LISA: The Painful RPG. Right off the bat that name already makes you pause. Who’s Lisa? What do they mean by a “Painful” RPG? What kind of game am I looking at? All questions that ran through my mind when I found this game on Steam. But the art style looked interesting, the concept sounded fun, and I’ve always been a fan of traditional turn based combat so I thought I’d give it a try.

LISA is a quirky, dark, post-apocalyptic side-scrolling (quite the pedigree) rpg by the aptly named indie developer Dingaling Productions. LISA is their first commercially released title, the only other being an older, freeware title under the same name released a while back. Going in, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I hadn’t played their earlier game and hadn’t kept up with any of the internet buzz so I went in completely blind. What I found though, was a delightfully fresh and charming RPG and an excitement to see what else this company could come up with.

Story
LISA: The Painful RPG is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a vaguely-defined event known as “The Great Flash” killed all the world’s women. Mutants and strange beasts roam the land while the survivors while away the twilight of the human race fighting, drinking, taking a meth-like superdrug known as “Joy”, and bartering for goods and services with the world’s only remaining currency, dirty magazines.  You play as Brad, a balding martial-arts master with a drug problem and a checkered past. The game opens with our protagonist as a child taking a beating in his friend’s place by some local bullies. After which you slump through the neighborhood to your dilapidated, disgusting house in which your father berates you for getting beaten up, throws a bottle at you, and sends you to your room. Already the game touches on and foreshadows a lot of the prevailing themes. Abuse, neglect and doing whatever it takes to protect your friends even at the expense of your own well-being.

Shitty Home-Life

Paints a rosy picture.

Fast forward to current-day. Brad, now a grown man, is out in the wasteland when he hears a cry in the distance. He runs to the noise only to see a baby in the middle of nowhere with nobody in sight. Brad takes the baby back to his hut where he lives with his old friends, who like him, are completely taken aback at the site of an infant. The real kicker though, it’s a baby girl. Imagine yourself in this position. An apocalyptic event killed the world’s women years ago. There are no more children and realistically, no future for the human race. Now, you have a crying baby girl at your hut. Our protagonist and his friends don’t know what to do. Keep her? Hide her? Give her to some warlord who might have a better idea on what to do? No, Brad decides this baby is a second chance to do something meaningful with his life. He will raise and protect the girl from the predations of a world with no other women. They proceed to dig a basement for their hut to hide and raise the girl in, you’re then treated to a montage of them digging the basement, raising the girl, and Brad trying to kick his addiction to the drug Joy. Brad is out one day trying to recover pills he had thrown off a cliff in an attempt to kick his habit but upon returning he finds the hut in ruins, one of his friends stabbed and dying, and the girl missing. His friend before expiring utters only one phrase “The secret’s out.”.

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Welcome to the world of LISA; a world in which a man must and will go to any length to find and save his daughter. He must interact with and fight through mutants, monsters, and the various factions who all want to find the last girl on Earth. But how far will you go to accomplish this goal. LISA is called “The Painful RPG” for a reason. This is not a shining knight saves the princess fairy tale. You will be forced to make many tough decisions over the course of the game. What’s more important to you; all your possessions and money or your friend’s life? An innocent man or your own limb. LISA is unique in that the decisions have long-ranging and permanent consequences that aren’t only reflected in the story but in the gameplay itself. Decisions made can and will affect your character’s stats and abilities and the makeup of your party.

What follows from here is a funny, dark, gritty, adventure through the post-apocalyptic world. Along the way you’ll make friends, make hard decisions, learn about Brad and the world at large, and question the motives of your character and his quest. The writing and overall atmosphere of this game is a fresh breath of air in a genre oversaturated with cliches and tired stereotypes. The comedy and dialogue is smart, witty, and dark but not dark for it’s own sake. This really shines in the wide cast of characters available to recruit throughout the game. There are 30 different characters you can meet and choose from throughout your journey. All of which feature their own distinct playing style, personality, and background. From the sad beginning, to the show-stopping (no spoilers!) ending, this game had me enthralled the entire way. For it’s excellent, original story that doesn’t resort to tired tropes and cliches, LISA gets a 10/10 for story.

