LISA: Definitive Edition is a revamp of the cult-classic RPG from Dingaling Productions, adding a bit more flare and layers of polish to an already remarkable gaming experience. But before we go any further, I urge you to play LISA. If you love video games and are passionate about the medium, you should experience LISA as unspoiled as possible.
WARNING: LISA: Definitive Edition deals with heavy topics such as depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, child abuse, body horror, sexual assault, and other thematic elements.
In a nutshell, LISA is an RPG from 2014 set in a very manly post-apocalypse that dares to explore topics most video games won’t touch. You play as Brad Armstrong, a drug addict, and master in the way of the fist, as he takes on gangs and traverses the brutal wasteland of Olathe in search of his daughter – the last girl alive – whom others believe could be the key to saving humanity.
- Developer – Dingaling Productions
- Platforms – Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
- Release Date – July 18, 2023
- Price – $24.99/€24.99
LISA: The Definitive Alt RPG
This comparison may feel overused, but LISA: The Painful is most similar to another cult-classic indie title, Undertale. Where traditional RPGs may resonate more with Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, the LISA franchise falls into the “weirdo” alternative indie RPG genre.
However, our story doesn’t start with the contents of the Definitive Edition. LISA began in 2012 as an RPG Maker title, LISA: THE FIRST. In It, you play the titular character Lisa as she attempts to cope with the abuse from her father, Marty Armstrong. The constant abuse ultimately resulted in Lisa taking her own life, which is a major plot point that haunts Brad throughout LISA: The Painful.
After the apocalypse leaves the remaining residents of Olathe without women, LISA: The Painful starts with Brad coming across an abandoned baby. It’s a female, and Brad sees her as a shot at redemption. His mission is to preserve her life and keep her safe from the perverted demands of the world she was born into, something he failed to achieve for his sister Lisa.
Lo and behold, the child – named Buddy – is kidnapped some years after Brad takes her in. It’s alluded that Brad was out on a Joyful bender at the time of her kidnapping, but this doesn’t dissuade his drug use. Determined to keep her safe, Brad sets out to take on Rando and his gang for fear Buddy will have to endure the same abuse as Lisa.
I won’t lie; I teared up multiple times while playing through LISA: Definitive Edition. The intro sequence of Brad raising Buddy was a notable tear-filled moment, which might be weird to read when looking at the game with no context.
And yes, LISA does tackle some very uncomfortable topics that could leave a lot of gamers feeling kind of grossed out. But it mixes in enough humor and wholesome content to make those moments feel far between. I laughed harder than I cried, oftentimes at the misfortune of others.
We won’t go into the storyline of LISA: The Joyful as it’s littered with spoilers from the beginning. Just know the DLC is equally worth playing, and you likely won’t want to stop once you reach the end of The Painful.
LISA: The Gameplay
As a parent, Lisa’s storyline was compelling enough to hook me and keep me playing. I couldn’t imagine attempting to raise my daughter in Olathe. I’m already stressed out enough when her aunts take her to the water park or I lose sight of her for a split-second in the grocery store, but not every gamer is a helicopter dad or can relate to those feelings.
Fear not, the gameplay is also fantastic. It’s a side-scrolling RPG with platforming elements and a ridiculous combat system. Your traditional classes are replaced with specialized characteristics. Where Bo Wyatt may be a Bard wielding a guitar, Harvey Alibastor is a Lawyer who uses a submachine gun.
There are 25 possible companions, each with unique movesets and abilities. Most of these are optional and require you to complete a side quest to recruit. But they also have their own backstories, which you can learn more about by lighting campfires and fraternizing with your party.
That said, these pow-wows can have repercussions. While sharing a few drinks and talking about the times before the apocalypse can be wholesome, they’re also moments where Brad can get his party members hooked on Joy – the drug of choice in Olathe.
