I have a lot of trouble saying the word "goodbye". Even when I know I'm probably never gonna see somebody again, I always say, "see you later." I just can't deal with the idea that this might be it. Forever is a long time. Leaving Lyndow, a game about the fine line between "later" and "farewell", hit me hard.
In the game, you play as Clara, a young woman who's about to follow her dream and set off to sea with the Guild of Maritime Exploration. Problem: The waters beyond Clara's home are churning with danger, and many expeditions never return. She's excited, but also worried. Her family is just worried.
Leaving Lyndow is short. It consists of one in-game day, which happens to be Clara's last on the island. You walk and talk through a series of semi-open locations, and also you solve a handful of light puzzles. In other games where the harrowing journey is the focus, this would be the tutorial you rush through. What makes Leaving Lyndow unique is that, despite its brevity, it lingers on these moments. It captures that bittersweet feeling where you know you've gotta leave — you've gotta ride off into the sunset and see what lies on the other side — but you really, really don't want to.
(Warning: Slight spoilers ahead.)
Lyndow doesn't really try to establish characters because, well, it doesn't have time. Clara's got a dang boat to catch. Instead, its supporting cast represents a series of fairly universal experiences, and they collectively meter out the story of a girl who always yearned to explore. For instance, there's this dude, Jakab, who Clara was once really close to, despite the fact that he was garbage at maritime exploration stuff, and Clara was a prodigy. It's never stated, but he's probably her ex, and it sounds like things were fraught toward the end of their relationship.
Still, he shows up at the bizarro fantasy tea shop/bar for Clara's going-away gathering. You get to steer a conversation about their past, present and future. You can be kind or cold. I decided to say that we made a great team back in the day. For anybody who's actually had this conversation in real life, his response is a gut punch in the way only finality from somebody you know loves the heck out of you can be:
I KNOW I JUST MET YOU JAKAB BUT I'M GONNA MISS YOU SO MUCH.
You also end up doing things like exploring your old childhood clubhouse, hashing things out with your uncle who's been trying to convince your mum to stop you from leaving and playing with your young cousin while convincing him (and also yourself) that you're not gonna end up cold and dead hundreds of kilometres beneath the sea.
It's all pretty grim, but it has a lot of heart and a little humour to it, as well. This is a game about people (or, well, weird fantasy hobbit monks) who love each other so much that they can't bear to let go, even though they all know it's time.
It's the sort of thing that anybody who's ever left home can identify with, and it helped me come to terms with some goodbyes I'll probably need to say soon. I might leave the Bay Area this year — and maybe move to the other side of the US — but I haven't told many people I'm close to yet. The truth is, much like Clara, I'm scared. Especially in these leering, apocalyptic times, I can't stop wondering if temporary goodbyes will suddenly turn permanent. I don't want to say goodbye, or even "later", but I also realise that's a selfish impulse. It's way rougher on people if you just spring it on them and then disappear. You've gotta give them time to say their goodbyes, too.
Leaving Lyndow will only last you an hour, tops, but it's worth it. You can grab it on Steam.