Sympathy For The Devil

HIGH The frog monster.

LOW The conversation at the end of the teenager episode.

WTF This is actually a pretty big house.


 

Lydia is a downer of an interactive short story, which perhaps can be guessed from the title screen showing a silhouette of two adults sharing a bottle over a small child. The game features four short vignettes strung together through an episode where a young girl can’t sleep due to the wild party her parents are having downstairs.

Because the game is so brief, to say much about any of the episodes or the larger plot would exhaust almost all of the story. Each of them relates a sad incident from the girl’s life, and as she goes from being a very small child to a teenager within them, the depictions go from metaphorical (one in which human principals appear as a knight and a deliciously hideous frog monster) to literal in a way that intuitively recalls the cloudiness of childhood memory. The art and writing create a sense of foreboding and then strike when it’s most effective.

Each vignette includes a few small puzzles for the player to solve and an occasional bit of dialogue, but nothing that’s taxing or that can really be failed. The point here is to keep the player engaged in what’s happening onscreen by requiring a bit of interaction. That the player cannot, through dialogues or puzzles, change the course of events is part of the point.

The dialogue is presented in text boxes while the characters utter nonsense syllables. This is a great approach for giving a sense of character without requiring dialogue recording in multiple languages, and it works particularly well for the father character. However, I felt some of the nonsense noises were repeated a little too much and lacked expressiveness.

The development team is Finnish but the English in the game is reasonably good, except at the end of the episode with the girl as a teenager. This is a shame because this is the only time Lydia came close to justifying its big reveal or the decision the girl makes in the finale.

The identity of the ‘monster’ the girl has spent the game looking for isn’t a great surprise, but the chosen vignettes don’t do enough to explain that character, nor do they sufficiently build up to the moment the girl makes her final decision. This failure to clearly lay out the nature of the toxic relationship the girl is extracting herself from makes for a more ambivalent ending than was perhaps intended.

While I actually felt sympathy for the ‘monster’ even though I didn’t doubt the girl’s condemnation of it, Lydia still manages to land a heavy emotional blow with admirable economy thanks to its expressive art and skillful storytelling. It’s a strong, sharp jab of a game, and well worth it for anyone willing to take the punch in the gut. Rating: 8 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Platonic Partnership LLC. It is currently available on PC via Steam and itch.io. This copy of the game was provided by the publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows 10 PC equipped with an Intel i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a single Radeon R9 270X graphics card. Approximately 1 hours of play was devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time this game has not been rated by the ESRB. Lydia contains use of alcohol, use of tobacco, sexual themes, one scene with blood, and drug references. I would rate the game T, though thematically it is most appropriate for adults.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is presented as text on screen accompanied by nonsense noises from the characters. No sound cues are present.

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. The game is primarily point and click but does require button mashing at two particular points.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. Most of the game is essentially black and white and it is not essential to distinguish between green and red, although these colors are used at various points to highlight places the player should go or click.

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson grew up in the hot lands of Alabama, where he was regularly mooned by a cast iron statue. He played his first games on a Texas Instruments 99/4A computer, although he was not an early adopter. He eventually left Alpiner behind, cultivating a love of games that grew along with the processing power of the home computer. Eventually, however, the PC upgrade cycle exhausted him, and by the time he received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina he had retreated almost entirely to console gaming.

Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
Sparky Clarkson

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