I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Goodreads. It’s a very handy website that’s great at what it does, but for some reason, I tend to always drop off after periods of heavy use.
Fortunately for me, during one of those periods of use, I ran across Patrick Rothfuss’s review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. After reading it, I was intrigued, and threw the book onto my TBR list. Next time I was at the bookstore, I picked it up. Three years later, I finally read it.
I am so mad at myself that I waited so long, but so happy I found this book. Everything Rothfuss says it’s true, and my feelings about the story are pretty much summed up in his words: “This book is beautiful. The language is lovely without being pretentious. The story is careful and playful and smart. This book made me tear up in places.”
If you like faerie tales, especially those with some teeth beneath their surface, definitely pick this one up. It’s gorgeous and so much fun that I want to start reading it out loud to my husband, even though I just finished it myself.
A dear friend of mine was over one day last month and showed me this trailer on Steam:
We had a laugh about it and moved on to other things. But I couldn’t stop humming the song. Then we started drinking. Then I really couldn’t stop humming the song, so we watched the trailer again. Then another trailer. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, Purrfect Date was in my Steam library.
Obviously, I bought this game on a lark and while in an impaired state. It was a joke more than it was any real desire to play a cat dating sim. But when we put it on and started playing (reading?), we were both hooked.
As it turns out, Purrfect Date tells a good story. It’s charming and lovable on the surface (cute animation! cats!) but hides a mystery you can sink your teeth into.
The first thing players will notice about the game is its distinct look. It’s bright and colorful, like many other dating sims, but the art style used is unique. Everything feels distinctive and the characters, both human and cat, all have their own visual personality. Unlike many other dating sims, what’s on the screen doesn’t feel clipped from an anime or manga. And while I like the anime look (I thought Doki Doki Literature Club’s girls were adorable), it was nice to break out of that feel.
Purrfect Date’s structure is also different from many other visual novels I’ve played. Rather than starting a story immediately as a predetermined character, players first choose a character. While the difference is mostly in the character’s portrait rather than any major personality traits that affect the game’s story, it was still nice to have a choice.
Throughout the game, players also choose how to divvy up their time. At any time, the player can choose to spend energy and either:
Rest – restore energy
Date – interact with and get closer to a cat of their choosing
Research – do their job as a scientific intern
Recon – complete a mission to discover more information on the main goal
This time system was interesting, but also felt very strange. There are only so many “slots” available in each category, and once those slots are used, that category is done. While it all worked out overall, I was very confused by the system at first and felt that I was going to miss most of the game. My worry about the system tainted the first chunk of gameplay.
I was also slightly disappointed in the dating aspect of this dating sim. There are multiple cats your character can choose to spend time with, but once you hang out with one, your other options disappear. Again, this all works out in the long run, so it’s not really much to worry about, but it’s not really possible to hang out with all the cats and learn their personality types before choosing which to attach the character to. I wanted to play matchmaker and pair off my character with a cat that suited them, but I wound up having to go with my gut and chill with the cat that I clicked on first. This makes the experience feel like it’s on rails, rather than largely choice-based.
If you think you may like Purrfect Date, I would go ahead and give it a shot (here’s the Steam store link). I know it can seem kind of strange to want to play a dating sim where you’re dating cats, but it’s really not that weird in the game and I never felt uncomfortable, despite being a bit worried that I would.
People who enjoy simple dating sims will probably like this one, as there’s not a lot of game mechanic “meat” behind it. However, if you like having a lot of freedom to muck about and change your mind, you probably won’t like that this one is pretty linear. I had a great time and will probably wind up returning to this one to get the Steam achievements I missed on my first go-round.
I completely forgot about The Final Scene when I was thinking about starting this review project and it surprised me when it came up in the queue. The only reason I could think of for my memory lapse was the fact that The Final Scene happened to follow Treasure in the Royal Tower, so it gets overshadowed, despite its solid gameplay and story.
Nancy travels to St. Louis to accompany her friend from high school, Maya Nguyen, on a journalism assignment for her university paper. Maya has been asked to interview Brady Armstrong about his role in the film Vanishing Destiny, the last event to take place at the historic Royal Palladium theater before it is scheduled to be torn down. When Maya enters a room alone, she is kidnapped from right beneath Nancy’s nose! Maya’s kidnapper is holding her somewhere in the building in an attempt to keep the building from being destroyed and it’s up to Nancy to find her before it’s too late.
