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Throwback Review Series: FIN {a fresh new play-through and in-depth review}

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  • Throwback Review Series: FIN {a fresh new play-through and in-depth review}

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    Release Date: November 1, 2001
    Difficulty: Senior Detective

    FINAL SCORE: (7.5/10)

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    Rating Scale:
    1. Dreadful | 2. Poor | 3. Mediocre | 4. Not Bad | 5. Acceptable
    6. Good | 7. Exceeds Expectations | 8. Strong | 9. Superior | 10. Outstanding

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    Hi there! I am a veteran Nancy Drew player, and have been playing these games since I was very young. Message in a Haunted Mansion was the first game I played at eight years old. I am now 25 and have completed every game in the series at least once. However, it's been several years since I've played my last ND game (Sea of Darkness in 2015), and many, MANY years since I have played many of the games. I've had a bout of Nostalgia and have decided to replay the entire series, starting from the beginning. I've decided to write a review for each game as I go. I will be playing on Senior Detective and using as few hints/online help as possible.

    Please keep in mind that everything written below is only my personal OPINION. If you don’t agree with something I have to say about a game, please don’t feel upset or offended. We all enjoy different aspects of these games and it’s wonderful that we can all have differing opinions about what makes a game great. I hope you enjoy!!

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    PLOT: (9/10)

    Nancy is visiting Maya Nguyen, a friend from high school, who attends college at Washington University in St. Louis. Maya has tickets to the premiere of a new film Vanishing Destiny, at the historic Royal Palladium theater - the premiere will be the last showing the theater offers before it’s demolished. The theater itself is a controversial topic. Rich in history, many believe the theater should remain standing and even be turned into a historical landmark. Protesters gather in the streets to make a statement against the demolition. Meanwhile, Maya - a reporter for her school’s paper - and Nancy enter the theater early because Maya has an interview scheduled with Vanishing Destiny’s hearthrob star, Brady Armstrong. Maya leaves Nancy for only a moment to enter Brady’s dressing room. Only a few seconds (and some horrifying screams) later, she’s gone. As though she vanished into thin air! A call from the kidnapper tells Nancy that Maya’s fate is tied to the demolition of the theater. She has three days to solve the mystery or Maya will be demolished with the building. And so the story begins.

    Like it’s predecessor, this instalment follows Nancy on a seemingly innocent trip devoid of mystery - this time to see a friend and visit a movie. But unlike its predecessor (which weans the mystery slowly into the story), FIN throws the plot in your face almost instantly. And then laughs at you, because you’re just as dumbfounded as Nancy. This goal of this game is almost stupidly straightforward - save Maya. But this approach is actually FIN’s biggest strength. Nancy’s personal attachment to this mystery allows her to express an absolutely brilliant sense of desperation., and the urgency here persists from beginning to end, perhaps the strongest of any game in the series. This is an intense game.

    Something else that really strengthens this plot is that there are two possible routes - find Maya or find a way to call off the demolition. And through the entire experience, you’re never really sure which one is going to be the solution. This leaves Nancy (and the player) desperately trying to follow up on both. This is one of the few instances in which Nancy doesn’t really care about finding all of the answers or even exposing the culprit, because her friend’s life is the only thing on her mind. Yes, you do discover a few things about each of the suspects. But in general the cast falls by the wayside in comparison to Nancy’s mission. This is sort of a downfall, but also sort of a necessary trade in order for the plot itself to be phenomenal.

    Overall, I really loved the entire plot of FIN. It’s a fast-paced adventure with a clear goal and a sense of desperation that penetrates through the entire story in a way that is widely unmatched by the other games in the series. A real “page-turner” if you will. Brilliant!

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    SETTING: (7/10)
    The Royal Palladium is an interesting choice of setting, and HER easily pulls off the feel of the place. A run-down old theater in downtown St. Louis, the place feels both charming and mysterious, and like most old buildings that Nancy finds it boasts a secret or two. Unfortunately, the location is also a bit on the small side, leaving those who love bigger maps a bit underwhelmed.

