically, or perhaps not given how things went previously, this game happened to be released when I was two years into my "Asian phase," by which I mean learning Mandarin; listening to K-Pop, J-Pop, J-Rock/visual kei, and Mandopop; watching Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese dramas, movies, and variety shows; researching the Korean Hallyu Wave and its effects on relations between Japan and South Korea; observing idol culture and the negative mental and physical health consequences that have arisen from it; studying various Eastern philosophies; etc. (That "phase" has been going over ten years strong now. ) For that reason, it is suffice to say that the game struck when the iron was hot. I can still remember watching the teaser trailer for it at the end of TOT, and words cannot describe the sense of elation I felt. For the first time in a while, we were getting what I believed would truly be a scary game, and it was taking place in none other than Japan. After the bitter disappointment following TOT, as well as many of its predecessors, the potential I saw in this game could not have been more welcome.

    There are few things as satisfying as something living up to or even exceeding your expectations, especially when your expectations were high from the start. I can happily say that this game delivered that satisfaction. This is not to say that the game is utterly flawless--it isn't--but it is an exceptional Nancy Drew game. From the very opening scene, I was hooked on this plot. I wanted to know what was going on with the Shimizu family and why they seemed so torn in their interactions with Nancy; one minute they seemed bent making her feel unwelcome and unwanted and the next they were doing everything possible to make her comfortable and happy during her stay. It's worth noting that my absolute favorite Nancy Drew games are the ones that try to tackle dark, mature subjects and explore complex human emotions and relationships, and this game is no exception. Every time I play it, I'm always left with such sadness and sympathy for this little cast of characters. At the heart of this game is an examination of the profound and differing effects that grief and guilt have on people, all of which is exacerbated by these characters' constant confrontation with and denial of Kasumi's presence in their home and in their lives. Interestingly enough, I think the patterns in each character's behavior corresponds (primarily) to one of the stages of grief. I will go into the specifics for each character in their section below, but I find it fascinating to see how they all respond to such a tragic loss and traumatic experience as Kasumi's death and subsequent "hauntings" at the ryokan. Unraveling that grief and how it motivates them is, to me, almost as interesting as solving the mystery itself.

    Naturally, as the plot is more character-driven than some Nancy Drew games, I can see why this game doesn't necessarily appeal to everyone, but I think most fans of the games can at least give it praise for its scares and how well they are incorporated into the plot. Now, if you've read my other reviews, you already know that I love scary games and all of the scary Nancy Drew games rank highly in my book. From the Woman in Black (and the less spectral and somehow all the more terrifying, Ethel) in CUR to Valdez in MHM, there is nothing that makes me happier than a truly terrifying Nancy Drew game with a standout specter, and if there is one thing to be said about the ghost in Shadow at the Water's Edge, it's that she is in a class all her own. One of my biggest compliments about the scares in this game is how varied they are in type and appearance. Since it is so hard to spook me, I really appreciate a nice blend of creepy atmosphere, jump scares, scripted scares, etc., all working together in an unpredictable pattern. The more I distrust the safety of my environment, or the environment itself, the better. It's a thrill when a game, movie, book, show, etc., builds up an incredible amount of tension and expectation by prolonging the scare or not delivering it when expected. I have legitimately worked myself into more terror and dread by not knowing what to expect than I have being scared repeatedly by something.

    Thus, I find this game delivers its particular horrors extremely well, especially for a Nancy Drew game. We have various degrees of visual horrors that range from mildly disturbing to insanely terrifying (e.g., Kasumi lurking outside of Nancy's and Takae's rooms, wet footprints in Nancy's room that go through the wall, slamming doors, Kasumi's face in the garden pond, the murky water, red lettering on Nancy's scroll, Nancy's confrontations with Kasumi). Kasumi's yurei design--although a deliberate nod to the infamous Japanese ghosts popularized in American film remakes, The Ring and The Grudge--is absolutely terrifying, especially considering how Kasumi died. Then, we have the stellar audio design that takes the hauntings to the next level, even when there is little to no visual element involved (e.g., the horrific sounds that play when Nancy escaping the locked room, the dripping water, the unearthly hissing and groans, the demented violin(?) playing). I have to say, as much as the visual horrors impressed (and scared) me the first time I played, it's the sounds that still get me to this day. (Good sound design/soundscape is the single most effective way to scare me.) Sometimes I have to turn off my volume just to solve that one locked room puzzle because the sounds make me so uncomfortable. To top it all off, there are the scares that come solely through words and their implied imagery. Even though we never get to see it, there's something about the ash-colored shoji and shaken room that Rentaro describes that gives me chills. All of these things working in conjunction--as well as the incredible score and the randomization of so many scares--is what makes this game so deliciously scary.

