Lisa: The Painful + Lisa: The Joyful Review
I don’t think I’ve ever played a game as brutal, anxiety inducing, and harsh as Lisa: The Painful. Throughout my play through I felt fear, unease and actual apprehension about going through with the story. Things were always unexpected, NPCs could either be enemies or neutral towards you and outside certain safe areas it was a bit of a gamble. It made any sort of sequence where you’d go around without encountering anyone around you feel tense. My choices were for once, meaningful and game changing, in a way that not only affected the plot but how I would play and what I would do.
I received the game years ago from an old friend for my birthday since he knew I was a fan of Earthbound/Mother however at the time I would have been about 17 years old and wasn’t exactly keen about playing a game with a rather gross looking artstyle and lots of violence. However I think I’ve grown up and matured since then and grew to be more open to try new and different things. Having played the game, the Earthbound influence sure is strong though it might not seem that way on the surface. There's a lot of vignette type moments that really bring strong emotions and it makes the game super memorable to me.
I used to not like the art in Lisa and I think that was one of the main things keeping me away from sitting down and playing before, but now I don't think I would prefer anything else. The cartoonish but aggressive and violent look of Olathe is really fun and cool to look at. Enemies and NPCs are all very stylized and unique looking with odd proportions and crazy wasteland outfits. It really fits the comedic tone that a lot of enemies and encounters have --which in turn makes the hard and brutal moments even harsher and more dreadful. The majority of the landscapes really feel dead and it sells the setting. There's also a good consideration of colour, with certain areas having hues of red, others brown or even purple and blue to make things look distinct and interesting despite it boiling down to: rocky lifeless wasteland. That being said there is some plant life to this world, though not much. Don’t expect forests anywhere on this adventure, but there is a swamp, and the look of it plus the music makes it one of my favourite areas alongside Garbage Island. Settlements are also a fun thing to explore, there's quite a few towns and they can get pretty unique. They’re also wonderfully made with a lot of care, there's details in the world like wanted posters and graffiti on the walls. One of my favourites is the interactable boomboxes. Sometimes it can change the music of a location which is a great gag in itself.
The swamp area and its theme, Muddy Waters, create a really foggy atmosphere.
Battles were a lot of fun to go through in Lisa. The game, I would say, is very well balanced, and I didn’t really find the need to grind. (though I did so to get more magazines) The regular encounters should generally be enough to get you all the way to the end. Brad Armstrong (our main character) can fight “Armstrong-Style'' as their basic attack, where you’re able to use the WASD keys (or buttons on your controller if you're like me) to mash out different combinations of moves to hit the enemies. Not only does this mean you’re able to hit an enemy multiple times but also if you do them in certain combinations, you’re able to perform combos. If you do a combo via the skills option you just perform the move, but do them via “Armstrong-style” and you’re able to inflict the damage of the attack plus the combo attack on the final input of the combo! This is something that makes battles, and especially Brad’s turn super fun! It really makes you want to use the “Armstrong-style” over just selecting a skill --which really makes it suck when Brad is suffering withdrawal. Withdrawal is the side effect of using the ingame drug, Joy which causes Brad and other Joy-addicts to suck ass when they undergo it. You get a flash of red in the overworld sometimes to indicate Brad’s Joy cravings coming back and all I can think is: “Jeez Brad, not now, I need you to not suck” Standard attacks will do jack shit under this effect, but luckily you can go around it by just selecting moves to perform as they will still do their regular damage.
I really enjoyed how many party members you’d be able to recruit. I personally stuck with Mad Dog, Nolan and Nern for my play through and had a solid set up of my usual Healer + 3 attackers, but I know the variety of guys you get to tag along with you offer a really wide range of play which I always welcome in games. I always like to see players get as much customization and tools to work with as they can, even if some might not be as strong as others. There's always fun in being able to pick and choose how you want to do something in a game. I tried to do my best and get everyone I could recruit, save a few tough ones like Tiger Man or ones I might have accidentally skipped since I wasn’t going for a 100% completion.
I think the only criticisms I really have for the game would be the layout of some areas, ropes next to instant kill ledges are horrible to go through, and I would curse their existence as I played. Needing to equip the bike was also a bit of a bother at times, I wish it could just be assigned to a button like unequipping it is, but I have a feeling it might be a limitation to RPGMaker itself. I would also recommend having the walkthrough open on a tab for reference if you get stuck, I’ve gotten a bit lost at times and it’s really saved my butt. The game is generally pretty good at keeping you from getting lost since you only explore a single area at a time, with the sub areas being the main exploration. However I think the 2D platformer-esque layout may have a bit to blame since doors won't match up and you have to do a bit of backtracking at times (not much at all though, you very early on get the truck keys and they let you return to any main area as much as you want!) Though these aren't anything that really even things that take away from the game.