    LOCATION: (8.5/10)
    In this game, the location that we’re given is the Royal Palladium theater - an old, crumbly, historic theater in St. Louis. And HER really does get the old, crumbly and historic part right in their design. The story behind the place is that it was built with magicians in mind. J.J. Thompson, the original owner, wanted his theater to attract magicians - the best of the best - from all around. And it did - we learn that many a great magician performed on its stage. Right on up to Harry Houdini! Yes, HER manages to intertwine yet another historic figure into their story!

    The feel of the theater is pretty spot-on. The art style and design choices here make it feel old and authentic. Despite the place now being used for movie screenings, the auditorium is still very much a stage. The place is more than a little bit shambly - everything looks old, there’s interesting clutter everywhere, and the sink in the women’s dressing room looks like it desperately needs a plumber. These things all add character to the location. It also has a bit of nice contrast in that even though it’s authentic, it’s been upgraded. It has a projector, and a popcorn stand that doesn’t look out of place in the main lobby despite the authentic surroundings. Additionally, I love that all of the quirky little tricks and secret passages are due to the theater being designed for magicians!

    We’re given a pretty limited color palette in this game - primarily reds and browns. But it feels right. The colors make sense here. I have to admit though, that the music is what really sold this location for me. While perhaps not my favorite pieces in the series, the music in this game is unique and incredibly fitting for the Palladium. It really shines a light on the time period, and makes you feel as though you could bump into Harry Houdini himself at any moment. The tone of the music changes nicely as you move around the theater, and the “Danger” pieces did a really great job of getting my heart racing when they popped in.

    EXPLORATION: (4.5/10)
    Unfortunately, exploration is an area where, in my opinion, FIN is a bit lacking. I never felt as though there was a lot to explore. The actual space you have to work with is pretty small. We get the dressing rooms, the front lobby, the projector room, the auditorium itself (including backstage), and the basement. And of course a secret or two. It isn’t that big to begin with, and each “room” is quite small without a whole lot to look at. The biggest space is the auditorium itself, and there isn’t much to find there. The hallways were interesting the first time through, primarily because of the cool posters that ornament the walls. There’s also the ticket booth, but that’s mostly only useful for the phone. And to be honest, when Nancy finally found her way into the secret areas of the Palladium, I found myself underwhelmed. I’d probably consider this one of the smaller locations, and exploration is definitely not this game’s strength.

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    CHARACTERS: (5.5/10)
    These characters were okay. They all had decent motives, and I don’t know that any of them were bad necessarily. It’s more that we don’t learn a whole lot about them over the course of the game. I mean yes, we uncover a secret or two about each of them, but there isn’t a ton of dialogue outside of Nancy asking for their Alibi’s. But this game was always more about finding out where Maya is than getting chummy with any of the characters. Even so, the truth of the matter is that I don’t feel as though these guys were up to par. The story could have ALMOST taken place without them. The best character this time around was easily Nancy herself. Without counting her, I would have probably given this group a 4/10 as a whole.
    JOSEPH HUGHES: (6/10)
    Joseph Hughes is the caretaker of the Palladium. He’s friendly enough from the get-go and seems helpful to Nancy. His eyes are also a lovely shade of purple-blue, which I guess is a plus. He seems like an alright guy, and as we progress through the story we (of course) uncover a secret of his that does make me feel for him as a character. For most of the game, I’m not left with any particular impression of him. In fact, it isn’t until near to the end that he rounds out into any sort of third dimension. However, looking back on it now after learning the conclusion of the story in its entirety, I think he was well done. He’s got a bit of a sad backstory, and how that affects his character is really quite interesting. He’s not great, but I think that he’s solid and much better in retrospect than he may seem while playing the game. Of course, he’ll never be as good as our LAST caretaker, Mr. Dexter Beautiful-Backstory Egan.

