Shadow at the Water’s Edge is another in the long-running Nancy Drew point and click games from Her Interactive. As I mentioned in my Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake Impressions, the games in the series can be entirely standalone, directly based on Nancy Drew books, or simply take inspiration from them. Shadow at the Water’s Edge is believed to be inspired by Tour of Danger and The Thirteenth Pearl. In it, Nancy decides to take a vacation (sure you are Nancy) in Kyoto after some of her more dangerous adventures. Of course, she mentions in the voice-over that the place she will be staying is haunted, and she plans to investigate. That’s not how vacations work, Nancy. – But also entirely on point for the character –
Anyhoo, Nancy will be teaching English during the day and staying at a Ryokan, a more traditional Japanese Inn, at night. When she arrives, a picture falls over, and immediately one of the people who run the Ryokan is nervous about Nancy being there, saying “she” does not want Nancy there. Throughout Nancy’s stay, she discovers that the family running the place are struggling a bit, both with who will run the inn in the future and due to the mysterious and sudden death of a family member. People believe the inn is haunted; Nancy is not so sure it’s a ghost doing it.
The gameplay is pretty much what you would expect. Nancy spends time exploring the inn, a handful of locations in the city, getting to know the people connected to the inn, and trying to figure out what is happening. The closer she gets to solving the mystery, the more perilous the situation becomes for Nancy.
The days are broken down pretty simply. The game fast forwards through the day and gives you control of Nancy starting at 7pm. You use your time to explore, question people, find clues, etc. When you are ready for things to move forward, you set an alarm on your clock. You can either set it for later in the night so you can explore the inn without other people around or for 7pm the next day. The game is nonlinear, so you can really do what you want in the order you want, to an extent. You will have to trigger certain events to get things moving at various stages. So, for instance, I was prompted to meet Yumi at a different location fairly early in the game, but it took me a few in-game days to get around to it. The game doesn’t punish you for this, allowing you to really have the time and freedom you need to work things out, but I did get to a point where I had to meet Yumi to unlock more of the game.
Aside from the main puzzles, you also get a lot of bonus stuff. Case in point, the character Rentaro gives you a puzzle book, and while you have to do one of each type of puzzle in there, after that, it’s up to you. You can do what I did and just be done with it, or you can keep asking him for more until you complete them all. You can also choose to grade the homework from Nancy’s teaching and help Yumi make more bento boxes. Things like that. There is no real point to this, but at the end of the game, you are given a checklist, sort of in-game achievements, and for each one you did, you will get a little star on the badge for the difficulty level you chose. I didn’t do a lot of these, but I did do one… At one point, you go to a pachinko parlor, because, of course, you do, and while you only need to play enough to get one prize, there are others… that do nothing… that I took the time to unlock. cough
I enjoyed that there were these extra things to do in this game, even if I didn’t fully take advantage of all of them. It adds a bit more to the game and is a nice touch. It’s not needed, but gamers tend to like these things, and for those that don’t, it’s easy to ignore, and there is no punishment for it.
Puzzle types in this game are good but a little odd. What I mean by that is a lot, not all, of the puzzles, aren’t really related to what you are actually doing. Such as, I mentioned having to do the puzzles for Rentaro, which gets him to talk more. They aren’t connected at all to gameplay or the mystery. Another example is helping Yumi with her bento boxes. The bento puzzle is not related to what’s happening, just a “do this, and you will get something to move forward.” Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake had a few like this, but I felt more of the puzzles were more directly related to the game. Again not every puzzle was this way; there were a few puzzles needed to unlock things, etc. It’s just there were a lot pretty disconnected from what you were doing, and while not bad, I enjoyed the puzzles in this game overall, it feels… off? I guess that would be the best way to put it. This also stops happening so frequently towards the end of the game, so it’s a minor issue at best but worth noting.
The game does manage to avoid moon logic, though, which is wonderful. Moon Logic can kill a point and click experience at times.
– If you didn’t read my last Nancy Drew Impressions or have forgotten, Moon Logic refers to puzzles that don’t have much in the way of logic to them. There isn’t a connecting branch from step a to b but rather some kind of out there crazy “logic” to it. The overuse of Moon Logic made some point and clicks really challenging and could arguably have done some damage to the genre –
The actual playing of the game is pretty decent too but has its moments, which seems to be a theme with point and clicks. There are a few places where movement can be difficult because you have to get the cursor just so. I also had issues with figuring out how to use things like the recorder. I ended up recording nothing on a bunch of channels while trying to work it out, and the game wouldn’t just let me delete them. I ended up reloading (I am a bit save mad), but I would have had to go through a whole process to get those channels free again, even though I recorded, as I said, nothing. There was also one puzzle type I wish could be skipped. When you travel around, you have to take the train and pick your route. It is confusing, and you have to redo it every. single. time. Honestly, after unlocking a location the first time, I wish it just let you skip all that.
Overall though, these issues are minor, and the game was a lot of fun. I liked the puzzles, and there was a decent amount of exploring to do… if a little limited.
Which this game is, especially for a game in the 2010s. Most of what you do happens in the inn with only three other small locations in the game. These games are meant to be easier, and for a younger audience, so I get not overwhelming the player, some point and clicks can be too big, but it still felt a bit small. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but oof.
The story is solid. I enjoyed it more than Ghost Dogs (which I still like, btw so not knocking). I truly felt for the family and their struggle with the loss and what to do with the inn. The game balances keeping you guessing over who of the suspects it might be. I felt it was fairly obvious at times, but didn’t know if it was one person or a team, so I hadn’t entirely worked it out until the end. As with Ghost Dogs, it is not the most challenging mystery, but it is perfect for the young audience it’s going for.
I also think it was decently scary for that age group? There is a solid amount of suspense as you are going around and a few good scares as the ghost (or “ghost”) shows itself more. It’s nothing that will give people nightmares or make them scream, but I could see myself really getting into the scarier aspects if I had had this game at the “right” age. The music in the inn is solidly used and adds a lot to the tension. The characters are also well written. I didn’t like them all per se, or at least not all the time, but it’s not about liking.
There is also some good humor. Rentaro and Yumi both have a lot of goofy lines and moments. Also, Nancy being nosey af would make me laugh.
So bottom line? Honestly, the game is a bit limited, especially for when it came out, and feels more aged than a 2010 game. However, in spite of that, for a lot of people, I would still recommend it. The mystery is solid, gameplay and puzzles are fun, and if you like Nancy Drew and/or point and clicks it’s a solid game. Because it’s for a younger audience, it might feel too small or easy for some people, but for me, it was a fun game that was in a genre I liked but less overwhelming than they can be. Two for two now with these not being the most amazing games or whatever, but they are fun, and that’s all you need sometimes. They are also decently priced on steam, and the bundles will often be on sale. I’d say check this or maybe one of the other in the series out.