    Despite how good this game is, it still has some problems that I feel are worth discussion. As one who is so interested in Japanese culture, I have to admit that I am a little bit perplexed by how the game handled some aspects of Japanese culture. As far as I am aware, the traditional elements are accurate, though certainly simplified or constructed for the purpose of a puzzle, like the tea ceremony that only involves Nancy labeling the chadōgu. I wish the game had given a little more insight to a traditional ryokan experience, particularly the dining experience. Even though the room is accurate, in that the furniture changes from the chabudai table to the futon later at night, it's a shame that Nancy never gets served kaiseki, especially given that there is an irori in the ryokan. Still, I thought the game was respectful of the traditions and incorporated them well in a game made for incredibly young players. What I do not understand, however, is how the game really drops the ball on the "contemporary" Japanese culture side of things. I mean, all we see of Kyoto proper is an empty pachinko parlor with a purikura booth, the lobby of an expo center, Yumi's bento stand, and Yumi's apartment equipped with a closet full of Lolita fashion. I mean, what an insult to urban Japan. I love the Japanese countryside as much as anyone, but Japan's cities are absolutely incredible. To have a game about Japanese culture that directly deals with the clash of the old and new as part of the plot and then just...not really have the whole "modern" part is pretty sad. While everything Nancy saw was certainly a part of Japan, I can't help but feel like there should have been more balance. Just think of how insanely cool the expo or stores would have been. I know that some things couldn't be included because of the E rating, HeR's tendency to avoid things relating to religion (which is obviously pervasive in many elements Japanese culture), and copyright, but we were in Japan and didn't have a single mention of Nintendo, video games, anime, Studio Ghibli, manga, kawaii culture, cosplay, J-Pop, visual kei, or internet cafes. Given Rentaro's and Yumi's personalities and appreciation of the urban life, I'm surprised that none of these things were at least name-dropped for the sake of Japan's amazing pop culture. There's also the whole issue of mispronouncing Japanese names/words and the accents, but I'll get into that in the more appropriate section. All in all, I think the game does a commendable job for educating about Japanese culture, but I do wish there had been a little bit more immersion in the culture.

    Setting: Well, to say that I love the setting in this game shouldn't be surprising to anyone. The Ryokan Hiei is an absolutely gorgeous location, and I love how authentic it looks, even in its color palate. The tatami flooring, the irori with a decorative fish on the jizaikagi, the shoji, the chabudai, the futon, the onsen (or perhaps sentō, depending on where the water comes from) with the otoko and onna banners, and the geta all lined up outside the lobby all contribute to the beauty and authenticity of the indoor space. Even though mixed-bathing is generally not allowed, it is a bit unrealistic that a ryokan would only have one onsen available and switch banners every day. It would be more realistic to have set times for each group, but even then, a ryokan as old as the Ryokan Hiei should have two onsen, even after what happened. The tsuboniwa, or courtyard garden, however, is the real gem. Everything about it is so incredibly beautiful. I love the blackwater pond, the guzei (red bridge), the dai-dōrō, the sakura tree, the bamboo, the ōkarikomi bushes, the lotus, the stepping stones, the Japanese maple, and the shishi-odoshi. (I do wish we had some camellias, especially Camellia japonica cultivars, in bloom, as they are my favorite flower and native to Japan.) So, so beautiful! I only wish we could see it in daylight. I don't have as much to say about the urban locations or the train station. They don't scream "downtown Kyoto" to me, unfortunately, but they aren't bad. The outside of the pachinko parlor is the most convincing, though it doesn't really capture the charm of downtown Kyoto, which looks very different from Tokyo. I think Yumi's apartment is adorable though.

    Characters: I love the characters in this game! They are among my absolute favorites from all of the games, and definitely all in my top 30 (or higher). (Ranking characters is a little bit harder for me than games.) By the way, I decided to write their surnames first and given names second because that is the correct way in Japan.

