Lydia's Heart

by Jim Aikin profile


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Immersive slow horror., April 20, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

"Let's get out of this cabin and go to the shack. No wait! What have I got in my hands? Put that in the sack so no one will see it. Phew, lucky I thought of that."

While playing Lydia's Heart I was well and truly immersed in the story, caring enough about my PC to not go "adventuring " all over the place. I left rooms as I found them, put books back on the shelves after reading them, closed cupboards after searching them,... Most of the time this was unnecesary, but this game made it feel natural.

The writing is great. Clear descriptions that also give you the feel of the place. Some of the puzzles I needed a nudge with, but they were all well integrated in the story.

And what a good story it is! Or better, how well is this story told! Those who like a bit of Lovecraft now and then will not read anything new, but they, and hopefully all others will read a thrilling, frightening adventure.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A daring escape with a just setback or two, July 15, 2017
by Cory Roush (Ohio)

I love Lydia's Heart, except my own heart broke playing it... but we'll get to that.

The characters in this story are really quite diverse. There are some stereotypes at play, of course, but you have a chance to get to know almost every single one of them and they each have different reasons for being a part of the story.

The puzzles? Difficult, but aside from a really cruel maze, I required very little assistance to solve any of them. The solutions are logical, and it always felt as if I had the right tool (or at least knew where I could probably find it) when I needed it. I'm never a fan of IF that forces you to be a kleptomaniac pack-rat right from the start. In this game you certainly could act that way (in fact, there's a "holdall" sack available to you right from the start) but if you choose to interact with the game as a teenage girl would do, you never feel forced to pick up things just because they're on the ground or on a nearby shelf.

All that being said, I was very disappointed to find at least one scenario that made the game unwinnable. As a disclaimer, I am not the kind of person who saves their game very often. I usually forget, which is my own failing. However, this particular "mistake" was not well broadcast to me and I played the game for at least another hour before realizing what had happened. (Spoiler - click to show)A very important item is hidden inside a container that is initially locked when you find it. You have to steal the container from a cabin that is empty at one point in the story, but inhabited later. I successfully stole the container but made the fatal mistake of trying to enter the cabin later when the inhabitant already came inside... basically, if you go in the direction of the closed door, you automatically knock on it and the person comes to the door. Since I had the locked valise in my hands when the owner came to the door, he took it. And there's no way to get it back. The message that you see when this happens, though, is very similar to what you would expect to see if you tried to enter the cabin with the item safely stored away, and so I just proceeded to go on without trying to restore an earlier save or UNDO. Just a fair warning!

I dislike these scenarios so much that I didn't even bother to go back and try again, because I felt like I was at least 90-95% of the way through the game.

I would have loved to witness the ending, but a decision on the author's part to let realism trump enjoyment stopped that dead in its tracks. Good luck, Diane - I hope you made it out alive!

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Lydia's Heart by Jim Aikin, May 3, 2017
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Mystery, Horror, Jim Aikin, Lydia's Heart, Large Story Based IF,

A bit like the Cryptic Crossword Puzzle compilers who create the puzzles in the heavier journals here in the UK, I tend to have my favourite IF authors, the ones who are on my wavelength and the ones who seem to see the world from the same side of the looking glass as myself. Birds of a feather and all that. For instance, I have always found Andy Phillips's games easier than a lot of other people seem to, whereas Andrew Plotkin's masterpieces have always left me struggling for air and inspiration, my persecution complex making me feel like he was having yet another Roman Holiday at my expense whenever I tried another work from his oeuvre.

Having played (and in the second instance completed) two of Jim Aikin's earlier games, the sprawling and atmospheric old style puzzlefest Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina and the medium sized but more comical A Flustered Duck I approached Lydia's Heart with some idea of how his puzzles are created and solved (very intricate, get 'a' so that 'b' can unlock 'c' thus releasing 'd' who gives you 'e' by way of thanks and with which you can bribe 'f'.... but also with the realisation that his mind, like Plotkin's, is hard wired differently to mine.

It quickly became evident upon starting Lydia's Heart that here is Aikin the storyteller, making a marked sea change towards what is often considered better (i.e. more narrative driven) IF and no longer an ocean away from the direction that my mind tends to be sailing.

You could argue that there is a certain despairing similarity between the cold, bleak and sinister Shopping Mall in Ballerina and the cloyingly decayed rural hovel of Heart, but whereas the former is little more than a finite (albeit very large) games board upon which Aikin can plant his clever snares and traps, the latter appears (in the First and Third Acts at least) as a place in which a story can unfold and therefore seems bigger despite occupying far fewer locations; as if the young female protagonist would fall off the end of the world should she try to leave Eternal Springs, doomed like Eustacia Vye attempting to leave Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy's The Return Of The Native.

