Trigger warning: This game includes themes of physical, emotional, and sexual parental abuse. It also includes themes of sexual abuse, drug addiction, and suicide. And although none of those themes are graphically depicting the violence in this game fluctuates frantically from slapstick to sickening.
It’s the end of the world. Every woman in Olathe has been killed in an apocalyptic disaster known only as the White Flash. You play as Brad, a karate master with a strong body but a vulnerable soul. While he’s wandering the wastes, looking for a good place to take his drug of choice, Joy, he finds a baby lying in a bundle on the ground. He takes it back home and discusses with his three friends what is to be done with the child. Upon discovering that it’s a girl — almost definitely the last girl in all of Olathe — Brad vows to keep her safe no matter what, citing that this is his ‘second chance’. Brad names the child Buddy and they live a good life, considering the circumstances. When Buddy is about 14 she is kidnapped from their home. Knowing that the world has been without women for nearly two decades Brad is acutely aware of what will become of her. Brad sets out to return her to safety and battle his inner demons along the way.
The Lisa trilogy was developed by Dingaling Productions, a studio comprised of Austen Jorgensen and whoever he needs to finish the job. Lisa: The First was created by Dingaling in 2012. A short game jammed into RPG maker depicting Lisa’s life. Jorgensen then launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover expenses of Lisa: The Painful in November of 2013. It requested $7,000 and made over twice that much finishing at $16, 492. It included such rewards as an art book, the soundtrack, and the ability to design a gang, party member, NPC, or Villager. Having reached the $10,000 mark Jorgensen agreed to continue the story with DLC known as Lisa: The Joyful.
Lisa: The Painful was released on December 15th, 2014. It’s competition was I Am Bread (PC), Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PC), and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (WiiU).
The first thing I heard about this game was Woolie from Two Best Friends lamenting that he accidentally chose Pain Mode and that Pain Mode makes the save points explode after use. It was at that point I realized what this game was going to be like. It was going to be about suffering, pain, and incredibly difficult choices. A game that demands tactical thinking if Brad and his pals want to get as many of them out alive. The thought was so daunting that I swallowed my pride and played through in normal mode — The Resident Evil typewriter ribbons always turned me off but exploding save points is on a whole other level. From the very beginning this game fostered an atmosphere of despair. Offering curious situations and dark comedy that allowed me to laugh through the pain long enough to keep going.
Lisa is a turn based RPG with platforming elements in the 2D overworld map. Brad explores the land looking for loot, new companions, and whatever he needs to continue down the trail of corpses Buddy’s captors are leaving behind.
Combat is an interesting experience that drunkenly stumbles between incredibly dangerous enemies and some opponents that literally cannot deal damage. Opponents choose attacks randomly from their lists of moves while your characters unleash their techniques with SP — a system very much like the classic mana system — and TP — a system very much like the limit break system. Point being, get your numbers high, try to keep them that way, and try to fight tactically because this game has a lot of limited resources. If you run out of healing items or firebombs there may be no way to restock!
When it comes to Brad’s companions, they come in various shapes and sizes to complement your playstyle. Most of them are useless but excel in certain areas. It’s the player’s responsibility to make their uselessness effective somehow. The big thing about them is that they can all die at various points in the game. Whether an enemy decapitates them or a sadistic gang leader is holding them hostage blind luck or player choice can put your beloved companions into the grave. Point being, there’s a big difference between knocked out and dead.
When I explained this game to one of my friends they described the actions of the characters in the game as cave-manish and I think that’s a perfect description. The men who wander these wastes are silly, violent, and mostly very stupid. The behavior of these characters depict toxic masculinity at its finest.
The soundtrack in this game might not be conventionally listenable but it compliments the the game perfectly. The soundtrack is distinctly Lisa and I cannot imagine Lisa’s soundtrack being anything else. Between moody atmosphere, bizarre noises, and warbling synth it plays an integral part in crafting Olathe.
Brad, and some of his companions, are addicts to the drug known as Joy. Joy makes the user feeling nothing at all — and to a haunted man like Brad, feeling nothing is bliss. It also refills the users HP and SP in combat and gives them the buff, overjoyed, which significantly increases their damage and critical hit chance. Despite its positive effects, I bet that using it has negative consequences as well… just call it a hunch.
Dingaling doesn’t shy away from this game’s relation to Earthbound. Imagine if the darkness and humor ratios in Earthbound were reversed, leaving a dark and twisted world which occasionally transforms into a comic romp before its shocking and sickening return to reality.
This game’s design is often poor and unsatisfying but it was created that way on purpose. It’s part of the game’s thesis that these things be unsatisfying. This game is not a power fantasy, it’s designed to make you feel bad. Unlike Darkest’s Dungeon’s ‘greater good’ feelings when it comes to sending party members to their demise Lisa offers no empty platitudes. When you let someone die for your sake or any other the game let’s you know that it’s your fault and that you did it because you were selfish — whether for monetary gain or personal preservation it was your choice. To top it off the whole thing is filled with lose lose choices. There is no right option, there’s just your option. You’ve made your house, you have to live in it. It’s dissatisfying, but it’s not in the Kvetch section because it was made to be that way.
I know that Lisa’s design is made to be punishing but I find it incredibly frustrating that allies not participating in a combat get no experience points. It would be too powerful if they all got full xp regardless of participation but it would be great if they got some sort of runoff. Even if that comes at the expense of the normal party. I know it makes the game easier and less tedious but no one likes a grind of this caliber. I could send my outclassed party members to the Russian Roulette tournament but… I’d rather not.
Jumping off a cliff in the overworld is instant death. This might sound like a no -brainer and seem like a fun quirk but it’s actually really fucking annoying. When I’m walking around I have to be paranoid levels of careful around ropes next to cliffs. If my finger slips and I miss that rope Brad will jump gleeful into the welcome embrace of oblivion — destroying god knows how much progress. Which wouldn’t be so bad if nearly every rope wasn’t put perilously close to said cliffs. I know it’s part of the intentionally painful design but it just turns me into a wreck.
Lisa: The Painful is deliciously depressing, marvelously dark, and filled with reviving doses of humor. If you’re prepared to look into the cold, dark, unflinching, stupid eyes of the most monstrous aspects of humanity then I suggest you check Lisa out. For the low price of $10, it’s not even a risky investment. But I do warn, there are many parts of this game that are not fun, downright dissatisfying, and downright malicious. There are choices that will push your to the limits. Choices that show sometimes, being selfish is the ‘right thing’ to do.
Next Week: Lisa: The Joyful