Atmosphere and Gameplay
The Royal Palladium Theater is a beautiful building filled with hidden passageways, secret rooms, and the secrets to magicians’ tricks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time running around the area, snooping for the next hidden thing. The space is small enough to avoid having to travel between areas, but large enough to feel like a full-fledged experience, creating an overall fantastic space for exploration and play. The game’s music also continues to be top-notch, building on Treasure in the Royal Tower‘s introduction of excellent audio elements to the series. It’s hard to find background music that is exciting enough to be worth listening to without being distracting, but Her Interactive has nailed it two games in a row.
But it’s not all fun and games while exploring the theater. The impending demolition creates a time crunch that is all too obvious while playing the game. Rather than seeing the in-game time on Nancy’s pocket-watch like all the preceding titles, you see what day it is. This serves as a constant reminder that you don’t have the time you need to solve the case. Pair that with the reminders from other characters that time is running low, and you’ve created an adrenaline-soaked rush to save your friend.
At least, that’s the idea. The game won’t move forward until you’ve done everything you need to do in order to get to the next point in the story, so if you get stuck, you’re stuck. Then the time limit begins to feel arbitrary. There’s no true rush because you know that the time a “day” takes is not based off of any real measure of time. Instead, it’s a measure of actions.
I have no idea how the developers could have gone about this another way to ramp up the tension. My initial thought was to let me fail if I didn’t do everything I needed to and make me suffer the consequences, but I squashed that almost immediately. The Nancy Drew games aren’t geared toward an audience that would appreciate getting to the end of the game only to find out they got the “bad ending.” I enjoy games like that, but I also realize that I would be in the teeniest of minorities in the Nancy Drew fan club.
Maya Nguyen: Nancy’s high school friend and main contact in St. Louis. Maya is working as a reporter for her campus paper and invites Nancy along to her interview with Brady Armstrong, star of the recent film Vanishing Destiny. Her kidnapping sets off the events of the game, and her absence means we don’t learn much about her as a character.
Brady Armstrong: Brady is a “wholesomely smoldering” actor with a large fan base. Series veterans will see echoes of Rick Arlen from Stay Tuned for Danger in his character model and mannerisms, but Brady feels much more realistic and likable.
Simone Mueller: Simone eats, lives, and breathes her job as Brady’s manager, and views Maya’s kidnapping as a great opportunity to get her client into the public eye. Simone is always on the phone and her interpersonal skills are practically non-existent, but that doesn’t bother her. She’s a powerful woman and she knows it. Despite her abrasiveness, I really liked her character design.
Joseph Hughes: Joseph has been the caretaker of the Royal Palladium for as long as anyone can remember, but he doesn’t seem terribly upset about its destruction. He is always there to offer Nancy a helping hand in finding Maya, and seems to be the only one to share Nancy’s concern for Maya’s well-being. He is instantly likeable and quickly became my go-to person when I would get a little stuck.
Nicholas Falcone: Falcone is the leader of H.A.D. I.T. — Humans Against the Destruction of Illustrious Theaters — the organization that is desperately protesting against the Royal Palladium’s upcoming demise. His revolutionary streak can be a little overdone, but overall the game does a good job of balancing his hopefulness and desperation.
What Makes This One Special
So far, Nancy has had a personal connection to each of her cases — usually because her host/hostess is a friend of the family — but this is by far the most personal case she has been involved in. Her friend is kidnapped practically in front of her and she feels that she’s the only one who can do something about it. This personal aspect, paired with the time limit of the theater’s destruction, makes for an intense and emotional storyline.
Because of this, Nancy is downright sassy in this game. Or she can be, if you go with the right dialog options. Even my husband noticed her new-found spunk and commented on it while I played. I loved this. It went against the wholesome, unassuming but brilliant heroine that I had always pictured in the Nancy Drew books, but it felt right. She’s a driven young woman who’s been having to make her way in a traditionally male world of investigation. Of course she’s got a core of slow-burning rage that pops out every once in a while! And if having a friend kidnapped and then no one believe that it’s a big deal doesn’t set off that dormant volcano of delicious rage-lava, I don’t know what would!