    Shimizu Yumi - elder daughter of Kasumi, sister to Miwako, granddaughter to Takae, bento shop owner

    1) Spunky

    2) Unique aesthetic

    3) Not afraid of being her authentic self

    4) Confident

    5) Not a pushover at all


    1) A bit demanding

    2) All-around unhelpful when it comes to the ryokan

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Hates the ryokan

    2) Does not want to work at the ryokan, despite it being tradition for her to take over

    Other Notes:

    1) When the game first came out, Yumi was my favorite character, or at least tied with Rentaro. She was fun, she was spunky, and she had an incredibly unique aesthetic that made my fifteen-year-old heart soar. I cannot tell you how much I wanted her Lolita-style clothes. With time and age, my fondness for her has partially moved to her sister, but I still love her. As ironic as it is, I feel like we get to know Yumi less than the other characters, even though she is generally more open and less guarded than Miwako or Takae. She feels more like a caricature than the other characters, but I think that is more due to her reluctance to talk about anything relating to the ryokan or her mother, which is understandable. Even though she is described as a "free spirit," I don't really get that sense from her, as nothing she does or is interested in really goes against the grain, if that makes any sense. She obviously does not want her life to be dictated by tradition, insofar as she doesn't want to live or work at the ryokan, but it's unclear if she was opposed from the beginning or if she distanced herself from everything relating to the ryokan because of her mother's death and her grandmother's, and later her sister's, rigid expectations of her. It makes complete sense that she wouldn't want to be in a place that holds such painful memories for her, especially if doing so fulfills her destiny to be trapped in that place for the rest of her life. Beyond that and her "bossy" ways, we really don't get to know her all that well. Still, I absolutely appreciate how unapologetic she is for being herself and how determinedly she pursues her goals.

    2) As aforementioned, I think each character's behavior corresponds to one stage of grief. Even though Yumi's reaction is the most difficult to gauge, I feel that she is the most well-adjusted following Kasumi's death. Prima facie, her reluctance to spend any time at the ryokan or talk about her mother might seem like denial, as discussing her mother or feeling her absence from the ryokan might force her to confront the reality of Kasumi's passing. However, I believe she has honestly accepted her mother's death and is at a healthy place in her grief. Instead, the problem, and thus the cause for her avoidance, is Takae's (and honestly Miwako's) overbearing nature and them constantly pressuring her to take over the ryokan. Her decision not to talk about her mother is genuinely normal once you realize that Nancy is an actual stranger. I don't know about you, but I would be pretty offended if a stranger asked prying questions about my loved one's death, especially given how traumatic that experience must have been for Yumi. Naturally, this is all based on my interpretation of her words and actions, but I don't sense a lot of guilt or self-directed blame from her, unlike Miwako and Takae. Now that I'm older, I have such mixed feelings about Yumi's behavior though. I completely understand her reasoning for not wanting to be around the ryokan or her family, and I think her decision is genuinely motivated by self-care. It sounds like her family is toxic for her, so I applaud her getting herself out of that situation. Given how different the family dynamic is in Japan, it really took a lot of nerve to stand up to tradition and her family's expectations of her. Still, I can't help but think that she could be a little more supportive of Miwako under the circumstances.

    Nagai Takae - grandmother to Miwako and Yumi, innkeeper at Ryokan Hiei, mother of Kasumi


    1) Kind, for the most part

    2) Wise

    3) Clearly cares about her family and home

    4) Wants to spread her knowledge of traditional Japanese arts


    1) Inconsiderate of her granddaughters' feelings

    2) Insanely stubborn and unyielding

    3) Lies

    4) Selfish

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) She is desperate to keep the ryokan

    2) She believes that Kasumi is haunting the ryokan but is reluctant to talk about it in any beneficial way

    3) She called in paranormal investigators about Kasumi's ghost

    Other Notes:

    1) Honestly, I have as many reasons to dislike Takae as I do to love her, but that's what happens when you have complex characters. For the sake of spoilers, I won't be able to talk about everything, but I'll do my best with what I can talk about. To start, I think I have the greatest amount of sympathy for Takae, but I'm also the angriest at her. She blames herself for what happened to Kasumi, and, to be honest, she is somewhat responsible. If she hadn't chosen to be selfish and put her feelings about the ryokan above her daughter's happiness, it's quite unlikely she would have died that night. Takae was so concerned about her (unhealthy) attachment to her home and feared change so much that she indirectly caused the death of her child. What's worse (and sadder) is that she realizes this fault in herself, yet she has allowed it to interfere with her granddaughters' lives as well. It's incredibly ironic. She tells Nancy that she doesn't want to lose the girls, but her clinging so hard to tradition and deliberating ignoring the wishes and feelings of her family does cause her to almost lose the girls. Yumi wants nothing to do with the ryokan or her family because of how insistent Takae is that she take up the mantle. Miwako actually wants to run the ryokan and enjoys it, but her efforts are all but ignored because she isn't the one "destined" to take it over, leading her to become depressed and resentful of the ryokan almost as much as Yumi. (However, Miwako redirects all of her anger at Yumi.) It makes me really sad to see how Takae grieves over her past mistakes but doesn't realize that the driving force behind them is still destroying her family. She is so wise and yet so foolish.

