It is for good reason that Lisa is known as “the painful RPG”. Few games can even imagine matching the dark and mature themes presented by Lisa. This indie side-scrolling RPG provides an absolutely brutal experience that will be remembered by anybody who plays it. Furthermore, it makes a fantastic use of gaming as an interactive storytelling medium.
Lisa tells the tale of post-apocalyptic world in which the much of the world’s population, including all the women, are wiped in a mysterious “white flash”. The main character, Brad Armstrong, finds a baby girl that he decides to protect and raise in this hostile world. Through flashbacks the player learns that Brad was a victim of gruesome child abuse and currently abuses a drug called Joy to dull his senses. Eventually Brad and his daughter get split up, and Brad sets out after her, slaughtering anyone who stands in his way. This is not a happily ever after story, and it is filled with violence, abuse, trauma, and atrocities. It highlights the cyclical nature of abuse and trauma as those affected in turn affect those around them. Furthermore, there are a plethora of difficult decisions to be made with immediate consequences. Moreover, Brad constantly feels the effects of Joy and the players perception is skewed by Brad’s Joy addiction. This is not a game for the faint-hearted, it is brutal, unforgiving, and pulls no punches.
Even with such heavy story, Lisa manages to lighten the experience with its other elements. First and foremost, Lisa makes phenomenal use of humor. It is a filled to the brim with jokes, references, and funny situations. At the same time, the game does not punch the player in the face with its jokes, most of the games humor is derived from the ridiculous cast of characters. For instance, Beastborn is a potential party member who was raised among animals throws deer at his opponents as his attack. Other than the characters, there is a lot of cleverly written jokes that will no doubt make you smile. There are plenty of instances of dark humor as well, befitting to the bleak world of Lisa. The grim imagery and dark themes of Lisa is coupled with levity and wit. Furthermore, Lisa has an absolutely stellar soundtrack that is equal parts disturbing and unsettling which fits perfect for its battle themes. All around, Lisa is more than just a depressing story, it shows maturity in more ways in one and fills a void for RPGs targeted at older audiences.
The weakest element of Lisa is without a doubt its gameplay. The combat and exploration are supplemented by the games humor, but it is still evident that the gameplay can be fairly boring and repetitive. The key to making turn-based interesting is to make it feel strategic in some form. Unfortunately, in Lisa I found myself just mostly spamming my best abilities as often as possible. You have 4 party members in battle at all times, but I never really found any interesting tactics other than repeatedly using my highest damage attacks or stun-locking enemies continuously. Moreover, some enemies have a ton of health and left me wondering “when is this guy going to finally die”. The final frustration was that a handful of enemies have 1-shot-kill moves that instead of just knocking out party members like normal, these special attacks will permanently kill your team.
Even though the gameplay was mediocre, Lisa was carried by its witty writing and gripping, depressing story. There are few games that invoke the emotions that Lisa portrays. This really is a must play for RPG lovers who are looking for a more dark and mature game. Lisa tells the story of a broken man and highlights the cycles of abuse that are perpetuated by trauma. Lisa hits hard and it is an unforgettable game.