Though I didn’t love The Final Scene quite as much as Treasure in the Royal Tower, it’s certainly not a title to be sneezed at. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that I didn’t remember this one right away, because I loved playing through it. If you have the game and haven’t picked it up in a while, go ahead and give it another whirl. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I really want to write about Doki Doki Literature Club — it had quite an effect on me and I want to recommend it to others — but I just don’t know how to go about this.
Let’s start with the basics. What is Doki Doki Literature Club? It’s a visual novel/dating sim in which you play as a high school boy who needs to join an after-school club and winds up in the school’s Literature Club, along with four cute single girls. But I can’t say any more than that. Here’s the trailer if you want a little more:
Doki Doki Literature Club is one of those things whose beauty lies in the unfolding. The less you know going in, the better. So don’t look anything up. Step on in without a map.
But do be cautious: The game contains multiple content warnings for a reason. The developers are not messing around when they say the game is not for children and contains disturbing content. There is content that is horrific on a level that got past the hard shell of cynicism and expectation that I bring to gaming. If you don’t want things messing with your head, you should skip this one. Also, be particularly careful if you have depression or anxiety. This game creates a bad headspace that can take some time to recover from.
But, if you’re feeling strong and willing, definitely give Doki Doki a go. It’s free on Steam and takes about 3 hours. Go play, then come back and let me know what you thought.
Treasure in the Royal Tower marks a turning point for Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. Previous titles have been fine in their own right, but Treasure in the Royal Tower is clearly on another level. Widely considered to be one of the greatest games of the series, TitRT has a lot going for it.
After her last three cases, Nancy is ready for some much-needed R&R. To unwind, she decides to visit Wickford Castle Ski Resort in Wisconsin. But before she can hit the slopes, a blizzard snows her and a few others into the castle.
Shortly after getting trapped inside by the weather, strange things begin happening in the castle. The historical library is vandalized and an eccentric woman’s room is robbed. Rumors abound that the incidents are connected to the valuable secret hidden within Marie Antionette’s tower, which has been sealed off since its addition to the castle by the original millionaire owner.
Gameplay & Atmosphere
Immediately apparent is the beauty of the game. Wickford Castle is a gorgeous setting and Her Interactive did a great job making the castle rich in detail. Though the game takes place completely in the castle and the immediate grounds, it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as Message in a Haunted Mansion. Part of this is due to the castle’s larger size, but most of it comes from how fun it is to go around and look at all the paintings, the tapestries, and to examine the intricate work on the furnishings.
Just to top off the pleasant, atmospheric experience is the background music. The background music isn’t particularly interesting in the first three games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, background music is supposed to fade, you know, into the background. But TitRT manages to create a soundtrack that is never distracting, while also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s perfect for the visually lovely setting, and I found myself pausing to simply enjoy it while wandering the halls to get to my next destination.
The real core of the game, the puzzles that actually make TitRT a game, are top-notch as well. I often found myself challenged, but never felt as though I would be stuck forever. Re-playing the game reminded me just how many puzzles I consider to be particularly good come from this title.
TitRT also offers much more visually pleasing character models. Despite the excellent voice work in all of the Nancy Drew games, the jerky movements and over-expressive faces of previous character models are just a little too far in the uncanny valley for comfort. Talking with others in TitRT is a much more pleasant experience.
It’s not just the improved models that make this so nice, but the bang-up job Her Interactive did with characterization. The various suspects are each interesting in their own right.
Mr. Egan is the caretaker of the castle. He does everything from cleaning to cooking, and has neither time nor patience for socialization. He’s gruff, but in a “I’m-kind-of-mean-to-everybody-not-just-you” kind of way. He doesn’t like to talk about his past, or the mysterious tower. Of course in a Nancy Drew game, this makes him instantly suspicious.
Jacques is the resort’s ski instructor. Once an Olympic-level athlete, Jacques came to the states after choking in competition and shaming his mother-country of France. He is fascinated by the tower because of its deep connection to French history, but is he desperate enough to restore his name that he’d be willing to spirit the treasure within back home?
Lisa is a photojournalist covering Wickford Castle as part of her beat. She’s curious about the tower and desperate to find a way in, but is it to add excitement to her story, or receive personal financial gain?
Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss
Professor Hotchkiss is a historian working on a book about Marie Antoinette. She came to Wickford Castle to be near the tower and see if any secrets about the infamous queen could be unearthed by examining it. Her eccentric nature makes her suspicious, since she refuses to leave her room, and won’t tell anyone what was stolen from within it.