    2) If that paragraph didn't already reveal what stage of grief Takae represents, then allow me to state it plainly: Takae's behavior is driven by bargaining and, partially, by denial. She is, by her own admission, riddled with guilt over what happened to Kasumi and thinks she is responsible for her death. She is tortured with "what ifs" and the knowledge that she made a conscious decision which resulted in the incident that caused Kasumi's death. Since she believes that Kasumi's ghost is trapped at the ryokan, which I personally think is part of her denial and a desire not to let Kasumi go, she thinks it is her responsibility to help Kasumi find peace and be free. As such, she "bargains" by dictating what she believes is Kasumi's will and allowing the hauntings to continue unchecked. This means that Kasumi is, perhaps, somewhat appeased, but it also means Kasumi is still around, which Takae seems to want (and may not even realize). She wants everyone at the ryokan, guests and all, to live according to what Kasumi seems to want or not want, hence why she wanted Nancy to leave when Kasumi's portrait fell off the wall. Thus, I think she perfectly exemplifies the "bargaining" stage of grief.

    3) I know not everyone likes Takae's dialogue, but I think she has some incredibly beautiful lines. Some of them have stuck with me for years or very, very loosely inspired some of my own stories or past philosophy papers.

    Shimizu Miwako - younger daughter of Kasumi, sister to Yumi, Rentaro's girlfriend, innkeeper

    1) Kind

    2) Hardworking

    3) Cares about her family and wants to do right by her mother

    4) Stands up for herself

    1) A bit moody

    2) Invalidates others' experiences

    3) Does not acknowledge her guests' fears

    4) Inconsiderate of her sister's feelings

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Does not acknowledge the hauntings at all

    2) Seems to resent that she is running the ryokan as much as she likes it

    Other Notes:

    1) I have to admit that I was not incredibly fond of Miwako when I played the game for the first time. I felt terrible for her, but I was bothered by how angry she was at literally everyone in the game. That still holds true, but I understand her a lot better now and have far greater sympathy for her, especially during the game's ending. When you think about everything that poor girl has been through...let's just say she needs a really strong support network.

    2) Though the least talkative of the bunch, Miwako is by far the easiest character to read, so it took me no time at all to realize that her behavior is driven by anger and denial. She is not in denial of her mother's passing, but she refuses to believe that the hauntings could be legitimate to the point that she doesn't acknowledge them at all. I think her motivation to ignore them is not so much driven by a disbelief in ghosts as much as her protecting herself. She obviously feels extreme guilt over her mother's passing, as she confesses that she blames herself for not helping her or being there when she died. Therefore, I think the thought that her mother's ghost is so angry and vengeful that she attacks guests is too much for Miwako to bear. Beyond her denial of the hauntings, it's clear that Miwako has a lot of pent up anger. While Nancy repeatedly asks insensitive questions--something I will never understand given how tactless that is and the fact that Nancy's own mother died when she was young--that warrant negative responses, I do wonder if her reaction is always proportionate to the cause. Insensitive questions notwithstanding, I think it should be pretty obvious that Nancy is driven to help Miwako. That is not to say that Miwako should open up and tell Nancy all of her problems--Nancy is literally a stranger--but I do think she could be a little less dismissive of Nancy when she gets upset.

    Naturally, Nancy is not the only target of Miwako's anger. Some of that anger is directed at herself, but she mostly directs it at Yumi, which I find interesting. At one point in the game, she talks about how she and Takae only get "touchy, angry" Yumi (talk about the pot calling the kettle black), but I have difficulty understanding why she wouldn't understand why Yumi acts that way around them. For one, they both pressure Yumi to take over the ryokan every time they see her--despite the fact that Miwako doesn't really want her to take it over--and the ryokan is already a source of bad memories for Yumi. This is something that Miwako should understand perfectly. Perhaps, for her, staying at the ryokan is her way of honoring her mother and feeling closer to her, but for Yumi, it is the exact opposite and only drudges up memories of the painful, traumatic experiences she had there. Hence, Miwako's anger at Yumi is misplaced, but her anger at Takae and Rentaro make more sense. Takae clearly does not praise Miwako for her efforts or her dedication to the ryokan, which is the source of conflict between her and Miwako. In this instance, her anger is appropriate and natural.