For a bonus note, I also downloaded the DLC epilogue Lisa: The Joyful. I recommend it. Highly. I do not consider Lisa: The Painful to be complete without The Joyful. This section will have heavy spoilers and picks up after the events of The Painful, so if you haven’t played that yet, I recommend you do. I will include minor spoilers for the DLC but will not spoil the ending or story details of The Joyful.
Loss and pain is everywhere.
The Joyful, I would say is a bit more difficult than The Painful. Healing items are rare and I felt like I was constantly running out of them.. You will, however, get a lot of Joy. If you don’t waste it on weaker enemies you should have more than enough to go around. If you didn’t use it in The Painful, like me, don’t worry about using it here, there are actually no changes to the ending whether you use it or not and it makes the game a lot less frustrating. Exploration wise, we have a lot less locations to visit this time around. This DLC is much more linear I would say, but it's not a detriment to the experience. I didn’t have a walkthrough this time around to help but I ended up not needing it, and was able to manage fine. I think it’s important to consider that it is an add on to the main game rather than a true sequel or anything of the sort. It was never going to be as long as The Painful and doesn’t sell itself as anything as large either.
There are some new things here, like enemies, bosses, and music. 666 Kill Chop Deluxe has to be my favourite, I listen to it all the time when drawing and helps me get into the zone. My other favourite is Mouth Wide Open plus another that I won't mention due to where it shows up at the end. We’re also exploring completely new areas in Olathe, without retreading the past areas we went through with Brad, it makes this really a separate journey.
Picking up directly at the end of Brad’s journey, We get to play as Buddy now, and have Rando join us in our party. Both characters are interesting in their movesets. Rando actually fights Armstrong-Style using SP, like Brad, and the familiar mashing out combos makes a return here. I said that last part in particular because Buddy, on the other hand, is a TP user, so inflicting or taking damage will charge her meter and allow her to use her skills. At first, Buddy’s moves were more difficult for me to pull off due to them being time based attacks, but with a little practice and getting familiar with her it should be no sweat. This is especially true if you use Joy which slows down the window to pull off a perfect attack. Besides her blade attacks, Buddy eventually learns a few status effect attacks and more importantly: Mend, a recovery move that heals herself. Buddy is also different from Brad in movement through the overworld. Being a young kid, she's able to run when holding the shift key. I recommend remapping your controls if it's in an uncomfortable spot to hold while moving, which is something I had to do on my Xbox controller. Buddy is also able to jump much farther, going over 2 space gaps and surviving less damage from higher cliffs. This combination makes it a lot more fun to just run around Olathe.
After a certain point, we end up solo-ing it with just Buddy and her TP system actually works great for this as we still have fun and strategy at play like when we have a more filled out party. One gripe I have with some RPGs — Earthbound, and the Pokemon Series are good examples of this— is that playing with a single party member makes for a much more simple experience compared to when you have someone else with you. Personally I find that in a turn-based system it's just not as compelling to play with a single party member. It boils itself up to attack always unless you need to heal, with few setups where you might inflict certain status effects or use the party members in tandem. On the other hand, Buddy’s TP system skills, coupled with the scarcity of items ment I had to change up how I would play. There was a risk-reward to the battles. Coming into a battle at full health and no TP means I’d have to A) use the basic Stab to charge it but also b) hope that I get hit with a heavy hitting attack from the enemy. Why? Well, like I said before TP is charged through inflicting damage and receiving it, so getting hit is actually a benefit to us. That is unless you’re low on Health and TP, which is a panic inducing scenario of praying the enemy doesn’t throw out a heavy move before we can heal ourselves a bit. I thought it was really fun to be taking heavy hits, and balancing them out with the Mend just to be able to charge enough of the TP meter where I could then wail out as many attacks as I could.
My last journey through Olathe has been incredibly fun. Like in The Painful, I was scared, I was upset, but most of all I cried. This last adventure has made me realise how much more we can maybe push things in an RPG. Dingaling’s writing is strong and he knows how to play to his strengths.
I’ll be recommending this game to everyone I know, even if they usually don’t play. This might be one of my newest favourite games now, I’ll be revisiting it sometime again and I can’t wait to do that.