On a personal note, I must say that Professor Hotchkiss is one of my favorite characters in the entire Nancy Drew franchise, if not my absolute favorite. She’s just so much fun! And I’m not alone in this by a long shot.
Whether you’re new to the series or a Senior Detective, Treasure in the Royal Tower is worth your time. It is solid enough to withstand a playing without a golden layer of nostalgia coloring it, so new players will have a good time. Older players will see some tropes that are used in later games coming up for the first time. Not to mention a certain recurring character…
Just in time for October, we have the first in my favorite category of Nancy Drew mysteries — hauntings! Though I wouldn’t call the Nancy Drew series scary as a whole, Her Interactive knows how to set up a creepy mystery.
Rose Green, a friend of a friend of Nancy’s is turning a Victorian mansion into a bed and breakfast in San Francisco. Renovations have been moving much more slowly than anticipated due to a large number of accidents occurring in the house. It’s up to Nancy to discover if the problems are being caused by someone within the house or the ghostly spirits rumored to walk the halls.
Rose Green is the main character of this game, as she owns the house and will run the B&B once it opens. She doesn’t believe the stories being thrown around about ghosts and spirits, and suspects that choosing an inexperienced handyman is the root of her troubles. Rose is a very practical person, and I found myself drawn to her for her down-to-earth approach to all the problems she encounters. It’s also worth noting that Rose is a woman of color, and a woman of color in charge of the whole operation. Good on you, Her Interactive, for starting to introduce some diversity!
The aforementioned handyman is a college student named Charlie Murphy. He cam to Rose looking for work: Work Rose couldn’t refuse at his low prices. He claims to know nothing about the accidents and insists that his work is top-notch, despite his relatively short time in the carpentry business. Though he is the most likely suspect for all the things that have gone wrong around the house, it’s hard to argue with his baby-face and friendly nature. Plus I’m pretty sure his voice actor is the same one who voices Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned, in later games, so it was difficult to think of him as anything other than a source of good information and support. But that’s player knowledge, and player knowledge must be resisted!
Louis Chandler is the resident expert on all things Victorian and has been helping Charlie and Rose ensure that all the renovations are as accurate as possible. He came to Rose as an adviser and has offered her a break in his consulting fees in exchange for unfettered use of the house’s original library. He seems unconcerned with the recent plague of accidents and doesn’t think Abby’s stories of unsettled spirits hold any water. Though he doesn’t appear to have a motive for causing the accidents, he is guiding Charlie’s inexperienced hand and often dodges Nancy’s questions.
The only one who truly seems to believe the talk of spirits is Abby Sideris, Rose’s friend and co-owner of the mansion. All Abby ever wants to talk about are the spirits haunting the house, and she barely acknowledges the upcoming opening of the B&B. She doesn’t concern herself with renovations or the business side of things like Rose does, but instead focuses her time and energy in getting in touch with the ghosts of the mansion. But does she really believe in the ghosts, or is she trying to divert suspicion from herself?
The entirety of MiaHM takes place within the mansion, which works both for an against the game as a whole. The lack of travel shortens the game considerably, but in a way that subtracts little and adds a great deal of convenience for the player. My least favorite part of Nancy Drew games is always the travel between locations. However, having only one location does make the game feel a bit claustrophobic. Granted, this helps enhance the feeling of creepiness and danger that comes from playing around in a potentially haunted old mansion.
Haunting games are my favorite category of Nancy Drew games, and replaying the first of this type was great fun. There were a couple of genuinely creepy moments, but it’s obvious that Her Interactive is just getting started with the scary games. There’s so much going on that suggests a haunting that I became numb to the stimulus. Every time I crossed a certain hallway, I saw a ghost out of the corner of my eye, and there were often spirits visible within the mirrors of the mansion. But, because the game takes place entirely in the mansion and the player runs around the area a lot, these events are triggered a great number of times, and seeing the exact same thing so many times takes the creepiness factor way down.
If you’re looking to try out a Nancy Drew game, go ahead and give MiaHM a shot. It’s super short and a great way to get your feet wet. It has held up decently well over the years and provides a good number of puzzles with just the right amount of challenge for players unfamiliar with the genre.
If you’re familiar with the series, you might want to skip this one. It’s good, but experienced sleuths will blast though it extremely quickly. Sink your teeth into one of the more difficult and longer later games.
