Taking note of the subtitle ‘The Painful RPG’ ascribed to this 2014 indie sleeper hit, one may be forgiven for thinking of it as just another catchy tagline, superficially given to a game to increase its marketability. In this instance though, the label is not only apt, but horrifyingly literal. This game is painful, both for the inhabitants of its world and for the person playing it. Yet the biggest surprise of all is that this is not a bad thing.
It may admittedly be hard to sell people on a game which promises to be a painful experience; but that’s exactly what Austen Jorgensen (aka Dingaling) accomplished in his Earthbound inspired, post-apocalyptic RPG. While what has led to this apocalypse is not explicitly addressed, the results are as such: the entire female civilisation has been wiped out, half the remaining population is hooked on an emotion-neutralising drug called Joy and the world has been set upon by strange, mutated human monstrosities. Without women about, the human population is inevitably doomed to extinction, and a hyper-aggressive perversion has overtaken the rest of the population, to the point where the game’s main currency is not money nor some form of rare metal, but dirty magazines.
It may admittedly be hard to sell people on a game which promises to be a painful experience; but that’s exactly what Austen Jorgensen (aka Dingaling) accomplished in his Earthbound inspired, post-apocalyptic RPG
Enter Brad, the player-controlled protagonist with a rough past and rougher future who, in the game’s introduction, finds a baby in the wilderness which just so happens to be a girl. Raising the girl, whom he names Buddy, away from the eyes of the world with his three childhood friends Rick, Sticky and Cheeks. This is until is one day when Brad is forced to journey the perverted wastelands of Olathe when the secret is let out and Buddy is kidnapped.
Unlike most post-apocalyptic RPGs however; such as your Fallouts and Metros, LISA incorporates a whole new layer of realism to its gameplay. The world is bare, depraved and, most importantly, unforgiving. Resting anywhere comes with the chance of getting robbed, beaten, kidnapped or set upon by any one of Mother Nature’s cruel creatures. Brad himself is a Joy addict, and as such suffers from withdrawal without it, which mitigates your stats severely, and you have to choose whether or not to worsen his addiction or suffer the withdrawal.
Most importantly, however, people die. Not just the usual, scripted RPG deaths, or the enemies you need to fight either. There’s a reason that your party can grow up to 30 members; many of them will not survive. Some may be killed by the vicious mutants, some may be kidnapped and killed if ransom isn’t paid, some may grow depressed and abandon your venture and some may simply fall victim to other random events of the wasteland. Worst of all, however, some may be killed by your own hands, as this game forces some of the most brutally tough choices ever seen in gaming. Kill a friend or lose your items. Cut off Brad’s arm, hampering the main character’s combat abilities, or lose your entire party. These choices will crush you.
The absurdist humour of the game is a stellar blend with its bleaker overarching tone, and the aggressive hyper-masculinity of the world that at times leads to some of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments I’ve ever had gaming.
That’s not to say that LISA is a wholly sombre and depressing affair. The absurdist humour of the game is a stellar blend with its bleaker overarching tone, and the aggressive hyper-masculinity of the world that at times leads to some of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments I’ve ever had gaming. LISA is truly a tragicomedy in game form. Everything from its wholly ‘uncanny valley’ visual presentation of characters and creatures to Dingaling’s beyond phenomenal and unique soundtrack, taking influences from trap, trip-hop, metal and a variety of other bizarre blends, helps to set a tone which could only be equated with this game. There’s a reason why LISA has gained such a cult following, to the point where there are dozens of fangames being made in its style. This game is simply fantastic, and one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had from the medium.