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About the Story
"Lydia's Heart" is a large, complex game with a serious tone and seven or eight NPCs you can converse with. The genre is low-key horror: There's almost no actual blood, but there are several ways to die in a very frightening way. Various bits of magical fantasy are included in a basically real-world setting.
I'm torn on whether to recommend this game. On the one hand, it has a perfectly serviceable story and really interesting characters. I feel I must defend it more vigorously because there is a serious dearth of games (in any medium) which put as much effort into exploring character motivation as they do exploring dungeons and the finer points of headshots. But pretentious illusions aside, these are literary challenges in which we find our enjoyment, and the challenge must match but not distract from their literariness. I'm not sure Lydia's Heart meets that standard. The author's wish for a large, serious story may have been fulfilled... but it sacrifices enjoyable gameplay in the bargain. (by Nate Dovel)
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Number of Reviews: 8
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After hearing many complaints of the lack of long-form games, I was shocked at the size and quality of this game. There is no need to complain!
Lydia's Heart is indeed a serious game, and it never breaks into wisecracks or in-jokes. But there is plenty that made me smile. The characters are vivid. Some are intensely likeable, some are thrillingly evil, and many, though pathetic and shallow at first glance, turn out to be complex and tragic in moving ways. Even their non-responses in conversation are interesting and revealing much of the time, though over the course of the extensive gameplay you will see a lot of repetition. Curiously, the main antagonist of the story is the least engaging, and I found his limited repertoire of remarks out of place with his much livelier associates.
At some point the game shifted from an "unfolding horror" to a puzzlefest. There are a couple mazes (not too big or nasty, but probably tedious for hardcore maze-haters), and lots of intricate puzzles. As the possiblilities spread out, the urgency of the plot faded. The satisfaction of solving a tough puzzle, or the curiosity to explore an environment, conflicted with the PC's feelings of terror and revulsion. Towards the end of the game, however, I felt more in line with the PC and her ally, and the excitement of the main goal returned.
The game takes place over the course of an afternoon. Time doesn't advance until you solve the necessary puzzles, but unlike in Ballyhoo, this trick works well because you hardly ever need to backtrack. You're told up-front that it's very hard to get permanently stuck, and there's lots of warning when you do (and all that's required in that case is an undo). Toward the end of the game I did find myself backtracking to make sure I didn't miss anything, but it almost always turned out to be unneccessary.
This is the first game I've played in a while where I deliberately avoided hints. It made the experience rich and satisfying, though the couple puzzles where I had to look up a hint (or contact the author) felt all the more unfair because of it. Even so, those puzzles made sense in retrospect.
This is a revised version of Aikin's game "Last Resort," and some of the added material is not as well fleshed-out as the rest of the game. Toward the end of the game, there were too many default responses to my attempts to solve the puzzles, even solutions I could not imagine would fail in the game-world presented. But I get the impression that there are more revisions to come, and I look forward to that.
Although I liked the flow of story overall, there were occasions when Lydia's Heart got wordy. The "death" sequence can come rather unexpectedly, and it's always the same, and covers two or three pages. It's usually possible to recover with an undo, though. The victory sequence was similarly long. I'm told that the final text-dump replaced a maze and some awkward game-states, but I would have liked to be more involved in the final scene, given a chance to savor the end of a very long journey.
I highly recommend this game. It will give you a good month of satisfying play, and you'll be glad to get to know the deceptively strong characters. I haven't played some of the "greats" of modern IF, but this is near the top of my all-time favorite list.
I am awestruck. I played Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina (that too by Jim Aikin) and the much acclaimed Curses!, and I wasn't expecting to find another puzzle-intense game who could stand the comparison. Then I found Lydia's Heart. Which is not simply great like the other two I mentioned: it's better! (on my humble opinion ;-P)
First of all, the puzzles. They're coherent. They're logical. All of them, none excluded. And they fit perfectly within the story. Any puzzle lover knows that, most all of the time, you are confronted with puzzles which are either badly implemented, or not logical, or worse they seem they have nothing to do with the story you're involved in. Lydia's Heart instead: it's a perfect mechanism. I could finish it without any hint (though that doesn't mean it's easy: it's simply that it doesn't frustrates you with impossible or incoherent puzzles, even when you feel stuck), mostly because, if I got stuck, I could simply *think* about the possible logical solutions: and it worked. The difficulty is that you will come out with many logical solutions for some puzzles, and this game is so craftily written that it will entice you in believing most of them to be possible: up to you to find the right one (though sometimes there is indeed more than *one* solution). Any puzzle-lover will realize that a game that can do this, is not only awesome, but also very - very - rare. I mean, I gave 5 totally deserved stars to Curses!, but it was soooo frustrating at times :-P
The story is an interesting, *classic* horror one, and quickly drags you in (though the first part of Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina gave me the creeps a lot more than this one). The characters are very interesting, and they represent many ranges of wickedness (from subtlety to passiveness up to total evil). Time moves on, and things may change, but only when you achieve some of the goals, and this brings up another thing I love: that is, you won't find yourself in an unwinnable condition without knowing it. There are many warnings before you do some no-turning-back move, and you never worry if you really have to do that or not: you simply know (Spoiler - click to show)(though, pay attention when you actively succeed in *moving* an NPC, cause almost always they'll be back soon, and you won't have more than a couple of chances to do it). Thanks to the game's warnings and to it's understandable logic, I never died during all the game, and did a *bad* thing on purpose just to see the death sequence.
SO, NO DRAWBACKS?
Weeeelll... the ending is a little unsatisfying. (Spoiler - click to show)You never get to know what exactly happens to the people that wanted to do bad things to you, and this - given the way some of them get involved in your escape - would've been a compelling thing to read, and also something you would expect. But nothing else. There is one maze (plus a semi-maze), but it's very easy and short (Spoiler - click to show)(once you find the right way to deal with it).
IN THE END
Did I mention that I totally loved Lydia's Heart? It's perfectly crafted. It's fun. It's long. It's deep. It's involving. It's satisfying. You gotta play it.
Lydia's Heart is a game in the class of Anchorhead, Mulldoon Legacy, Curses!, and Worlds Apart in terms of size and story. To see the size of the game, check out the provided map, and realize that 90% of the rooms have their own detailed puzzle.
First, the story. You play a young girl at a southern motel who is entrapped in the mysterious plottings of a cult. You must find a way to escape their clutches. There are twelve or more NPC's, each of which can be asked numerous questions. The twelve NPCS's are mostly static, but later they move about a bit. The workings of the cult are explored in great detail, both at the motel and other locations.
As for puzzles, they are very, very difficult. This is the same author as Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, which had very difficult puzzles as well. As an example, there are several locks in the game, which are opened in three or four different ways, two of which are almost never done in IF games. Items must be gathered from far away and assembled into one whole. Characters must be encouraged to move. And some just completely improbable actions must be taken.
However, I took a simple approach; I would just go as far as I could without getting frustrated, then start consulting the hints. The hint system is AMAZING. Just get as many hints as you need. Don't feel bad about it! The author intended this game as more of a story than just a puzzle fest; by consulting the first few hints for each puzzle, you're just making the level of difficulty low enough that the puzzles are still fun, but the story can still progress.
Several reviewers complained about mazes, but they don't realize that sometimes mazes are fun. The author allows you to bypass them with magic words, but then people feel mad about missing 100% completion. I subscribe to a different view; I love stories and settings, and I would rather skip all puzzles in a game to get a good story. Puzzles are fun, but they aren't the reason I play IF (except for Ad Verbum and Praser 5).
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