    Her conflict with Rentaro, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. Throughout the game, it becomes apparent that Miwako and Rentaro are fighting about moving to Kyoto and possibly just Miwako taking a break from the ryokan in general. Given how...on edge Miwako seems, I don't think Rentaro is off-mark for suggesting that she take better care of herself, but I don't think she necessarily needs to leave the ryokan for that (temporarily or permanently). (What really needs to happen is for all of these actual adults to sit down and have several serious conversations!) Nonetheless, it is equally obvious that Rentaro wants Miwako to relocate because he wants to relocate. For that reason, Miwako's anger is understandable at least, but I think her decision to avoid Rentaro completely or refuse to have a conversation about it is incredibly irresponsible (and also just not being a good girlfriend). Clearly, Miwako has a lot of relationship issues to work through, but she needs to deal with how she responds to things and be more...charitable in the ways she views others as well.

    Aihara Rentaro - friend and neighbor of Shimizu family, Miwako's boyfriend, handyman at ryokan

    1) Hilarious

    2) Helpful

    3) Talkative

    4) Smart


    1) Selfish

    2) Awkward (not really a con in my book )

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Wants to live in the city

    2) Thinks Miwako should leave the ryokan

    3) Believes in the hauntings

    Other Notes:

    1) I love Rentaro. I know what you're thinking, but I swear, he is one of the most hilarious characters in all of the games. He actually reminds me of one of my close friends, too, which is really weird and slightly terrifying. Anyway, I love his deer impression, I love his quirky charm, I love his absurd love for numbers (words are better though, just saying ), and I love his warm personality. Like Takae, he has some really nice dialogue too.

    2) For various reasons, I don't really think Rentaro really displays behavior motivated by any of the stages of grief. If I had to identify any, it would be acceptance, but I'm not sure that really fits either.

    Music: Seeing as how I have praised almost everything about this game thus far, I'm certain that no one would expect me to feel anything but overwhelming love for the soundtrack. If you did, then you are absolutely correct. Congratulations! As I said previously, I think this game was and, for many, remains the scariest game in the series because of how well it creates a spooky atmosphere using thorough, diverse methods. One of these methods--and, to me, the most effective one--is the soundtrack. You all know I would love to break down every single piece and discuss it at length, but this review has already gotten longer than even I anticipated, so I am going to group most of the pieces into several categories and discuss the scariest ones separately. (Forgive me if I refer to a traditional Japanese instrument incorrectly. It is extremely difficult to tell the difference in these recordings, and it's entirely possible that these are all MIDI instruments anyway.)

    First, there are the insanely freaky tracks, "Kasumi" and "Ghost," which go right up there with "Wolf" from CUR as songs that will haunt you, give you goosebumps, and make you break out in a cold sweat every single time. "Kasumi" isn't nearly as bad as "Ghost," but there's something about how cold the solo koto/shamisen/biwa sounds that gives me chills. When it slows down and gets distorted at the end with all those spooky sound effects, my hair stands on end. The melody is so beautiful, but the real genius of the track is how the tension is raised and dispersed repeatedly through the song until the end. Listen again closely and you'll hear the sound effects build and stop, subtly setting you on edge again and again by refusing to let you get comfortable with the presence or absence of sound. "Ghost," on the other hand, starts out as a cacaphonous mess of sounds. There is no melody, no rhythm, nothing but the unsettling gurgles and pops of otherworldly instruments. Then, an omnious pounding begins, followed by the shudder of strings, at an alarmingly even pace made all the more disturbing by how slow it is compared to your elevating heartrate. Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse, the distorted howls of brass and whines of the strings crescendo until every nerve in your body is screaming to look behind you, even though you know nothing is there, and it all falls away until there's nothing left but a sloshing bellow. There's something about it all that sounds so fluid as well, which is even more disturbing given Kasumi's fate. It's an absolutely terrifying composition.