    NICHOLAS FALCONE: (6.5/10)
    Nicholas Falcone. Where to start? Definitely not with your horrendous accent, I think I’ll actually just leave that bit out and pretend that it doesn’t exist. (I mean really, what was that even supposed to be?) Nicholas is probably the character that Nancy learns most about throughout her journey. Not only do we get a lot of backstory on him, but his family history is twisted up in the plot in a pretty significant way. But more importantly, these two almost seem as though they might be friends by the end of this game - as in, Nancy talks to him more than the others and actually develops a bit of a meaningful relationship with him by comparison. Overall, I think Nick is a good character. He stands up for what he believes in, but he’s rounded out by the fact that he doesn’t always do it in the best way. He isn’t perfect, but he’s somewhat realistic and he does help to move the story forward. He has a great motive, but it’s almost too perfect of a motive. I think he's solid, but I wasn't blown away.

    Being a heartthrob and an actor, I was strongly expecting Brady Armstrong to be a younger, more graphically pleasing version of Rick Arlen. AKA, an egotistical jerk. As it turns out, I was right. Brady’s pretty much what you’d expect. And while I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing, I don’t feel as though he was done incredibly well. He’s rather two dimensional, and while we see him struggling maybe ever so slightly to take the wheel from Simone, his agent, he doesn’t really change at all or become any more likable by the end of the story. Additionally (and this is just personal preference), I wasn’t a fan of the twist in his story-line. I don’t think it did much justice to his character, and I don’t feel that it was actually necessary to further the story. If anything, I found it to be a bit of an odd choice.

    SIMONE MUELLER: (2/10)
    There’s almost always one character that’s much worse than the others. In this case, that would be Simone. We know almost nothing about her at all, aside from that she’s Brady’s agent. She’s all business all the time, and doesn’t seem to care about anything other than how to turn a prophet. Now don’t get me wrong here, I have nothing against unlikeable characters. I just don’t feel as though Simone was a GOOD unlikeable character. There was no depth here, and she was very much the same across the entire game. I’m a sucker for a good story arch, and she just doesn’t have one.

    NANCY: (9/10)
    I typically don't include Nancy in the cast of characters. That’s because I feel as though she’s normally meant to be the narrator rather than a character herself. But due to the nature of this plot, I actually consider Nancy to be just as important as the others in this particular case.

    Nancy is phenomenal here. Yes, she’s a bit snarkier than usual and at times she can come off as rude. And I’m aware that this may be a negative to some people. But in my opinion, it brings a depth to her character that we usually don’t get. This is one of the few times that Nancy feels incredibly real. Yes, she’s a bit rude and pushy. But think about it. Her friend has just been kidnapped, she only has three days to find her, and on top of that the police don’t even believe her! And everyone else seems to have their own agenda. Nobody seems to think that Maya’s disappearance is a big deal. So of COURSE Nancy is going to be upset!

    This is some of the best voice acting we get for Nancy, and the desperation and urgency of her dialogue constantly reminds the player that time is running out. It’s been a long time since I’ve played this game, and this version of Nancy was so incredibly refreshing when she otherwise has a somewhat monotonous personality. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t DISLIKE her in other games. I just think that she really shines here.

    PHONE CONTACTS: (6/10)
    The phone contacts here are pretty solid. They aren’t anything to get excited about, but the voice acting and dialogue are good. We don’t get anything new from Bess, George and Ned. They seem to typically deliver solid performances and have a fair amount of dialogue. Sergeant Ramsey is a bit better than expected, and I actually quite enjoyed that he disagreed with Nancy throughout the game about the urgency of the situation. There were a few other minor phone contacts, but Nancy only spoke to each of them for a moment. Eustacia was pretty good, and she gets points just for her interesting name. The lady who answered the phone for County Admin was a bit annoying. Overall, the two even each other out.

    NED: (6/10)
    Have I mentioned before that I love Ned? Because I really do. If I’m being honest, I never used to like him. He always seemed so boring compared to some of the other dashing men of the series. When I was younger, I’m pretty sure I was incredibly upset that I couldn’t make Nancy dump dave and get together with Joe Hardy in TRN. But now that I’m adult, I guess I understand just how valuable a stable, supportive guy like Ned is. And yes, I’m aware that none of that has anything to do with his role in this game.

