As I sit here pondering on how to structure this review, something just dawned on me. This may be the hardest review I have ever had to write because in truth, Lydia (originally released on PC, newly available on the Switch) is not much of a game. It’s more of a short story in which the player simply clicks their way through the four chapters in what took me just over an hour. Here’s the thing though, the story told in Lydia is so strong and impactful that it didn’t matter that there wasn’t much gameplay.
The difficult subject matter in which this game deals with makes it hard to do this review completely spoiler free as I really wouldn’t be able to say too much, so if this is something that looks interesting to you and you want to go in completely spoiler free just as I did, then I recommend you do just that. If you’re currently on the fence, I’ll just say this – Lydia is priced at £3.50 or £4.40 for the DLC bundle which acts as a charity donation, more on that later though… For this price you will struggle to find a better narrative experience on the Nintendo e-Store, so do yourself a favour and pick up this beautifully written tragic story. It sends an important message which is rarely seen in video games and I genuinely believe everybody should experience what Finnish developer Platonic Partnership have brought to the table here.
Right, last warning before I jump into spoiler territory!
I’m going to start with Lydia’s strongest element and that is of course it’s gritty and depressing story. The story focuses on what life is like for a child living with parents who have their own demons. Through the lens of this innocent little girl, you see your parents fall deeper and deeper into the clutches of alcoholism and addiction, eventually leading to full on neglect and resentment for this poor child. The way the game handles this is nothing short of brilliant. Lydia opens with you stood outside your house talking with friends about whether or not one of them will get a Pony for her birthday, just like any other normal group of children. Once you are back inside your home, your Father begins to tell you a story about a monster who will come for you if you do not behave… this might sound a bit dark but it does feel as if he was trying to reach a happy ending before your Mother interrupts him to rush you to bed. The reason being that they have a party tonight and want you well away.
Once you’re in your bedroom, the girl’s imagination begins to run wild and you end up following your teddy bear (who comes to life) into the wardrobe and into a fantasy-like world which acts as the games first chapter. To begin with, there’s a certain child-like charm to all this. You and your teddy bear set out on a quest to find and confront the monster in your Father’s story. These dream-like sequences are exactly how you’d picture a child’s imagination to be like, full of larger than life characters which are probably based off toys and cartoons, but in a setting akin to something out of a Tim Burton movie. It’s only when you begin to interact with these characters that alarm bells start ringing. While feeling comfortably safe in this little fantasy world, I was taken aback when one of the characters (a knight in shining armour) began to act drunk and aggressive. The tone quickly shifted from happy dream world to a worrying nightmare as the knight began swearing and fighting with another of the imaginary characters. The worst part of all of this was that the little girl you play as seems unconcerned, as if this is the norm for her.
As the story continues and the girl grows older, the dream sequences evolve in to real life memories including a haunting camping trip with your Father where you overhear him drunkenly talking to a friend about how much of a burden you are to him, and a trip out with friends once you’re a teenager which leads to more alcohol related tragedy. It all culminates by returning to the bedroom as a little girl once again, this time though, you adventure downstairs to your parents party where you experience just how scary drunk adults can be to a child. It’s during this party where you finally confront the monster of the story and the games heart breaking climax plays out.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself “bloody hell, this game sounds horrible”. Well yes, it is, but it has to be in order to get this important message across. That message being that their are many, many children out there who are suffering neglect at the hands of irresponsible parents and most of us wouldn’t even realise. Especially us ‘gamers’ who have an unfair reputation for being more concerned with shooting people rather than caring for them. It’s this dark and hard hitting realism that not only made me stop and think about this important issue but also whether or not there is anything I could do to help… and for that reason alone, the developers deserve all the praise in the world. And yes, there is something I can do to help and so can you, make sure to read below the review score for more details.
As I mentioned in the opening, the gameplay is non-existent. You’re essentially just pressing the A button repeatedly to get to the end of the story, occasionally having to move your character to the next part of the level or choose one of three responses. Although this doesn’t really bother me as gameplay mechanics isn’t what Lydia is about, it would have still been nice to maybe have some puzzles to solve or have your multiple choice responses effect the story in some way. This though is my only real complaint about this wonderful little indie title.
As you can see in these screenshots, the visual style of Lydia is very unique and may well split players but I personally really liked it. The entire game has a charming hand drawn look to it which I loved and looks absolutely gorgeous when playing in handheld. These great visuals really help add to the dank tone of the narrative, making me feel even more immersed in the games short story. The majority of the games locations are either black or grey, which of course works well with the atmosphere in which Lydia is setting out to achieve. What I really enjoyed though was when the game did decide to use vibrant colours, it had a greater effect than it would have normally as I’d weirdly gotten used to the darkness.
The sound and music is another big standout. The story is told through text, with the characters making a murmuring like sound to one another while you read the dialogue. I wouldn’t have said no to voice acting being here instead, but this worked well none-the-less. The actual music is fantastic, it does a wonderful job at setting the scene and really made me feel like I was there. From the imaginative sounds of the fantasy wardrobe world, to the Rammstein-esque soundtrack being played in your friends car in the teenage chapter, the sound in this game really is something special. My absolute favourite sound effect though, was whenever you’re in your bedroom and you can hear the faint noise of a party downstairs. I’m not sure how they achieved it but it really adds a level of fear to something which is usually seen as a fun activity.
If I was to score Lydia purely on gameplay then I may have to go low, but there’s no way I’m going to do that. The story is an impactful one which may hit close to home for some and be an eye opening experience for others. The fact that Platonic Partnership were ballsy enough to make a game about child neglect and irresponsible parenting through the eyes of this little girl should be getting more attention than it currently is. The outstanding visual style and soundtrack only adds to the great narrative and makes this game one of the most important indie titles currently available on the Nintendo Switch. On top of all of that, the game has some DLC available but probably not in the way you’re thinking, this DLC isn’t an extension of the game but rather a donation to Fragile Childhood (A-Clinic Foundation) – a Finnish charity working to prevent and diminish harm caused to children and also adults due to childhood parental substance misuse. As I was saying, this game is important and should not be ignored in favour of the next first person shooter.
I give Lydia
We have just been giving some great news regarding the Lydia Donation. Today (Friday 21st February), in just five weeks of the #LydiaDonation DLC being made available, publisher – nakana.io have confirmed that the DLC donation package has been purchased nearly 1000 times! The publishers had this to say – “It’s a fantastic display of generosity from the players and it shows how powerful games can be to deliver important messages and motivate changes.”
They also announced that the original game bundled with a DLC donation can now be purchased on the Nintendo e-Shop. I am proud to say that I have made my donation and I hope you can too. For more on the Lydia Donation, make sure to check out the video below. Thank you for reading.Become a Patron!