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A Veteran's Review of STFD

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  • A Veteran's Review of STFD

    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.

    Plot: I must say this game has one of the most unique and tense plots of all the ND games because instead of a "whodunnit" it's a "who's doing it." There are several others in the series that have followed this type of formula (e.g., Warnings at Waverly Academy, Tomb of the Lost Queen, Message in a Haunted Mansion, The Phantom of Venice, etc.), but I don't think any of them quite create the same level of urgency (except perhaps The Final Scene, but even it is handled differently). I will discuss the characters at length below, but I think Mattie's desperation to protect Rick and his nonchalance-- and the fact that we nearly see Rick killed by a falling fresnel light (correct me, theatre buffs, if that is not the proper name ) the first time we go on set--creates some serious tension to solve the mystery as quickly as possible. Sure, there are moments in the plot that feel a little contrived and unrealistic, but never so extreme that I can't suspend that disbelief.

    Setting: As someone who has never been to NYC but always wanted to go, I think the game does a pretty fair job of making the Big Apple feel realistic; the jazzy street music, taxi cabs, and Mattie's townhouse are fitting. I absolutely love Mattie's house and dressing room in WWB Studios; they feel so warm and lived-in. We don't get to see much of the studio, but the rooms we do see are great. Each space feels so unique and appropriate for the character who inhabits it. My favorite place in the game is probably the Prop Room because of all the subtle nods to the original book series (e.g., the whistling bag pipes and the spider sapphire, for example). The threatening letters and disturbing gifts strewn around Rick's room are also a great touch, and I think, besides being there for Nancy to snoop through, they show that Rick might be more concerned about this whole affair than he is letting on to anyone.

    Characters: I think this game has a great cast of characters, especially for another reasonably short game. Mattie is obviously still so in love with Rick, I find myself still rooting for them to get together in that tease at the end. She's clearly such a nice, loyal human being: she doesn't abandon Dwayne after Rick upgrades to a bigger agency, she loans Dwayne money to help him pay his rent, and she calls for Nancy to come in because she is terrified that something will happen to Rick. There is the small matter of how she got angry and sent Rick that lipstick smeared headshot, but she is easily one of the nicest characters in all of the games. I have a fondness for Rick, too, even though he is portrayed in a pretty flat, vacuous manner in his interactions with Nancy and pretty much everyone else (i.e., he is nothing but a egotistical, but charming playboy). From his relationship with Mattie, I assume he has more depth, but that could be me just being hopeful for Mattie's sake.

    Lillian is another of the characters I somehow really like despite 99.9% of Nancy's interactions with her involving extreme sass and door-slamming (then again, maybe I love her because she is so sassy and won't put up with anyone's foolishness). Even though Rick seriously dumped her hard and used her to ladder-climb, she conducts an investigation into the death threats herself because she's actually concerned about him. Mattie and Lillian are both too good for Rick; it's tragic. Millie Strathorn absolutely cracks me up to this day. She's so eccentric in all the right ways, and she absolutely hates Rick--or perhaps only Rory, but who can tell the difference?!--and her insults are legendary. Lani Minella's voice-acting only makes her even more delightful.

    I'm afraid I don't have much to say about Dwayne because he creeps me out to this day. He's just such an angry and unbalanced man, with some serious ego problems of his own. I kind of feel bad for him though; he's probably been pining after Mattie for years. I should probably mention Ralph, although he is a minor character. There is something about him that is very lovable, even though we know nothing about him except that he is serious about his job (I actually got caught by him while snooping at night for the first time EVER during this playthrough, and it shocked me). I know most of the other games have minor characters, usually off-screen or on the phone, but it is nice to have good ole Ralph waiting to greet Nancy at the desk every day.

    Music: I cannot properly express my love for Mattie's theme in this game. It is legitimately one of my favorite pieces from any of the games. Like her and her living spaces, it's such a nice, warm, and pleasant air to it, but there is this underlying tension and suspense. I love, love, love, love it! The lobby theme for WWB Studios has this distinct 90s nostalgic factor to it that makes me so happy. It's ALMOST muzak, but better. Genius. By contrast, the night music for all locations in the game is so appropriately eerie. Not exactly my favorite to listen to on the daily, but it does its job of creating a tense atmosphere to snoop in (especially the set unsettling).

    Puzzles: STFD has a few more puzzles than SCK, but most of them are pretty simple and some are flat out tedious (I'm looking at you, Master Detective stacking rings). Nonetheless, the majority help move the game forward, either by giving Nancy access to a new area or new information. While not quite a puzzle, the fact that Nancy uses her ID to get past the locks on set fills me with glee. This game also features little puzzles and clues that have little to no relevance to solving the mystery, but I love them and I think they flesh out the characters well.

    Graphics: Like its predecessor, the 3D background/environment animations in this game are lovely and well done. The characters are also 3D models, and while they have a slightly disturbing, plastic-like quality to them, I wouldn't say they are in the uncanny valley. Each model is quite expressive and looks distinctly different than everyone else. It's a little awkward when they get stuck at the end of speaking and leave their mouths wide open, but I find it hysterical and move on. I also love that in lieu of animating a thousand poses for their character models, they just photoshopped their faces onto real pictures; it honestly doesn't look that bad, and it enabled them to flesh out the characters' personal and professional lives more. (Quick note: the security tape footage of a certain character walking around on set has become an inside joke in my family, and we semi-regularly start walking like that around each other . Please give it another watch if you haven't noticed how perfect and strange it is.)