    Thankfully, though, the rest of the soundtrack isn't quite as panic-inducing. "Spook," "Pulse," and "Haunted" are definitely on the border of "pleasant" and "creepy," but I find them to be tame compared to "Ghost." "Spook" always gets me on edge if it plays in the baths though. These tracks are just eerie enough to create a tense atmosphere without scaring the pants off of you. Meanwhile, "Ryokan," "Drums," and "Traditional" break up the soundtrack by adding some pleasant and relaxing that reflect traditional Japanese music. I think "Ryokan" is my favorite of them all because it features the fue (Japanase flute, perhaps a shakuhachi) prominently. It's such a beautiful piece and makes me feel so calm. Last comes the upbeat, "modern" Japanese songs, "Pop" and "Modern," which I love so much. They are so much fun--and doing bento to them for hours is even better--and really help set apart the urban settings from the ryokan. I love how the melodies are still pretty traditional sounding and feature traditional instruments. I'm not sure how well it corresponds to actual J-Pop, but it's still a really fun way to pay homage to urban, modern Japan.

    (Also, a special shoutout to the track in the teaser trailer, even though it never appears in the game itself. It is so beautiful!)

    Puzzles: If there is one thing this game doesn't have a shortage of at all, it's puzzles. For some players, this is not a good thing, but I personally love the puzzles in this game. In fact, this game has more than one of my absolute favorite puzzles from all of the games. Now, if you've read my other reviews, especially the CRY review, you already know that I love a good challenge. The more difficult (read: not impossible) and creative the puzzles are, the more I love them. To be fair, I don't love when a game throws in an ungodly number of puzzles that far outweigh the actual storytelling and/or are so numerous and difficult that they kill momentum, but I don't think that applies here. I know other fans have and will disagree with me, but let's go ahead and sort the puzzles into each category.

    Great: Portrait wire puzzle, train station navigation, bento box puzzle, master sudoku puzzle

    To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that there is a puzzle I genuinely love as much as the bento box puzzle. I'm sure there are plenty of others that I love equally as much, but the variety of solutions and the number of times I can make bento boxes really elevates it. No lie, I probably did nothing but solve bento boxes for about five (non-contiguous) hours during this most recent playthrough. I love them. I could make bento boxes all day long. It doesn't help that the bento is so stinking cute, but I would make bento boxes regardless of how adorable the food looks.

    As for the other puzzles I listed, I think they are fun. I know, you're probably wondering how on earth I could enjoy the wire puzzle, but I genuinely love it, especially on senior mode. The subway navigation puzzle is pretty fun and clever, though it doesn't correspond to Kyoto's (or Japan's) geography at all. The master sudoku puzzle is only great if you love sudoku, which I do. I would have preferred a "monster" renogram puzzle, but I enjoy sudoku enough to appreciate the challenge.

    Good: Grading the student's homework, sudoku, renograms, calligraphy lesson, avatar maker, puzzle box, garden stone puzzle, origami letter, pass envelope puzzle, key cabinet puzzle, guest room number puzzle, star lock puzzle, pictures/numbers puzzle

    I won't go through all of the puzzles in this category, but I think they are enjoyable and do a commendable job of incorporating the plot and/or Japanese culture. Some aren't really puzzles in a strict sense (e.g., grading the homework), but I thought I should include them anyway. My favorite from this group, besides the renograms, is probably the calligraphy lesson or origami letter puzzle.

    Mediocre: Nonograms, avatar password, origami lesson, tea ceremony, pachinko, Suki commands, bath tile puzzle, EVP recordings

    The puzzles in this category aren't really good or bad. I included the tea ceremony and origami lesson in this category specifically because I think they could have been better. You don't really learn the tea ceremony from a mere memorization puzzle with Japanese words. We learn next to nothing about the placement of the items (or whether that is important) or any of the etiquette that would be involved in a true ceremony, which is really disappointing. The origami lesson isn't the greatest either. It's somewhat redeemed in the origami letter puzzle, but I wish it had felt a little more...authentic. I fold origami all the time and find it extremely calming, so I didn't much enjoy doing a matching game with the figures.

    Bad: Underwater rope puzzle

    There's nothing wrong with the rope puzzle specifically, but the instructions for it are terrible. I remember being so confused and flustered trying to solve it under pressure because it wasn't made clear that I needed to be cutting a path of least "resistance" and that it didn't matter if it was in a "straight line." "Contiguous segments" would have been a more appropriate description. Oh well.