Joy is a perfect segue into LISA’s status effects. While many RPGs have status effects – burn, poison, etc. – LISA has a unique set on top of the more traditional ones. There are Crying and Rage, which either raise or lower attack power. Brad can gain the withdrawal effect if he hasn’t taken enough Joy, rendering him almost useless in battle. Yet, taking the drug gives him the Joy buff, which maxes out his health and critical hit. Each companion has different moves that can inflict these status effects on enemies or party members.
At first, enemies are just punching bags. You don’t have to use strategy to tear through Area 1. But shortly after the Men’s Hair Club, you’ll learn that punching isn’t going to be enough. You have to use the game’s wacko systems to subdue your enemies. And with save points being limited (in Pain Mode), boss fights can feel just as stressful as any Dark Souls encounter or Destiny 2 raid.
Especially when some bosses have a permadeath move hiding up their sleeve, which can permanently kill one of your party members.
And that’s not even touching on the ridiculous levels of stress players can feel while simply traversing the overworld. When you walk into a house, there’s always a chance you’ll get mugged on your way out. Party members almost dead and need to rest? Well, I hope you wake up in the morning with all of your stuff cause there’s no guarantee someone won’t come and kidnap your entire party.
Players are often presented with encounters that force them to weigh the pros and cons of the outcome while a party member’s life hangs in the balance. And the trade-offs range widely from “give me all your inventory, or I kill Terry” to “give me all of your money, or I raid this town” to “let me cut off your right arm, giving you a permanent stat decrease and locking you out of using certain moves, or I kill one of your most valuable companions.”
Mind you, there’s no guarantee that the party member won’t die later to a snake bite, that Brad won’t get them hooked on drugs, effectively turning them into a mutant, or that they won’t shoot themselves when you’re forced to play Russian roulette.
LISA is punishing. It’s grueling. But it’s as addictive as Joy, and you won’t want to stop, regardless of what horrible fate awaits you and your party members.
LISA: The Pain Mode
When you start LISA, you’re given a choice. Do you think you can handle the challenge of Pain Mode, or should you play it safe and stick to Normal Mode? The answer is obviously Normal Mode because in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, who needs more challenge- but are you really a gamer if you don’t go all in?
Pain Mode is seen as the correct way to play LISA. It adds additional content to the game, more boss encounters, harder fights, and new items. But there is a tradeoff.
Save points explode after interacting with them, even if you choose not to save. This means you can only save once in each spot, and save points tend to be few and far between. With a game as brutal as LISA, this adds a ridiculous amount of difficulty and stress.
For instance, there is a save point right before the fight with Sweet Tea Rakeem and Vic Cherry. I threw my head at this fight several times before realizing I didn’t have the right team comp, but I had already saved, and this was the last save available to me until I got past them.
I had to choose whether I would continue to fail miserably and hope I could take them down, or I could take a 45-minute detour to recruit Mad Dog, swap my party around, buy better gear, and reattempt the fight. If I die, I have to redo everything. It’s a time sink that I have to invest in to stand a chance against Rakeem and Cherry, which is only a real issue in Pain Mode.
This doesn’t account for any accidental deaths along the way. I mean, I could kill a whole gang of Rando men in order to gain access to a generator filled with gasoline, only to walk off a cliff and lose all of my progress…
Pain Mode makes every moment in LISA as stressful as the last, but it offers one of the most engaging gaming experiences in recent memory.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into how amazing the game’s soundtrack is or how the Definitive Edition adds a noticeable layer of polish to nearly every aspect of the game, or how you don’t need fancy realistic game engines to tell incredibly profound and heart-wrenching stories.
LISA: Definitive Edition is a game you know will be a masterpiece from the moment you start playing. Its gross landscapes and unsettling story deserve to be praised. I’m hooked on LISA, and I want to play it again and again and again, and you should too.
10 / 10
|+ Incredible story, world, & characters|
|+ Combat system is robust yet easy to grasp|
|+ Every decision has repercussions and feels important|
|+ Soundtrack will have you vibing, crying, and stressing|
|– Story beats may be too heavy or triggering for some players|
Gamepur team received a PC code for Steam for the purpose of this review.