    Ending: When I first played this game as a ten-year-old, I did not see the culprit reveal coming at all. There are tiny little details and clues that I have picked up on as an older and experienced player--I can't spoil them though because it would give too much away to any observant first-timers--but when I found out who the culprit was I am almost certain I looked like this: . It makes perfect sense on replays, but I always like when the game stumps me or provides me with enough evidence for all the characters that I can't determine who it is until the big reveal. That being said, I think the ending is great. Not only it is pretty terrifying and difficult, especially on Master Detective without the time patch, but the reveal itself and the conversation with the culprit are so great (and a bit melodramatic, but given this cast of soap celebrities, that's fair).

    Other points of interest: The voice-acting is consistently solid in this game. Every delivery feels spot on. The writing can get cheesy at parts, but I am willing to overlook that because of how everyone in this is on or affiliated with a soap opera. This game also gets bonus points compared to SCK because there is no disc changing required even though it's a bigger game. Unfortunately, I still find it easy to get stuck in this game waiting for certain plot events to occur or conversations to happen. Just in my playthrough yesterday, I probably spent ten minutes running around talking to everyone and knocking on doors trying to trigger a particularly explosive scene. In previous playthroughs, I always had trouble getting the phone to ring. I have heard complaints about getting softlocked because players kept forgetting to get certain items from the prop room that help with this scene and allow them to get back into the prop room.

    The Takeaway: The second game in the series is much stronger than the first, but equally nostalgic for me, as I played it on the same day as I started the first five games in the series back in 2005. Unfortunately, many fans were unable to play this game for years after it was discontinued, but given that it was brought back to life last year, I believe, I hope that everyone, new fans and old, will give it a chance. If I was going to rate this game on a ten star basis, I would give it six stars. The plot is good, the characters are great, and the ending is terrifying, but the game is, again, pretty short even if you don't know what you're doing, and it is so easy to soft lock the game or get stuck waiting for an event or interaction to happen.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. Definitely. It is a classic among the older games, and it is one of the easier games to play, so I would recommend for a first-time player who doesn't want a long or difficult game to start with. It wasn't the very first one I played--I got the 75th Anniversary Edition of the first five games for Christmas in 2005 and booted up Message in a Haunted Mansion first, until I got stuck, opened the rest, and got stuck on them too all in the same day--but it was one of the first, so it holds a special place in my heart. If you are new to Nancy Drew games and want more of a challenge/a longer game, then I would perhaps recommend playing another of the first five games--Treasure in the Royal Tower is one of the best games I have ever played in my life, and The Final Scene maintains its place in my top ten ND games--or one of the legendary fan favorites (also in my top ten): Curse of Blackmoor Manor and Secret of Shadow Ranch.

    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 Message in a Haunted sometime over the next day or so, and I will continue to post them as I complete my 2018 Nancy Drew keep a look out for my message.

    Previous Review: Secrets Can Kill
    Next Review: Message in a Haunted Mansion

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 07:02 PM.

  • #2
    Another great review!!! Since this was actually the LAST game of the series that I played (my first playthrough was just last year during my current review series), it's really interesting to see the differences between my experience and other veteran players who have nostalgia for this game. I feel as though during my run of it, I was probably a lot more aware of its flaws because of its age combined with its newness to me. Still, I agree wholeheartedly that this is a classic entry to the series and I can attest that even those who missed out on it in the beginning will enjoy it now! It's really fun to see where things began.

    I feel like we came away with a lot of similar opinions about this game despite our different experiences with it. I also loved the prop room. I also didn't suspect the culprit, but felt as though they all had good motives. I REALLY liked Lillian by the end of the story. I think you have a bit more sympathy for Rick than I did when I played. I do feel like they hinted at the possibility that there was more to him than meets the eye, but it wasn't followed through on and I mostly felt that he was a bit of a pompous jerk who had let fame go to his head. I still really ENJOYED his character though. There are good bad characters and bad bad characters, and I think he's part of the former.

    Also, the thing about the characters getting stuck at the end of speaking? I completely forgot about that, but I now remember how hilarious that was. This game has some really funny CGI nonsense going on, but I think it almost made it a more enjoyable experience for me in the long run lol.

    Great job!! Looking forward to reading your MHM review, as that was my first game ever and one of my favorites!


    • #3
      Wow! It is so hard for me to imagine not growing up with this game, especially since you're a longtime player like me. I'll have to go reread your review for it and compare experiences. That's certainly likely. Nostalgia definitely plays a huge factor in the appreciation of these games, which is probably why my opinion is so low of fan favorites like DDI and DOG (I played both for the first time in 2014). I'm so glad that, even without blinding nostalgia, you were still able to enjoy this game and can recommend it to new players!

      That is pretty neat! Oh man, the whole cast has such incredible motives, even Bill Papas (and we don't even see him). It's rare for every single character to have such strong motive and evidence that could be used against them. My ten-year-old brain was reeling trying to figure out who the culprit was the first time I played it. Lillian is probably my favorite character, and I really love Mattie too. I think I'm more likely to be best friends with Lillian though. Both of them were way too good for Rick though. It's criminal. Yeah...I actually had far less sympathy for him when I was younger, but I wanted to believe that he wasn't a total dirtbag for Mattie's sake. Then again, he could have changed or was always awful and she was just a silly girl who fell for the wrong person. He is incredibly entertaining though. Yeah, I agree with you!

      It cracks me up, especially when it happens to Mattie. Some of the facial expressions I've seen when she gets stuck...if only I could have taken a screenshot. YES! My favorite is when Owen does that funky walk on the security footage, and then when Ralph pushes the culprit. It's definitely one of those "so bad it's good" kind of things.

      Thanks so much! MHM was my first game, too, and it's still one of my favorites!