    Horrible: Massive nonogram puzzle

    Well, if it isn't already obvious that I am not nearly as fond for nonograms as I am sudoku or renograms, then I'm about to make it painfully clear to you. I cannot stand nonograms. I have never liked them. I don't mind the ones in the puzzle book because I don't have to solve them to progress the game. I usually just cheat and copy those solutions so I can get the extra dialogue with Rentaro and solve the sudoku and renograms by myself. Thus, it is a natural conclusion that I, someone who doesn't even want to solve a 10 x 10 renogram, would absolutely loathe a 25 x 25 MONSTER nonogram. Visually, it's rather stunning, and I think it is a somewhat beautiful idea for its intended purpose, but it's a chore to complete. Even looking up the solution and copying it takes an insane amount of time and has plenty of room for error. I cannot even imagine how patient (and brilliant) the people are who try to tackle that thing alone. Anyway, I get that it is truly serving as the game's big final puzzle, but it is too difficult and too laborious, which grinds the game's momentum to a screeching halt. I might have been more determined to solve it by myself if I hadn't wanted to progress the game so badly the first time I played it. SAW is one of the longest ND games anyway, which makes me happy, so adding a puzzle like that is...excessive.

    Graphics: Honestly, I really like the graphics in this game. I know, I know, no surprise there, right? While the environmental graphics aren't quite as bright and shining at TOT, that's probably because we only see the game at night. Still, I think the environments are beautifully detailed and well-textured. The character models are also a major upgrade from its predecessors. It seems that they finally worked out whatever kinks were happening in the VEN-TOT era, giving us character models that are emotionally expressive and dynamic. They also found a really nice balance between cartoonish, stylized appearance and hyperrealism, which I appreciate. Each character genuinely looks unique in their facial features and have realistic facial proportions (looking at you WAC). Anyway, I'm extremely pleased with how this game looks and I think it marks the beginning of a beautiful era in the game's environmental and character animation.

    Ending: Reflecting on all the culprit reveals, I'm pretty sure this one is the top five for most shocking, at least for me. I genuinely looked like this when I found out who the culprit was for the first time. Still, let's back up for a second and talk about what comes before the culprit reveal. I must say, I think the ending is pretty solid. Flawed, but well done. After solving the monster puzzle, the first reveal of the game occurs, which I, admittedly, was not expecting at all. Despite being somewhat unrealistic--not the letter's content, but the language its in --I thought it was a touching and appropriate way to wrap up that aspect of the plot, and it really fit the character well. Nonetheless, all of the good feelings you get while reading that letter immediately vanish into thin air when the biggest scare of the game occurs. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say that I actually jumped out of my chair and screamed when that happened. It's so horrible. *shudders* The puzzle following that incident is kind of lame, but it is extremely terrifying and macabre given...well, you know. There is so much I would like to say here, but I cannot for the sake of giving things away. I'll just say that I do not like having to...look at particular things for extended periods of time and leave it at that.

    Anyway, once that puzzle is solved and you get one more opportunity to observe things you would rather never see again for the rest of your life, Nancy learns who the culprit is and is tasked with confronting them directly. There is an opportunity here--one I cannot remember if I missed the first time I played it, honestly--to talk to another character, and the conversation Nancy has with them is one of the best pieces of writing in the game. That is, minus the fact that she accuses said person of being the culprit when we already know who the culprit is by this point. Regardless, it is a beautiful moment and I am really happy that its an option. Following that confrontation, Nancy sets off to confront the actual culprit. The first time I played the game, I remember thinking that this person could not possibly be the culprit and was so confused as to why they would possibly do such a thing. Once Nancy catches the culprit, there is this whole rather out-of-character conversation that still shocks me to this day. I don't know what Nik was thinking here, but...oof. Everything leading up to this point was fantastic, but the way this whole section plays out is insane. The culprit's motives are a bit nonsensical--they say the ryokan is a bad place, but they are the reason for that--and I'm still not sure I understand what they were talking about during that whole rant. It raises a lot of questions about when the hauntings started (and why), but the fact remains that the culprit does not really talk about anything that would be a more legitimate reason to do what they did. And by "legitimate" I mean "minutely feasible to understand why anyone would do something so depraved and disgusting with potentially good interests at heart." I might be slightly more sympathetic if the culprit mentioned certain things about their motivations and talked about them rationally, but they do not. At all. For the sake of spoilers, I cannot go into the long-winded rant I have prepared on this subject, but please know that I have one. I am legitimately angry at this culprit every time I play the game. They are an adult! Surely, they could have thought of a more appropriate way to handle these issues.

    All of that being said, Nancy is given two courses of action which leads to two possible ending letters. I personally chose the more "positive" option the first time I beat it, and I still generally pick that one because I think it is more appropriate, realistic, and more true to character than the other one. All in all, I like how the ending plays out, and I feel like it wraps up pretty much all of the loose ends in the game nicely.