    That’s because he’s pretty much the same as always. Good. Not overly great. Not at all bad. I feel like six out of ten is pretty much Ned’s standard mark, so you might as well get used to it. Occasionally, he puts in a stellar, extraordinary performance. But this isn’t one of those times. He’s just good old steady, solid Ned.

    BESS AND GEORGE: (5/10)
    This is still not really Bess and George’s best performance. George has improved by leaps and bounds from STFD, of course. But we’ve got yet ANOTHER candidate for the lovely Bess Marvin. Punch LaRue takes over for Bess in this installment, and while she does a good job I feel as though the constant voice changes are incredibly distracting. They were average here. Helpful as always, with a bit of interesting dialogue. They just haven’t really hit their groove yet. I’m looking forward to talking to them in the next game (SSH), because we FINALLY get Alisa Murray’s voice for Bess in that one! Until then, they’re a solid five.

    I actually quite liked Sergeant Ramsey! His voice acting was pretty well done. I enjoyed some of the unique inflections on his words and the way he spoke in general. He sounded realistic, and his dialogue was good. I enjoyed listening to his conversations with Nancy, and Sergeant Ramsey also serves as a major obstacle to Nancy throughout the game as she tries to prove to him that Maya’s kidnapping is urgent. His insistence that Nancy is wrong invokes some nice dramatic irony, and the player shares in Nancy’s frustration when speaking to him. This also helps move the plot along and only adds to the urgency of the game.
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    ENDGAME: (8/10)
    Alright, alright. I’ll just come out and say it. The ending of FIN is fantastic. Finally, HER gives us an ending that really does homage to the beautiful plot that they created. I feel like I should start by saying that this ending isn’t difficult. What you need to do is pretty straightforward. But the execution is absolutely phenomenal!

    First and foremost, we finally get what I consider to be a good culprit. The person responsible for Maya’s kidnapping wasn’t who I thought it was, for one. And the dialogue with the culprit at the end of the game is really, unexpectedly chilling in a rather unique way. It certainly made my hair stand on end, and I loved that the developers took that route. And it only gets better from there, as Nancy literally races against the clock to rescue Maya before the demolition begins. The heavy music and time constraint make this far more stressful than it would be otherwise, and my anxiety level was through the roof just trying to get through the door.. Not to mention the state that we find Maya in! This is an incredibly intense ending, which also makes it incredibly rewarding when you make it through in one piece. Overall, a great endgame experience!
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    This category may not affect the game’s overall score in any particular way, as low scores in the categories presented here shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a bad thing. These are highly subjective to personal taste and are included primarily for informative purposes.

    DIFFICULTY: (4/10)
    This game isn’t incredibly hard. The puzzles presented are rather simple, and the overall difficulty of the game is in the average range. Like with TRT, a keen sense of observation and some simple logic will help you get through this one. A rather short entry due to the past-paced nature, this game only took me about three hours. Keep in mind that I’ve played it before. A fresh playthrough would likely take a bit longer. Additionally, my greatest advice is this: when in doubt, go back and talk to everyone again as its sometimes the only way to get the story to move forward.

    SCARE FACTOR: (3/10)
    In all honesty, this game isn’t really scary. There’s nothing spooky going on, and there aren’t any jump-scares. But I’m giving it a three because it’s so incredibly suspenseful, and there were a few times that my hair stood on end. Think of this as a thriller rather than a horror movie. It’s not scary, but the intensity can certainly make it feel as though it is.

    We do get to learn a lot about the history of the theater and about Houdini himself. Nancy also learns a trick or two throughout her adventure. But while a deep sense of history pervades the place, I wouldn’t say that it’s quite as strong or important as it was in TRT. We learn some things, but not a ton. It’s enough to be enjoyable and provides character to the Palladium.

