The miserable journey of a broken man. The tagline to Lisa: The Painful RPG certainly lives up to the short description that it gives itself. I’m hugely late to the party when it comes to this game so consider this a bit of a retro review into this incredible gaming experience that, spoiler alert, I am already recommending to anyone who is interested in the genre. I will also briefly mention Lisa: The Joyful which is the short extra DLC story that takes place after the original game finishes and I suggest you get together so you can understand the whole experience.
The story of Lisa is actually the second in a trilogy of games with the first (appropriately titled Lisa: The First) being a delve into the psyche of an abused girl known as Lisa. This entry however focuses on Brad, Lisa’s sister, who is attempting to survive a rather unique apocalypse in which not only has the land been destroyed and resources have become barren but interestingly all women in the world have completely vanished. This just leaves the last scraps of men on the world with no way to repopulate the earth and doomed to die off eventually. Brad however one day finds an infant in the middle of nowhere and upon returning to his friends they all come to the startling realisation that this was indeed a girl, the last girl. Brad takes it upon himself to raise the girl as his daughter and names her Buddy. Eventually events take place that will have him leaving his home and friends to travel the wasteland in search of his adopted daughter. I don’t want to mention too much as this is certainly a story-heavy game which needs to be experienced first hand in order to get the most out of it. One thing this story does better than most games I have played recently is giving us a protagonist who will do awful things and yet you still end up liking them. Actually all of the characters you will meet in this unique and weird apocalypse are distinct and memorable with intricate backstories and fun/terrifying personalities. Story is most certainly a high point in this game and combined with the very interesting setting for an apocalypse and you have something truly unique in the post-apocalyptic genre which is extremely commendable. Joyful is more of a story that focuses on Buddy and is concerned with explaining a lot of the lore surrounding this world alongside a personal journey which I don’t think hits as many high notes as the predecessor but is still nonetheless an amazing experience.
The Presentation in Lisa is rather simplistic on first glances. The game was made in RPG Maker but if you are at all familiar with games made in that engine this looks and plays extremely differently to the typical type of RPG Maker games. For starters this plays in a flat 2D perspective and has a distinct art style that goes for a cartooney yet grim design to make this world feel a lot more bleak and yet fantastical in certain elements. In one scene you might have a man commiting suicide from depression and yet in another you will have Brad shoot a fireball from his hands. This strange contrast of graphical design choices is also reflected in the tone of the game which goes from horrifically bleak to absolutely hilarious with the flip of a switch. While some may see this as a negative I actually find it extremely well done as the funny moments provide some well needed reprieve from the horribleness that you will encounter in the story. The designs of the characters and enemies are also extremely well done with a lot of care and design going into each and every person you meet whether they are a party member or a strong boss. The sound design is rather simplistic and I feel it matches the post-apocalyptic feel well however the music is on a whole other level. It’s not your typical heavy metal type affair with most games in this genre but instead goes for a strange mix of trumpet solos, heavy bass, hip-hop and synthesised music that works amazingly well in the battle sequences. While some of the overworlds do feel a bit simplistic, with most of the game having mountain terrain or cave backgrounds, there are certainly unique locales which when combined with the people you meet has each area of the game feeling distinct. One thing is for certain though, I will be listening to a lot of the music from this game while on the bus for the near future as I adore the soundtrack so much.
The gameplay consists of two elements, exploration of the overworld and turn-based RPG combat. Getting around the world takes certain elements of platformer and puzzle games into account as Brad can only travel up and down by jumping up certain planes on hill ridges or such. Fall damage is also something you can suffer from or you can even die if you fall off the edge of a cliff. This makes exploration have an element of danger to it alongside of course meeting psychos and hazards which can affect your party. This section also has you complete tasks or quests to get items and/or party members who can help you out in combat. When things start getting hairy you can rely on people who will travel alongside you either by just buying them as mercenaries or helping them with their problems. This is perhaps where the combat in Lisa shines the best as there are so many characters to choose from and they all have their own unique classes and skills it’s absurd. For an example I had one party member who was an archer and focused on poison damage and critical hits while I also had another who was just a drunkard who actually turned out to be incredibly powerful by debuffing the enemy by spitting on them and giving team-wide healing. These characters help to shake up the typical turn-based RPG mechanics and make fighting in this game extremely fun. Brad too has his own unique form of combat which takes elements from fighting games by having you enter combos when it is your turn to perform certain attacks which can lead to either extra damage or other effects. Another massive emphasis Lisa puts on the player is how choices can really affect them. As this is a harsh wasteland you need to be prepared to have yourself hurt and for things to be unfair. You could be wandering to a new town but then in the next instance you could be mugged by a group who take all of your things and leave you with absolutely nothing. This also plays into certain story aspects of the game which have you making extremely harsh choices on both your own playstyle and that of your party members and is genuinely the first time I have ever felt so conflicted about choices that I had to step away from my desk momentarily to get some clarity as to what I should do.
Another big aspect of both the gameplay and in fact the story is the use of a drug in this wasteland called Joy. Joy, when taken, makes the user feel nothing at all which in terms of the lore is how a lot of the surviving men have taken to deal with the horrifying reality of the situation they have found themselves in. Brad is in fact a Joy addict and this ties directly into the gameplay of combat. Brad can take pills of Joy to give himself a full heal and an incredible power boost which will make a lot of fights trivial when used. However the massive negative of doing this is Brad (and sometimes other party members if they are Joy users) will suffer from withdrawal which makes their physical attacks deal no damage and their stats will be extremely reduced until the effects eventually wear off. This unique blend of storytelling by physically showing us what happens to these poor addicts and how this destroys them both mentally and physically is a huge plus to the game and another reason why this is one of the most fascinating and unique post-apocalyptic worlds I have ever encountered.
After all is said and done I still stand by my original statement that you should go buy and play both Lisa the Broken and Joyful as this is an extremely interesting hidden gem of a game that I don’t believe has gotten nearly as much attention as it should have had. The game very clearly wears it’s Earthbound inspirations on it’s heart and the love and attention this game gives off really shows just how much the creator put into this fantastic game. Lisa appropriately broke me when I finished it and it very much is an experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It’s a cheap game, go and buy it right now if you are at least the slightest bit interested in the RPG genre, you will thank me later.