Gameplay
Amazing story, decisions that actually have a tangible effect on the game and your party; there has to be a catch, right? Nope! I’m very happy to say that despite being a traditional, turn based rpg LISA actually brings a lot of complexity and choice to the table. It is a traditional turn based rpg like you’d see in the older Final Fantasy games. You and the enemy queue up actions and take turns bopping on each other based on how fast each individual is. Where the game gets it’s complexity and depth though is a very wide range of abilities, status effects, and a huge cast of unique characters. The wide array of characters lets you build a party that caters to your tastes. Want your balding martial arts master to be accompanied by a stabbing man-goose and a drunk archer? You can do that! A lot of characters, including the main protagonist, have abilities which can be “dialed in”. In which instead of just picking an ability off a list, you have to punch in the right combination of keys which makes your character beat up on the enemy and do the punched in move. The game is great in that it offers a lot of flexibility. Not only in character or ability choice but in how you play it. Players can either dial in the moves for appropriate characters or if you don’t feel like memorizing or referring to the ability page all the time, you can just select them like in a normal rpg. In doing so you lose out on some bonus damage but I like that they give you the choice.

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As far as difficulty goes LISA can get pretty challenging, especially in the beginning. Thankfully though the game isn’t too grind heavy. While there are opportunities for you to beef up and level up your character before moving on, it’s not always necessary to do so if you just want to progress the game. The level of challenge stays pretty consistent. Even after you get your ideal party assembled, and have the knack of the game’s abilities, damage types, and status effects down it still throws curveballs at you. One aspect of the challenge I didn’t expect but was happy to see is that certain bosses and optional bosses have the possibility of killing your secondary party members. Given what you face throughout the game, and the “painful” nature alluded to in the title, I’m glad to see them stick to this theme. That it’s a harsh, unforgiving wasteland that can and will take the lives of other people. This also is reflected that there are healing spots outside of the Inns in the game that can heal you but also come with the risk of someone coming in the night and messing with your party while you slumber. Maybe somebody gets kidnapped, maybe somebody takes some of your stuff, that’s the risk you assume when you sleep outside, unguarded, in Mad Max type times.

For an RPG, there’s also a good deal of replayability. Besides being able to assemble different parties based off the 30 companions in the game, there is also a “Pain” level difficulty option. The pain option makes it so that each save point only works once and makes the enemies stronger. Which really makes it hard to mitigate some of the random consequences that can befall your party throughout the game. There are also optional challenges you can do that unlock extra cutscenes and story which not only help flesh the world out more but encourage multiple playthroughs. Taking my time, it took me about 10ish hours to beat the game. I plan on going back to it in the future to unlock the extra stuff, so I think this game has a lot of value. For the deep gameplay, solid mechanics, and ample replay value; LISA gets a 10/10 for gameplay.

Graphics

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For a sprite-based rpg, LISA looks pretty good. The art style, though somewhat reminiscent of Earthbound, is unique. The assets of the game are well defined and well polished. When scaled up on my full HD monitor, the graphics remained sharp and colorful. It works really well for the game. The atmosphere and setting is portrayed in a manner which feels very alive and authentic. A lot of the things and characters in the game have little animations which really helps with immersion. It’s one thing to see characters in a game just idling and walking left and right but when they crane their head at you, or react to an aspect of your character, is when you really feel like a part of the world and not just a game character. The graphics are complemented by a well composed soundtrack which also ties the atmosphere of the game together. It’s not fancy, and it’s not going to blow you away but it looks great and fits the game perfectly. For graphics, LISA gets a 9/10.

Conclusion
So, should you buy LISA? Yes; stop reading this review and go on steam so you can experience this wonderful story and world. This game takes you on a rollercoaster of emotion as you go through not only the internal struggle of depression and drug addiction but the heated crusade of a man trying to save his daughter. LISA has a really well-written story. The story is a breath of fresh air in a gaming environment sometimes lacking in depth and nuance. The world is unique, the characters are compelling, and the problems they face relatable. Tack on solid, varied gameplay that encourages and supports multiple playthroughs and a unique art style and you have yourself an amazing game. It currently retails on steam for 9.99. That’s less than a meal at a restaurant, if this game or genre appeals to you in the least, you owe it to yourself to go on steam and buy this game. It is a phenomenal value and currently sits on top as my game of the year. For it’s all-around amazing presentation and gameplay; LISA gets a 95/100.

 

Overall Score
95 %

Story 100%
Gameplay 100%
Graphics 90%

About The Author

Big fan of all things Tabletop Gaming, Video Games, and Science Fiction/Horror. I also build and fix computers.

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