    IMMERSION: (7/10)
    The immersion here is, overall, rather good. What’s going on makes sense, and we can really feel Nancy’s frustration and desperation as we journey through the story. Her dialogue is realistic, and most of the reactions around her are realistic as well. The entire experience really puts you in the heat of the moment and does a lovely job of immersing you in Nancy’s effort to save her friend.

    There are a few things that break that immersion for me however. Such as the fact that Nancy would leave the theater to go to bed when she knows Maya’s in there. I mean please, I’ve pulled all nighters studying for exams that I didn’t even care about. But Nancy has to go to sleep when her friend has just been kidnapped? Unlikely. It’s even MORE unlikely that she’d be as trusting as she is with the people in the theater when she knows that one of them could be responsible for Maya’s disappearance. Okay Nicholas, let us know when that package gets here. I’m sure you won’t tamper with it. Alright Joseph, you wait for the police and show them the evidence we found while we go home and go to sleep. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong. Also, there were quite a few things that I don't feel were properly explained by the end of the game.

    GRAPHICS (3.5/10):
    This section pertains to how lifelike and realistic the characters (and to a lesser extent the worldspace) look. This does not include my thoughts on the artistry of the environment, as that can be found in the location section.

    The graphics in this game aren’t terrible for the time period. HER is still working out the kinks of their character models, but the important thing is that they keep improving! Maya actually had some nice animation in the beginning of the game.

    There isn’t time for anything extra in this game. You have to save Maya! One thing that I found a little disappointing was that there was a plethora of phone numbers all over the place, but they were all “out of service” when I tried to call them. I really appreciate when we at least get some funny little messages if we bother to call the extra phone numbers.
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    FINAL SCORE: (7.5/10)

    This game is a definite classic in the series. It’s plot and sense of urgency are the strongest thing about it, and we get some really superb voice acting from Nancy to go along with it. Nancy’s personal attachment to this mystery and the intensity of the situation really draws the player in and evokes an emotional investment in the outcome. The location was a phenomenal choice with some beautiful artistry and a nice little bit of history to go along with it. On the downside, the Palladium is rather small in comparison to other locations we’ve been given. Additionally, the characters felt average overall, though I felt as though the characters weren’t necessarily meant to be the main focus of this game. FIN wraps up nicely though with a great culprit and a really heart-stopping and memorable ending. I would highly recommend this game to any lover of the series!

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    SCK | STFD | MHM | TRT | FIN | SSH | DOG | CAR | DDI | SHA | CUR | CLK

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    Last edited by Jett; November 24, 2021, 01:20 PM.

  • #2
    Nice in depth review Jett.

    For the Extra Stuff/Notes did you know you can call the National Archives number before you get it from Eustacia and it will come up with a menu to listen to the difference music in the game.


    • #3
      What a fantastic review! I share your admiration for this game; even now, I think it is one of the most unique games in the series, and I hope that one day it will have a worthy successor (with stronger characters). I'm so glad you mentioned the constrains of the theatre's size because I don't recall if I talked about that in my own review. I actually think the limited scope for exploration benefits this game, oddly enough. The first time I played FIN back in 2005/2006 (it took me a while to beat it ), I can remember feeling so frustrated and desperate, much like Nancy, because I was sure I had pored over every nook and cranny in that place. I got stuck quite a bit in my first playthrough--I could never make it past the first day because I couldn't find Joseph --and since I was new to the games, with only the previous four to give me guidance, I thought that it was truly up to me to find Maya regardless of what progress I had made in the game itself. Since the theatre is so small, I was angry because I was certain I had explored every inch of it or couldn't figure out a way to get to some areas, like the obvious entrance to a certain special room. For a long time, I was confident she was in one of the boxes in the auditorium and that I had to find the way up there. You're right that the exploration feels limited and that there isn't much to look at in each room, but in this case, I think it that helps the player share Nancy's exasperation and desperation, at least on a first playthrough, so it works out well.

      I'm really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all the games. (By the way, your formatting is on point! I love the aesthetic!) Also, I am so glad that at least one other person admires the music from this game as much as I do.