RELEASE DATE: 03/19/1991 – (JP)
Fushigi no Umi no Nadia a.k.a. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is an adventure game based on a classic early 90s anime. It contains no combat, minor puzzle-solving, and tedious trial-and-error wandering through labyrinthine corridors. If that sounds horrible, you’re right. However! The game works thanks to its over-the-top story that’s equal parts bonkers and affecting.
…Nadia takes place on Earth in 1889, but is set in an alternate reality. You play as Jean, a Parisian teenager who loves tinkering with machines and gazing at exotic women. He lives with his uncle, and together, they’re about to enter their “flying machine” into the Paris World Fair. After he saves a young woman named Nadia from some bumbling thugs, however, his life quickly shifts into full-on adventure. From here, Jean and Nadia crash a plane onto a seemingly primitive island filled with futuristic technology, get caught up in a war between two factions of Atlanteans (beings from the planet of Atlantis), and yes, eventually uncover the secret of Blue Water.
The characters are genuinely likable. Jean is optimistic and endearing, while Nadia is mysterious and wounded. The good Atlanteans – Electra and Captain Nemo, specifically – all carry tremendous pain, yet remain resolute in their mission. The bad Atlanteans, like Gargoyle, are pure evil, killing people left and right. Yet even Gargoyle has a motive and a purpose behind his hatred. Then there’s the Grandis Gang, the comic relief that occasionally wears thin. These characters don’t have much going for them other than silly jokes, but they do save other characters from their imminent demise on several occasions.
The story and characters kept me motivated to finish …Nadia, while the gameplay did everything it could to make me put it down. I rarely feel such a jarring disconnect between my love for one aspect of the game versus my severe dislike for another. …Nadia generously provided this feeling.
The majority of the game takes place in dungeons, whether it’s the Tower of Babel (Lord have mercy), a floating island known as Sea Atlantis, or the airship Neo-Atlantis (yes, there are multiple Atlantises). These structures have elevators that lead to rooms that lead to more elevators. Push this button in that order to make something happen, but if you don’t get the order 100% right, you have to start again. All this and backtracking. Lots and lots of backtracking. Confusion and frustration abound, to say the least. If I didn’t have a walkthrough guiding my journey through the madness, I likely would have quit, excellent story be damned.
When you’re not trekking back-and-forth through oversized battleships, you’re learning more about the characters and their surprisingly tragic backstories. …Nadia lays on the feels somethin’ fierce. To wit: Jean’s mother is dead and his father is missing. Nadia’s parents are both dead (or so you think). Most of the Atlanteans have lost all or most of their family in dark and violent ways. The ending is also surprisingly bloody and heartwrenching. That we’re able to care for the characters like we do, is thanks to an excellent English translation by Eien Ni Hen and hacking by King Mike.
According to Wikipedia, Fushigi no Umi no Nadia on Mega Drive hits most of the story beats as the original anime, save for some character intros and a completely reworked and shortened ending. Makes sense, as the anime spans 39 episodes and is a little over 16 hours long. Whereas with the walkthrough, I completed the game in about 3-4 hours.
The question is: is …Nadia worth playing, given that you could conceivably just watch the anime and digest the same story? That all depends. If you can stomach some borderline unbearable “adventuring” and don’t feel corrupted for using a spoiler-free walkthrough to get you through, then yes. If you don’t mind devoting 2/3 of a day of your life to some vintage 90s anime, bypass the game completely.
FINAL GRADE: B