Mattie Jensen, a star on the popular soap opera Light of Our Love, invites Nancy to stay with her in New York in order to investigate a series of death threats aimed at her co-star. The victim, Rick Arlen, seems unconcerned about the threats and refuses to go to the police, despite the increasing severity of his stalker’s actions.
One Giant Problem
Stay Tuned for Danger is quite old for a computer game. 18 years old, in fact.
My computer is not old. It is very new.
The two didn’t play well together.
I played off my hard-copy disk and my computer refused to support the game’s sound, even while running in compatibility mode. Even my partner – magical computer genie that he is – couldn’t finagle it into working. But I’m stubborn, and knew that I wanted to play every single game, so I decided to play it without sound.
Turns out, sound is a big part of what makes the Nancy Drew games fun for me. It just wasn’t the same without the background music, character voices, and sound effects. It was so much less fun that I ended up starting my Senior Detective game over with the difficulty at Junior Detective, just so things would go by a little faster. And I used the forums way more than I should have for the same reason. I just wanted to move on to the next one.
But, I do want to give credit to Her Interactive for their work on subtitling the game. STfD’s closed captioning is truly exceptional, and allowed me to enjoy the dialog even without the sound. Thank goodness, because a great deal of the game is spent in conversations.
The first person Nancy meets is Mattie Jensen, her hostess and the reason Nancy even has her second case. Mattie is a successful actress and it was nice to have a successful young woman in a place of prominence in the roster. She cares for others and is into traditionally “girly” things, but never comes across as a caricature of young women in general. I remember liking Mattie a lot as a kid, and that hasn’t changed.
Rick Arlen is Mattie’s co-star and the center of the case. Because he stars as the romantic lead of the show, he has a large base of adoring female fans, but if they ever interacted with him, they would maybe be singing a different tune. Rick is skeevy and always seems to be trying to get some from every woman he meets. Including Nancy. When I was younger, I thought it was kind of funny, but now that I’ve met people like this in my own life, I just kind of hated the guy.
Besides co-staring on Light of Our Love, Rick and Mattie share an agent. Dwayne Powers met Rick and Mattie during the early days of their careers, when they played small theater shows together. Dwayne doesn’t stick out as a character, since Nancy doesn’t interact with him nearly as much as the Rick or Mattie. He’s just kind of there, you know?
Lillian Weiss is the director of Light of Our Love and lets you know it. From square one she makes it known that she doesn’t like you, or anyone really. She’s the stereotypical cold woman of business who will do whatever it takes to get things done. She serves as a barrier for much of the investigation, which stacks the deck against her as a character.
Above even Lillian on the food chain is Millie Strathorn, the owner of World Wide Broadcasting. Though you’d never know it from the way she keeps herself sequestered away in the prop room. Sometimes it’s hard to know if she even knows she owns the studio. Her sense of reality has become skewed.
Millie is by far the most memorable character of STfD. Even outside of her dottiness, she’s funny, with a genuine sense of humor about everything. The prop room was my favorite area in the game, and a good deal of that was because of Millie.
Getting past the lack of sound took some time and the bug certainly lessened my enjoyment of the game, but it wasn’t the only problem. Her Interactive was still getting into the swing of things with STfD, so the gameplay is rough.
It’s hard to move around in STfD: A big problem when Nancy is constantly moving from one place to another. A lot of times I would click somewhere, thinking that I was going to move in that direction, only to zoom in on something I didn’t care about. And vice-versa. This may be fixed in the new remastered version, but it was certainly a bear to deal with using the original game.
There’s also a lack of puzzles in this game when compared to others in the series. Rather than having Nancy solve something in order to move on, the game was more concerned with having Nancy talk to people and see clues in the correct order. At one point, tired of running around trying to figure out how to activate the next segment of the game, I looked at the forums – only to find that I had done everything, I just hadn’t zoomed in far enough on one item for it to count. I’d read the information on the thing without actually having Nancy read it. Ugh.
While I’m glad I played STfD in order to return to the Nancy Drew series’ roots, I’m happy to move on. I don’t recommend it to anyone new to the franchise, as there are so many other games that are much more polished and enjoyable.
Does this post look familiar? It was originally published on my old blog back in October 2015 and has been transplanted here with some light editing.