A life-ruining experience indeed.
LISA is an interesting game. It's got an engaging combo-system, a plethora of quirky, expendable characters (and oh, the game loves to remind you that they're expendable), some serious choices that leave the player thinking, and is practically emitting dark themes from start to finish. I haven't got much to say that hasn't already been said already in the other reviews, but have two things to note: First of all, despite the choices the story remained linear. I know that it can be extremely difficult to write this type of story just cause of the sheer amount of writing, but still - the ending is still the same. Second of all, regarding spoilers. I came into the game even slightly spoiled by reading the TV Tropes page and that definitely impacted my game experience. I won't expend the details, but a certain recurring element that would've otherwise been "wtf is he hallucinating?" moments suddenly felt more common just because I understood them. So, word of warning if it isn't too late: LISA is best enjoyed with practically no knowledge of the game beforehand. It WILL leave an impact on you after you're done, though. That's for sure. Ultimately? LISA's like a drug, just like those little blue Joy pills. You know it's going to find some way to traumatize you, and yet you keep going back to it.
An incredible game, but...
The Lisa series is one of the best examinations of abuse to date. While there are many works that look at abuse, there are significantly less that talk about the truly negative aspects of it. Brad is shown to have PTSD from his trauma - he is violent, he is tortured psychologically, he hallucinates and has trouble discerning what is real. He adopts two children to redeem himself from his role in the suicide of his sister, but cannot give his children the good parenting they deserve due to his past. Dusty is not even acknowledged, and Brad loses patience with the curious Buddy, calling her an idiot, forcing her to kill to make her "stronger", and not allowing her to go outside. Brad's sole mission after finding Buddy was to keep her safe and to give her a real childhood, and in both instances, he fails. Buddy hates him and considers him the worst person in her life, and from her perspective, she is right. His love for her may have been genuine, but this does not justify the abuse. Though the player knows that Brad is trying his best and just can't overcome his past, Buddy can't know this. All she knows is the abuse he's given her, and she hates him for it. The most interesting part of all this is that the game validates both characters' experiences, not choosing sides. Most works show abuse as a simple bad experience, so it was a welcome departure by the Lisa games to show the truth of how a victim may turn out. Olathe is very interesting as well. Though the details of what happened to create it and how it all works are never specified, this is probably for the best, as it would be difficult to create such a scenario that would not seem farfetched or otherwise silly in a game that, despite its strange moments, is grounded in a gritty, realistic place. Buzzo becomes a much more interesting villain in the Joyful, where he becomes repentant after the horrible things he did to Brad, and becomes almost sympathetic as he seeks to redeem himself. His role in the creation of Olathe is left uncertain, aside from his peddling Joy, which makes him all the more fascinating. However, even the best games can have something missing. Though the story is solid, one area is left unaddressed - the fate of transgender people. LISA is very good about being diverse, and shows people of many races and explicitly includes gay characters, making it more realistic. There is, however, no mention of any trans people, and in a land where an entire gender was eradicated, this is problematic. An exploration of what the Flash meant for trans people would have been an interesting thing to analyze, and its lack of mention feels like a huge oversight. Though this is really the only fault story-wise, it's so significant given the scenario that it seems ridiculous it was not addressed. Despite this, however, the LISA series is still one of my favorite video games of all time, and deserves the highest praise. It's heavy, poignant, and above all, real. 9.5/10
Other games do it better.
The problem with "dark" games is that the examination of dark themes is a five-minute walk that takes hours to finish. Rape is bad. Sexual abuse is bad. Drug addiction is bad. Men are terrible. Women are a commodity. Did you read those three sentences? Good, now you don't actually have to play either of the Lisa games. If you're not the kind of person that loves dark stories about gratuitous rape and the victimization of women, and you don't hate men, skip this one and try Always Sometimes Monsters instead. It's not as deft with its art, but it doesn't indulge in anything it condemns, and the moral ambiguity is much more satisfying than "everything is terrible forever, fuck you".
Harsh, Cold and Painful.
LISA has always been a very interesting case, alot of people went into the game expecting it to be like Earthbound. Which was praised for its cozy, feel good writing and quirky humor; on retrospect, its the exact opposite. LISA is filled with Unnerving, Depressing writing and Pitch-Black Humor and numerous of Toxic themes such as Abuse, Rape and Murder. People wasn't expecting a retro styled 2D rpg to have content like this, which in turn drove people away from it, Leaving only those who enjoy a Earthbound-esque, Fist of the North Star-esque, Children of men-esque RPG's with wrestling and dark humor to enjoy it for all of what it had to offer. The game-play for RPG maker standards is enjoyable and workable. It is however considered to be rather difficult due to its habit to ambush the player with large groups of enemies with healing items being rare. A combo system allowed for your main character (and optional party members) allowed for some input during battles. The 30 party members are all well rounded with unique styles and characteristics; allowing for some customization during multiple playthoughs. The Permadeath aspect of the game does however does mean the player has to be cautious of bosses since you never know which boss will be able to kill off a party member, and during one part of the game, you are forced to participate in a mini game which can unfairly wipe out your whole party if you are unlucky, resorting to save scumming. Aside from that, gameplay is run of the mill. The story of LISA is what many people see in this game, A very harsh and home-hittingly deconstruction of the Papa-Wolf cliché, as the player is in control of Brad, who is determined to rescue his daughter by any means. Causing him to do and be subjected to hellish acts. Characters are surprisingly in-depth, allowing you to piece together what exactly happened to this world you are placed inside. Both games have an amazing soundtrack, giving a mix between pumping battle tracks, nice calming over-world themes or daunting ambiance. LISA is not for everyone. Its themes, its game-play difficulty and niche humor will drive some people off, but for those who enjoy that sort of game play and humor, will discover a rather unique heart-wrenching RPG with a story which will make you over look its unpolished and difficult design with awe.
A solid RPG in all the right areas
Story: Extremely dark and funny. Tackles some serious and adult themes with aplomb, and discusses the nature of a father-daughter relationship with more complexity than any game i've seen previously. The humor is also laced with Black Comedy, but is quite funny and comedic timing is spot on. 10/10 Design: Difficult by design. The combat is fast paced and brutal, often being pure fights for survival. Luck and tactics play a heavy role. The 30 recruit-able party members are all useful, funny and have their own roles to fulfill. Every one of them is a joy to use and find, and they make up a large portion of the games charm. The "sacrifice" system is worked in wonderfully, forcing the player to make hard decisions that they may not be comfortable with, but that's the point. LISA is designed to make you feel uncomfortable and filled with fear 85% of the time and by god does it. A lot of the RNG of the game can be tough to deal with and I can see many people getting frustrated with it, but it adds an element of tension. 8/10 Gameplay: The combat is extremely fun, with flashy sound-effects and funny abilities. The unique blend of side-scrolling action and combat makes the game very fun to play, and it's easy to see yourself getting sucked into the world of LISA for hours upon hours. 9/10 Presentation: While the graphics are all pixel-art and stuff, the effects, animations and sound effects really add to the style. The minimal animations also make the game feel like an old SNES game, which considering that Earthbound was an inspiration, makes sense. Of note is the soundtrack, which is fucking amazing and features some truly emotionally evocative and well-composed songs, full of all different kinds of moods and styles- you never know what you'll hear next. Really amazing stuff. 10/10 TOTAL: 9/10 Pros:
- challenging but fun combat
- fresh visual style
- 30 recruit-able party members
- amazing story
- really funny but also very disturbing
- RNG can be a hassle, and can frustrate people