LISA, the painful RPG created by Dingaling Productions, is a side-scrolling, turn-based story set in a future where all women have mysteriously disappeared. You follow the story of Brad and his gang, trying to find Buddy; the last remaining girl. Early in the game, Buddy runs away, and you must find her before hoards of roaming marauders and Mad Max-inspired raiders do.
Before I go deeper into this review, I would like to state that the contents of this game contain very mature themes. <Trigger> Warnings of Sexual Assault and potential violence toward minors.
The design of LISA is truly unique and amazing. While offering incredible storytelling, the game subverts classic RPG mechanics, making for a truly twisted experience. For instance, fellow teammates (and even portions of yourself) can be lost or traded away during in-game events. Sometimes this happens for “beneficial” reasons, but more often it’s because the game just wants to kick you a little harder while you’re already down.
One thing LISA creates very well is stress. I couldn’t play for more than an hour at a time; the story’s weight was too much to handle. I would have to take breaks and come back later, refreshed. If it wasn’t the story bringing me down, it was the gameplay. The two feed off each other; intertwined into a perfect mix of insanity, victory, and hope.
While playing through LISA, I managed to skip a ton of content. Either because I just missed an area completely, or I was too stressed to continue in a particular direction. There are a million different items, party members, and power-ups to collect, and I managed to avoid most of them. However, that means that going back through the game would be a pretty different experience. Of course, the majority of twists and turns wouldn’t have the same effect upon replay. Now that I think about it, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. You could enjoy the game in a different way, without being punched in the stomach every ten seconds from the sheer bleakness of everything.
The game’s mechanics are very difficult to get through. It’s one of the hardest turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played. Now I’ve always been notoriously bad at this kind of game, so LISA might be a lot easier for RPG veterans. The real difficulty of the game lies in its complex resource management system. Everything is currency; from your actual money, which takes the form of nudey-mags, to your very body parts. By the end, I was out of everything useful. I literally couldn’t beat some of the last bosses because I lacked the resources. Playing through again, I would definitely do a better job in this department.
Luckily, the music in this game is incredible. From dark, depressing scenes where you are begging for your life, to lighter moments just prior to the begging; there is a perfect piece to fit every occasion. I remember one particular song that’s still stuck in my head. It played whenever I came across a group of men doing something particularly Bro-ish, like pumping iron at the makeshift gym. It’s a soundtrack that accelerated the mood of the game; heightened or lowered your feelings to an extreme. It’s a soundtrack I would listen to on its own, and I do while working out…I can’t help it.
The music wasn’t the only thing about LISA that fit the mood. The visuals were also spot on. The 16-bit graphics were carefully selected to put the player in a certain mindset; to bring on feelings of nostalgia and retro-ness. The game then took those feelings and completely blindsided me with all the violence. It can get surprisingly gruesome for a style that doesn’t intrinsically lend itself to gore. The game also performs the interesting trick of keeping changes to the character models and scenery; permanently.
The controls of the game also subvert the classic model. In combat, for instance, each character has their own abilities, fighting styles, and overall setup. It takes a fair bit of time to learn how a character actually works. The main character, Brad has a default set of enabled abilities. But you can choose to disable one or more, affording more power to those you leave enabled. It makes combat interesting and inventive.
At its core, LISA is such a unique experience; one that I really haven’t seen before in video games. It’s difficult. It’s unfair. But it’s so unapologetic and unwavering in its delivery and purpose that I can’t help but respect the shit out of it. It’s honestly a game that’s hard to describe. When I talk about it, it seems like I’m saying mostly negative things. This game is so steeped in negativity, that in the depths of stress and hopelessness, there is solace; if that makes sense. Plus, the comical moments are such a joy that they almost provide relief from those feelings.
This is not a game for everyone. Hell, it might not be a game for anyone. But LISA is aware, and she doesn’t care. It’s for those who want to experience something truly painful. It’s not what I would call “fun”, rather it’s an experience that I am better for. If you are the type of person who uses games to escape, you may want to stay clear of LISA‘s outstretched arms. This game is especially not for people who are easily offended, or for those who have trouble processing dark themes.
As stated at the beginning of this review, this game has huge trigger warnings. I found it to be an incredible experience, and if you think you can handle it, do it. But player, beware. LISA will take you places from whence you may return…changed.
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