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A Longtime Fan's Review

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  • A Longtime Fan's Review

    Disclaimer: I had high hopes for this one. My family has German roots (not from Bavaria, though!), so I was excited at the prospect of learning more about the country beyond what my undergrad history courses taught me. I remember liking this game a lot when I first played it in my sophomore year of undergrad, but now I just don't find it that interesting, though I do like it leagues better than I do WAC. The Scooby-Doo plot is kind of corny and unbelievable, though.

    Plot: Nancy’s been summoned to a German castle that’s been having problems with a legend featuring a monster that takes young girls into the woods. Rumor has it the monster is back at Castle Finster now, causing trouble. Along the way, she meets some eccentric characters with questionable German accents.

    Setting: Castle Finster is pretty in that the rich wood paneling of the walls and colors of the carpets, tapestries, and the like are very vibrant. There is plenty to explore, but parts of the game seemed a tad stifling (not nearly as much as the school in WAC did to some, though). The woods beyond the castle feature a lot of similar-looking paths, but you have maps, so thankfully you’re not completely lost. That being said, I did not like the passages under the castle as I thought the dungeons warranted another entrance beyond the two we’re given, particularly when I wanted to talk to someone after something I found. Oh, and speaking of those passages, someone else has mentioned how much of a labyrinth they are and how key an item you find in there can be to understanding one of the characters in this game: that item is very easy to miss. The sole reason I recommend thorough exploration and backtracking through those passages is for that stupid item because everything makes sense once you find it.

    Characters: The cast here is alright. You have the standard four, animated NPC’s you get in every HER ND game: Anja Mittelmeier, the castle’s castellan, who manages the giftshop and customer experience at Castle Finster; Lukas Mittelmeier, Anja’s nephew by way of her brother who runs security, a spritely ten-year-old that loves pranking people and playing games; Karl, the bürgermeister of the castle who loves table games and is making his own, Brothers Grimm inspired, board/card game mashup called Raid which is fun to play (but can be tedious if done in large doses); and Renate, a mysterious older woman who is rumored to bring bad luck wherever she travels, who is a storyteller dissatisfied with the modern world. A lot of people dislike Renate because her conversations are sprawling walls of text and speech. Her information is worth it, however.

    As far as my favorite of this bunch goes, I give it up to Karl. His outbursts of anger and prickly personality really remind me of myself, as does his distaste for children playing “jokes” on him the way Lukas does. I really like his creativity and love for games, too, as I’m a gamer and would honestly love an IRL version of Raid. I didn’t much care for Anja, though I did sympathize with her once you later figure out her secrets. Likewise, Lukas is a very delightful kid and never seems to veer too far off course in his pranks (though the one he plays on Nancy really makes me question things).

    Problems: Okay, I need to address a major elephant in the room here: this feels like a Scooby-Doo episode Hanna-Barbera lost sometime in the 90s. It’s fine to have a “who is doing the mildly paranormal thing to scare people away” plot, but this one is a tad beyond the realm of my belief. No one, German or not, rural or urban, would believe in a monster like this. I can’t go too into things, but people are capable of terrible things, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m none too keen on criminal law, because you learn just how awful people can really be to each other. With that in mind, my question is: why would people in the 21st Century really believe in a monster? Is it just because this is set in rural Germany (really, it’s Bavaria)? I have so many issues with this, particularly given how often girls/women go missing IRL and it ends up that the “monster” who hurt them is actually quite human. But, I get that legends are scary and hold a certain macabre fascination with people (even the non-macabre ones maintain their faithful believers, like all the stories about the Moth man or big foot or whatnot). So, I’m willing to overlook all of this for the sake of this being a game for kids and it’s just a gimmick.

    However, I’m not willing to overlook the obnoxious theatrics HER orchestrated between Ned and Nancy for this game. Ned and Nancy have been together for a while: I think they’d have had this whole “you’re never around/I want my freedom” talk before Nancy skipped out on a crucial event Ned planned for them. More than that, I don’t even want to consider the ludicrous possibility of a love triangle in this series because, frankly, the whole “tee-hee, romance because Nancy’s a girl” shtick wore out its welcome back in the 90s. Just because your protagonist is female doesn’t mean she either (a) needs a boyfriend or (b) needs to have a thousand possible boyfriends lined up for her around the block. I don’t care if Ned and Nancy break up, nor do I care if Nancy ever dates again: I just want the pointless romance stuff out of my ND games, particularly given how intrusive this drama was in CAP (you get two phone calls about it, and they're the obnoxiously long cutscene kind of phone calls, wherein Nancy can't answer her phone until after it's rang at least three times).

