Leaving Lyndow is a curious experience. At the beginning, you are dropped in to a bedroom with no explanation, having to piece together the history of your character. Letters dotted around the room make it clear that you are Clara, a girl who is fulfilling her childhood dream: leaving her homeland for the first time to embark a voyage with the Guild of Maritime Exploration. The tasks you are presented with are menial in nature, and make sense considering you start in “medias res” and range from packing your uniform to finding something to help with seasickness.
Conversations with relatives take place as if your departure is imminent. Even though most things about your journey have already been decided, there are some dissenters — as is made clear in other letters found in Clara’s home — who feel she should not be progressing on this voyage. Nevertheless, as Clara leaves the house, she decides to visit a few places before she finally makes her way to the docks for departure.
All of this feels like stuff that other games would have taken you through, but Leaving Lyndow starts after that point, allowing it to offer context while it focuses on Clara herself as she ponders what is to come. Ostensibly an adventure game, the various locations offer slightly different things to do, with the forest area feeling by far the most contemplative and offering the most scope for exploration. But the word ‘adventure’ is probably too strong for anything that happens, since the bulk of that is to come for Clara after the player’s time with her is over, on the ship that takes her in to the great unknown.
In the forest, Clara finds objects from her past and reminisces about her childhood days out with family while walking through the picturesque surroundings. This encapsulates its tone: serene, quiet, peaceful, aided by the calm, almost ethereal soundtrack that accompanies your exploration.
This effect is magnified because the game is so beautiful to look at. The scenery is wonderfully rendered, and it’s easy to just stare out in to the vast expanse and bask in it for a while, allowing you to appreciate what it is that Clara loves about her home and the breathtaking views she will miss. In closed spaces such as the tea house, this effect obviously isn’t as powerful, but there are still things to do, as you are able to converse with those enjoying their tea, who either wish you luck on your voyage or express doubts about it. The game offers branching dialogue, so you can choose how you respond to each remark, allowing you to judge your responses to how familiar the characters seem to be with each other, their backgrounds always coming through very subtly in the conversation. However, the dialogue seems to serve no real purpose in story terms, not defining any of the future decisions or activities Clara will take, meaning it is there just as an insight in to her life.
Beyond walking and talking, there isn’t a whole lot more to the gameplay. At one point Clara has to find some toy sailors for her cousin, who appears to have intricately placed them around the grounds of his father’s garden, but ultimately everything is geared towards Clara’s departure; it’s the crux of most conversations. These conversations are by no means intense though, since at this point in her life Clara is past all the arguments and strife, and with departure imminent any conflict is minimal and easily resolved. All that remains is the voyage.
The different environments the game takes you through are all interesting and very well made. You do get the sense throughout that, while Clara is sad to be leaving, she is looking forward to new horizons and new lands. But the game doesn’t quite manage to work as a separate entity overall from that perspective, offering only a sliver of an insight in to her life and then taking you away just as abruptly. Since it clocks in at about an hour long, it can’t have a meaningful lasting effect. There isn’t enough time to get properly invested. Nevertheless, the conversations and environments all bode well for Eastshade, the upcoming, much larger game that Leaving Lyndow acts as something of a taster session, and it’s definitely a world that seems like it will be interesting to explore once we get to spend more time in it.
However, judged on its own terms, Leaving Lyndow lacks a sufficient narrative to justify its existence as a separate game. The events are predefined, Clara’s path cannot be changed, and despite the often rewarding conversations that you can have, none of the character interactions have any lasting effect on either Clara or the game. Perhaps if the game lasted longer and allowed you on to the ship all of these things will have come to play, but in this case they do not, leaving it feeling like exactly what it is: a snippet, even a demo for any future games in the same world. Leaving Lyndow does show promise, but it doesn’t have enough about it to work on much more than a surface level which, to its credit, it does quite well.