The NPC's in this game (of which there are quite a few) are not as static as is often the case, and the more you communicate with them the more you become aware of something very sinister deep in the heart of old Dixie. Slowly Hardy or Tennessee Williams becomes Lovecraft. Of the characters, my favourite (and I suspect Aikins's too) is the talentless wannabee Nashville warbler Honey, who gets all the best lines: "Honestly, I think Id forget my boobs if they werent a hundred percent real." My career? Honey arches her back so her breasts stick out. Ive just released my very first CD. Maybe I mentioned that." Morally ambiguous characters are also rarae aves in IF, so David is also an interesting addition. Torn between selling his soul to regain his health and his innate revulsion of what he must do to achieve it, he is uniquely vulnerable within the framework of the story.

Not everyone is againt you as you will slowly realise, and although the game is not studded with sudden death endings at this point you must still be careful what you are carrying when entering into colloquy with anyone, as one unconcealed item can be your downfall. Fortunately you will certainly stumble across the almost ubiquitous, bottomless carrying device early on which for some reason no-one ever questions you about. On the whole the inventory system works quite well with only occasional annoyances.

There are still a number of difficult but fair puzzles to solve in this part of the game, but they fit in so well with the narrative that they don't feel like a contrived caravanserai of brain teasers in a puzzle book as in some of Aikin's previously cited work. They are there to lubricate the plot, not as stand alone set pieces of logic.

Then suddenly, should you progress far enough through the narrative you are plunged into the Second Act if you will, a world of mazes, statues, scorpions and locked cabinets that feels much more like old style Aikin again. This section contains a few stern posers, and one particular leap of intuition which I wouldn't think many people would make (Spoiler - click to show)One of the red jewels on the pedestals is actually Lydia's heart and you need to have the locket open, worn and point at it with the monkey beside you to get it and I was reduced on a couple of occasions to checking out the extremely well constructed Hints section. You can only reveal answers to problems in parts of the game you have encountered, much more satisfying than a mere walkthrough.

The denouement of the game seems to me to have been a bit more hastily written. For the first time a few minor bugs appear(Spoiler - click to show)you find the pouch of leaves in the hole every time you search it as if it were the first time, and when you are in the power boat or the rowboat it tells you that they are too far away to be searched.

The limits of credibility are occasionally stretched to snapping point as well during the end game; those chasing you at one point would have to be thicker than several hundred short planks not to follow your trail successfully(Spoiler - click to show)through the trapdoor in Cabin four to the cellar.There is also an object you will need right at the very end of the game which, if you manage to find it or even realise that you needed it, must make you more of a deity capable of Dei Ex Machina gestures than the one contained in the game.

The ending came as a bit of a disappointment as it would have been nice to see the bad guys get their come uppance, but I left the game feeling much more like I'd interacted with something linear than completed another of those "Crossword Puzzles" and that can only be a more rewarding thing.

The parser and the writing are as accomplished as we have come to expect from Mr. Aikin.

In summary, and despite the few caveats mentioned, a splendid addition to the IF canon and one guaranteed to keep you you engrossed for hours. Four stars.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
One of the largest games out there, with very hard puzzles and great plot, August 26, 2015
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

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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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Loved it, June 23, 2012

I am fairly new-ish to IF games. I usually play the more shorter games. I started to play this- at first I had to restart a few time as i was not totally committed and made stupid mistakes, but once i got into it- I loved it. I havent completed it yet- but I cant stop playing. It is worth the effort and time. I would say perhaps best for intermediaries- but it is definately something you should cut your teeth on before trying other more involved games.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Solid Puzzle Game, May 28, 2010
by Bernie (Fredericksburg, VA)
Related reviews: Puzzle

I love puzzles and spookiness, and have been looking for a game to hold up to my personal favorite spooky puzzle game, Anchorhead.

Lydia's Heart is not as spooky as Anchorhead. However, the setting is vividly described and the plot of the story created a sense of urgency in places, enough so that I jumped at least a few times when my husband interrupted me.

The puzzles were logical and interesting. A word of warning to future players, however, that sometimes looking in the same place at a different point in the game can yield a new item. This particular facet of the game was my one big point of frustration, since generally in IF I expect to find everything in an area when it's searched. However, I think if I'd known from the beginning that some areas could yield new items when I had different needs, I would have found the puzzles to be less frustrating. As it was, I ended up referring to the in-game hint system far more often than I like.

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
The IF any story/puzzle-game lover should play, September 6, 2008
by Maze (Rome, Italy)

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.

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).

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.

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
Large and deep, June 4, 2008
by Mike Ciul (Philadelphia)

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.

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