    Mini-Games: There are a couple. I’m saving Raid. We’ll talk about Lukas’s game first. Lukas’s game is called Monster, and you have some paper slugs spread out over a board. You get three monsters your first round, and you pick two of his cow slugs to be your secret monsters. Your goal in your monster rounds is to kill all of his cows. When the monster round ends, you then have to root out Lukas’s secret monsters. The slugs move around on a series of lines, so you need to be sure your monster is connected to a cow or else you won’t be able to move. The prize for winning these games is a deck of Raid cards. You don’t earn money.

    Raid is a board game with a card element mixed in. You play blue, while Karl plays both yellow and the random spare third player HER decided to add in for no reason. That’s right, you’re waiting through two AI turns before making yours. You have a little blue token that moves along the board’s path, with the goal being to get into the castle. The various squares along the board are multi-colored (black ones send you back to another black; white ones send you forward to the next white; squares with symbols require you to either give a card to the main deck (flower) or take a card for your hand (if it’s not full, and this is the heart symbol). If you land on a purple square, you get to take a card from another player’s deck (same for them). If you land on red, blue, green, or yellow, you pick the player you want to challenge to a card battle and pick your card that has the highest number in the red, blue, green, or yellow circles around its portrait. Each card features a character from one of the many Brothers Grimm tales. It’s quite fun, however, this is the only way to make money in this game (Nancy’s luggage got lost), and it can take a while. But, you do get money each time you play (as opposed to just winning, which would be the worst). The higher difficulties are irrelevant, I should add, because you’ll take longer and be at a significant disadvantage to the AI. You also need to play this game to earn money if you want one of the awards at the end regarding the giftshop.

    You have to spend some of Nancy’s pocket money, so I do recommend being stingy if you aren’t willing to play a lot of Raid. You can also help Karl make a new character for his game, which is fun because I love (good) RPG games!

    With the above in mind, I’ll say it again: I hate mini-games. If your plot is solid and your pacing is strong, you won’t need to pad your game out with mini-games. That aside, these didn’t feel as intrusive as the snack shop nonsense from WAC; your time at Castle Finster won’t end because you haven’t played a round of Raid or Monster today.

    Puzzles: There are… some? I hated the last puzzle, so I cheated on that one. The other puzzles were fine, I suppose… what few there were, as I could figure out what to do and get them going. The absolute worst in the game, besides the one I shamelessly used a solution for, is Renate’s bag as that one has a noise mechanic and wonky physics that make things fall. Your goal is to solve that puzzle without waking her up (and getting a second chance screen). You need to be careful where you place things, how you put them down (you have to click close to where you want the item you have in hand to go to avoid making a racket that wakes Renate up).

    Other things to note: There were a lot of times I was just wandering the castle, wondering what to do, and if saying a certain unspoken line in a conversation would result in a second chance. This is another game where Nancy has to be a bit “in your face” with the suspects (I can respect that a little, but sometimes it veers off into “hey, I was digging through your things when you weren’t around and found this really private thing about your life” territory). Even with a checklist on Junior Detective (it’s been a while since I played this one), I was often wondering what else I had to do in someone’s office as I couldn’t check it off or I was searching for something to trigger a cutscene. That’s not gameplay, HER!

    The voice acting is pretty good on Karl. Anja veered off into fake Frenchwoman a few times. Lukas was okay (having grown up with Tommy on the Rugrats, I didn’t mind that a woman voiced Lukas). Renate’s accent was ridiculous, and I couldn’t take her seriously. None of the accents sounded authentic to me, though at least Karl’s VA had the emotional delivery to back up his work and make the accent easier to ignore. HER, get some good linguistics experts or someone to help you out on this front, please!

    Ending/Culprit: This ending… is okay, I suppose. There’s nothing too suspenseful or clever about this, as half of this ending is a cutscene, but I didn’t mind it. This is another ending that just sort of happens, like WAC’s, and I was underwhelmed by it. The second chance here was really interesting, however, so I give it some points for that. I also liked the Scooby-Doo villain’s monologue about why he/she did what he/she did. This is another culprit I felt genuinely bad for, within reason, because I perfectly understood the reason why the culprit committed his/her misdeeds (though the motive itself is stupid, even if it is understandable). Simultaneously, because this felt like a Scooby-Doo episode rather than an ND game, I was not excited or thrilled to see the culprit. The culprit isn’t that obvious, though, as everyone here has a motive: Karl hates tourists, so he has a good excuse to be dressing up as the monster to scare them off; Anja may have a past with the castle’s current owner, and might not be who she says she is; Lukas is a notorious prankster; and Renate is all about bringing the mystery back to life. Good job on the culprit, but bad execution on the ending, HER.

    Final Verdict: Play it if you want to see a pretty game made by HER featuring a girl named Nancy Drew as the lead. Otherwise, you can skip this one for the much better (albeit with a cheesier ending) TRT.

    Total Rating: 6/10, dinging this one for mini-games, the fight between Ned and Nancy, the possible looming love triangle around Nancy, the bad accents, and the weird ending.
    "Rock and roll, dear!" - Professor Hotchkiss, Treasure in the Royal Tower