In Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water’s Edge, Nancy gets to spend time in the Land of the Rising Sun. Since I have been obsessed with Japan since watching Shogun, I was excited that Her Interactive selected this location for their newest mystery. And indeed, there is plenty of Japanese culture to absorb. Nancy spends her days in Kyoto teaching English to school children, while at night she stays in an authentic ryokan, or traditional Japanese guest house. It has paper sliding walls, traditional Tatami mats, a beautiful garden, and a real sense of history. It is also apparently haunted, giving the teen sleuth a much-needed mystery to fill her spare time. These otherworldly aspirations are never particularly compelling, as it turns out, but even so, there are interesting characters to meet and plenty to see and do in this otherwise solid installment.
Only moments after Nancy arrives, a portrait of the innkeeper’s long-dead daughter Kazumi crashes to the ground. But the innkeeper Takae and her granddaughter Miwako won’t admit there is anything unnatural happening. They insist there are no ghosts, and that the persistent rumours and concerns from guests are just the product of confused interpretations: shadows from branches moving across the paper walls mistaken for human forms, strange noises caused by the ancient structure. But no matter how loudly they protest, the inn has amassed a reputation and has now become a destination for ghost hunters while scaring away all the other guests. Luckily, Nancy is not alone in Kyoto, as Bess and George have come along as well. They are attending a conference, so while Nancy teaches and sleuths, they learn about new inventions and technology and take advantage of Kyoto’s night life. Fortunately, they are able to multi-task and help Nancy out from time to time.
As you begin to investigate, you’ll learn that the Japanese are enthralled with hauntings and good ghost stories. They also consider the number 4 to be bad luck, so it is a little disconcerting when Nancy discovers her room has mysteriously been changed from number 24 to 4. But Nancy doesn’t get really suspicious until she has her own supernatural encounter. Still, being the inquisitive sort, she’s not prepared to believe in ghosts just yet. Could someone be trying to make guests think the ryokan is haunted on purpose?
I was happily surprised by how many locations there are to explore, adding up to a considerable play time of about 15-20 hours. The biggest environment is the ryokan itself, with its many rooms, bath houses, and guest spaces like the garden. Most of the characters you meet are here, but there is also a bento stand where you meet Miwako’s sister, Yumi, whose apartment you’ll also visit. Finally, there is an arcade where you need to play the slot machines to win credits so you can purchase various items from time to time.
As the older sister, Yumi is the one rightfully destined to take over the ryokan, or so says her mother. Too bad Yumi has other things in mind, causing all kinds of family strife. Yumi hustled away to the city as fast as her high heels could take her. She is an extrovert who makes her own, shall we say… fairy tale-inspired clothing, and runs off at the mouth every chance she gets. She also becomes fast friends with Bess and George and texts you pictures of the three of them throughout the game. Yumi has never met a boundary she doesn’t like to charge past.
Miwako looks after the front desk and seems to have a deft touch with the guests. She and her robotic cat, Suki, greet new guests and provide help to current ones. Suki is an interesting companion, and Miwako has taught her how to do some tricks. I mean, who doesn’t want a robotic cat that does tricks? Later in the game, you will need to track down the man who created these felines and complete a giant Sudoku puzzle in return for the programmed commands for Suki. When you get them, I suggest trying them all out, as Suki is a very entertaining cat.
While at the ryokan, its proprietress Takae is going to make sure you get a good grounding in Japanese culture. She will teach you Japanese calligraphy, the proper way to brew and serve tea, and how to master origami. To some people these minigames might be viewed as make-work projects, but I didn’t find them so. I quite enjoyed them, and thought it was a clever way to include some cultural education in the game.
Besides Takae and Miwako, you also have the game’s comic relief, Rentaro. Rentaro is Miwako’s boyfriend and the inn’s handyman. He lives next door but spends so much time in the garden shed he might as well move a bed in there. While Rentaro seems to be good humoured about helping out, he also lets Nancy know he wants Miwako to move away with him, which seems to be something that Miwako just can’t bring herself to do.
Rentaro also happens to be the resident Sudoku champ. This boy loves numbers, and he soon convinces Nancy to try Nonogram, Sudoku, and Renogram. If it were up to Rentaro, Nancy would get no sleuthing done, she would be too busy playing these games. Unlike Rentaro, I felt there were too many of these number-based puzzles in the game, and a little more variety would have been welcome. In fairness, most are not difficult to do once you figure them out, but they are time-consuming, and I wonder how well some real “Junior Detectives” might do with them. I can see younger players getting quite bored.
There is also a good chance most players will need to make use of the “Try Again” feature. If you aren’t careful and ask the wrong questions, you can get kicked out of the ryokan, or if you don’t work fast enough you may end up getting knocked out. The most challenging timed puzzle took me four tries to solve within the allotted time. It isn’t a difficult puzzle, simply putting pieces of coloured glass together in a mirror image, but it does take time to figure out and you can’t save your progress midway. If you don’t finish in time, you have to start over from the beginning.Continued on the next page...