    Other points of interest: For once, I actually need to complain about the voice acting. The actual "acting" part is fine for every single character, but the accents range from genuine (aka Miwako's voice actress) to insultingly bad. I actually liked Miwako's delivery the most anyway, but it helps that her accent is legitimate and that she pronounces Japanese words correctly. I will never, ever understand why they let/made Lani Minella mispronounce basically every single Japanese word in the game, especially when she probably knows how to pronounce them correctly. Like...there is no explanation for it. None. AT ALL. The other characters' accents and pronunciations aren't great either (Yumi doesn't even pronounce Nancy-chan right ), but they have excellent deliveries and actually pronounce their Rs like Ls at the very least. Still, the other accents sound way worse when compared to Miwako's accent. I will never understand why Takae speaks so slowly either. It would make infinitely more sense if she had more broken English or didn't seem so fluent, but she practically speaks the Queen's English the entire game, minus one line at the beginning where she doesn't pluralize a noun. That's it. Her voice acting doesn't bother me as much as it seems to bother other people, but I must say that I don't understand it. (Also, I love Savannah Woodham, and I think her voice actress is great, but her non-rhotic accent isn't the most convincing either, in this game at least.)

    The Takeaway: Finally, we are out of the dark ages! After a succession of games that were lacking in some way (or many), Shadow at the Water's Edge could not be a more welcome entry in the series. With an intriguing plot, complex characters, an incredible score, engaging puzzles, and charming graphics, this game reminds longtime fans of what made the series special and beckons a new era. Even after all of this time, the game is regarded as one of the greatest and scariest of them all. While its ending is a bit flawed and the voice acting is somewhat problematic, I still think these issues are minor in the face of all the game's strengths. For these reasons, I give the game nine and a half stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. YES! YES! YES! If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, this should be high on your priority list. I do not think you'll be disappointed. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, this one is a great length and challenging without being insanely difficult (minus the monster nonogram puzzle and maybe the sudoku one, if you don't like sudoku). If you're a new fan trying to decide what game to play first, I highly recommend this one to get you started, especially if you like scary games. If, however, you are looking for something else, I recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (all in my top ten).

    Thank you for reading my review! If you've made it this far, I hope that my perspectives and ramblings inspire you 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 Captive Curse within the next week, and I will continue to post them as I try to finish up my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon before MID comes out or 2019 ends (whichever one comes first) time I'll try not to keep you captive with my words for so long.

    Previous review: Secrets Can Kill Remastered
    Next review: The Captive Curse

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 02:47 PM.

  • #2
    I was super disappointed that 3 out of 4 Japanese characters weren't voiced by people who actually have Asian heritage.
    And while I agree that the music is wildly amazing, I was bummed that they didn't reach for a Japanese composer.
    If you're going to do a game highlighting a specific culture, I'd love to see talent from that culture used as much as possible to fully show appreciation and not appropriation.

    I must say I discovered an overwhelming love of nonograms from this game, but that final nonogram was a headache.
    The colours were so hard to work with, and I ended up having to draw it onto a piece of paper to work it out.

    I've been contemplating which new game to play next, so I'll definitely reach for one from your top 10!


    • #3
      Originally posted by j0rdana View Post
      I was super disappointed that 3 out of 4 Japanese characters weren't voiced by people who actually have Asian heritage.
      And while I agree that the music is wildly amazing, I was bummed that they didn't reach for a Japanese composer.
      If you're going to do a game highlighting a specific culture, I'd love to see talent from that culture used as much as possible to fully show appreciation and not appropriation.

      I must say I discovered an overwhelming love of nonograms from this game, but that final nonogram was a headache.
      The colours were so hard to work with, and I ended up having to draw it onto a piece of paper to work it out.

      I've been contemplating which new game to play next, so I'll definitely reach for one from your top 10!
      I completely agree. Unfortunately, the games have a history of not being the most culturally sensitive or inclusive, especially in the past. It would have been fantastic though had they utilized the talents of more than one person of Asian descent, and should HeR ever make another (decent) game, I sincerely hope that they will continue to be more inclusive across the board, hire diverse talent, and not appropriate from the cultures they are including in the games. I had a lot of hope when Katie was the head writer, but she’s gone now. 😭

      I commend you for your effort. I truly cannot stand them, but more power to anyone who can actually make any sense of them without losing their vision.

      I hope you enjoy whichever one you decide to get! 😊 I really need to get back into them myself and finish my review series. If you decide to read the corresponding review for whichever one you play, you’ll have to let me know what you thought of it!