AHOY! FULL SPOILERS DEAD AHEAD!
Imagine being asked by a questionable treasure hunter to locate her missing business partner and find a lost treasure in the darkest days of the year in the remote outskirts of Iceland. This is the scenario set up for you to play as the famous Nancy Drew in her latest PC mystery, Sea of Darkness.
Sea of Darkness is by far is the most detailed game of the series. The story and visuals have clearly been worked and reworked to create the richest experience Her Interactive has produced since Shadow at Water’s Edge (2010). Nancy is asked by Dagny, a self-proclaimed treasure hunter, to find her partner, Captain Magnus. He disappeared right before the restored ship he was sailing to a local Icelandic festival crashed into the dock. Magnus and Dagny decided to restore a historic ship for the town of Skipbrot in hopes of discovering the legendary hoard of gold that the ship was supposed to have been carrying in the 1700s.
The ship, Heerlijkeid was being sailed by Captain Magnus up until she crashed into Skipbrot’s dock. Some of the town believes the captain fell to his watery grave, while others – like Dagny – believe he is hiding with the gold. This take a turn for the worse when Dagny’s kidnapped! Now Nancy must find two missing persons and the treasure.
Like the other games in the series, Sea of Darkness contains real facts about the country of the setting. Playing through this mystery, you will learn how dark, cold and isolated Iceland is as a country. Knowing the population of the entire nation is only about 300,000 people it is clear why native Icelanders are suspicious of foreigners. The alienation Nancy feels when the NPCs clam up and refuse to give information transcends into the player. At first, I felt frustrated and upset when the the characters wouldn’t give me much information. However, the more I played through the story, I learned the reasoning behind the characters’ personalities.
The little town of Skipbrot’s basically cut off from the rest of the world, and darkness reigns part of the year. Anyone from outside of the town is considered an outsider; even Soren, the town’s curator and archaeologist who was born only ten miles away, isn’t welcomed.
Learning the history of the characters in Sea of Darkness will allow you to sympathize more with the characters’ actions: Elisabet, a true born and raised member of Skipbrot, is still madly in love with her ex-boyfriend, the missing Magnus. His devotion – err, obsession – with restoring the Heerlijkheid transcended into her passion for protecting the ship. She even went as far as to hide the gangway plank and refuse Dangy any access to the ship even though it was Dangy who financed the restoration! Naturally, Elisabet’s over-protectiveness of the ship raises the question of if she’s actually trying to keep a secret from being discovered about the Heerlijkheid or not.
The developers obviously wanted the player to feel empathy or some type of sympathy for the individuals in the story, and they intended for the player to fully understand the characters’ actions. The physical actions of the characters’ facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language make the questioning sequences much more appealing and enjoyable than previous installments of the franchise.
The stock Her Interactive mechanics are all present within Sea of Darkness. You play as the girl-detective Nancy Drew, you ask the characters questions, and complete numerous puzzles in order to solve the big mystery. It sounds easy enough, but the two game modes – Amateur and Master – determine the difficulty of the individual puzzles. I highly recommend playing in the Amateur Mode if you are unfamiliar with puzzle games. The Master Mode’s puzzles are harder to solve, and will be more than a challenge for those who are not accustomed to frequently playing puzzle games.
There was one disappointing puzzle in the entire game that is excruciatingly annoying. In earlier installments of the Nancy Drew game franchise, like White Wolf of Icicle Creek, Silent Spy, and Warnings at Waverly Academy, Nancy is asked to cook for customers as part of her room and board agreement. This time, Nancy is not asked to cook, but to arrange Icelandic food onto trays in particular patterns – which, unfortunately, is the only way to earn money to purchase souvenirs. When hearing the character Gunner (a salty retired sailor) ask Nancy to help in the town pub’s kitchen, I was instantly excited to start a cooking mini game that was as memorable and charming as previous ones in the series.
Much to my disappointment, the arranging of the block images seemed much more of a chore than a game. It would have even been a treat to pour beer and serve them in a timed mini-game, instead of arranging blocks for tips. At least the other puzzles offer more entertainment value – like the arranging of toys in Magnus’ cabin to open a drawer, or changing the color patterns of dozens crystals to reveal secret papers.
Sea of Darkness is highly entertaining and charming to boot. The characters have deep backstories, the puzzles offer a fun a workout for your brain, and the lovable romantic conversations between Ned and Nancy make this game an absolute must for every Nancy Drew collection. It would’ve been great if the story and gameplay were longer, but at least it can be easily replayed. The trophies do give players a reason to go back and try to earn all of them in one playthrough.
If you’re looking to jump into Nancy’s shoes and experience an Icelandic mystery, or if you want to add a new game to your Nancy Drew collection, Sea of Darkness will put a smile in your face and add warmth to your heart.