STAFF REVIEW of LISA: Definitive Edition (Xbox One)

Monday, August 21, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

LISA: Definitive Edition Box art I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of the LISA games before. Now on console for a new audience like myself, LISA: The Definitive Edition includes the original LISA: The Painful and its sequel, LISA: The Joyful. Not really sure as to why there was two games included, I had to do some research as to which game to play first, as the titles don’t make it abundantly clear on their own. Start with The Painful, as The Joyful takes place moments after the first game’s ending and won’t make any sense simply jumping into it without any context.

While LISA: The Definitive Edition is unlike anything I’ve played before, if I had to compare it to something else directly, it came across like a mix of Earthbound’s quirkiness and Undertale’s humor, but with some serious adult themes. You wouldn’t expect it from the 2D sprite artwork from screenshots, but LISA is not a kid’s game by any means, shocking me at each revelation.

Given that The Painful is the first of the two games, I’m going to mainly focus on that, as much talk about The Joyless is giving away some massive spoilers due to being a direct sequel. LISA: The Painful begins with a group of young boys being beat up for stealing a ball, only for Brad, the main protagonist, to step in and take the blame and subsequent beating for them. Brad stumbles home hurt only to have his dad berate and throw a beer bottle at him before being told to go to his room. These opening moments give a glimpse at the serious topics and tones that will be present throughout.

Many years later Brad seems to have hit hard times, relying on a drug called Joy to deal with his personal demons. He hears a baby in the distance, something completely unexpected and heads outside to investigate. Finding a young baby girl with no one else around, he brings her home to his childhood friends whom he’s living with.

You see, this is an extraordinary occurrence, as many years ago there was an event called the White Flash. After this moment the world of Olathe changed forever, as every female seems to have died or vanished. This means there’s no more babies or women, so this baby changes everything. Brad decides to take her in and raise her as his own, protecting her from the world, as he knows what most will want to do with her. While having good intentions, Brad falls off the horse once again when he finds some Joy, only to come back to home one day with his friends dying and his ‘daughter’, named Buddy, missing.

The titular Lisa was actually Brad’s young sister growing up, eventually committing suicide due to her emotional and sexual abuse by her abuse father. Brad feels responsible for letting it happen, with the guilt burdening him so much that he resorts to alcohol and Joy to cope. He will sometimes even see images of her, hallucinating, being questioned why he didn’t stop it from happening. This is probably a strong reason why he feels compelled to go and save Buddy from the post-apocalyptic world that they now live in, knowing the horrors she’ll face as the only female in the world.

Before Buddy’s kidnapping, the group of guys were told they will be given resources if they give Buddy to the Rando gang so they can start repopulating the human race. Brad doesn’t think this is even an option, but this is a cruel world, and when she’s taken he will stop at nothing to save her, even if that means sacrificing himself or others to do so. If this all sounds somewhat familiar to the Children of Men novel and movie, it’s got a similar premise, though I was quite surprised with how dark the narrative becomes later on and in the sequel.

So if you’re unlike me and have played the games before, you might be wondering what makes The Definitive Edition so, well, definitive. Crisper HD graphics, a 120FPS mode if you have a TV or monitor that supports it, updated battle systems, new art overlays for the borders, new campfire conversations (of which can be absolutely hysterical), new music, a music player and even more secrets to uncover. One of the best additions is the inclusion of ‘Painless Mode’, an item that can be used to make the game easier should you want more of a narrative focus, though the world will still be deadly and you’ll die plenty. LISA: The Painful is a challenging game for numerous reasons, and even with Painless Mode activated (you can’t undo your choice, so be careful), I still died countless times. If this isn’t your first time with LISA, you can even make the game harder for more of a challenge if that’s your thing.

As a 2D sidescrolling RPG, LISA may not stand out from its visuals alone, looking like any other RPG Maker game out there, but the narrative and humor is what makes it so unique. You can’t jump onto higher ledges more than one gap away, though you can certainly fall and take tons of damage or an instant Game Over if you’re not careful. Eventually Brad will find a bicycle which will open up some more possibilities by being able to make small gaps and move much quicker.

Brad can’t find Buddy alone, and along his journey he’ll be able to recruit up to 30 different party members. Many of these are completely optional and missable, so don’t expect to find them all in your first playthrough. The first to join your party is the hilarious Terry, known for leaving hints all around. He’s incredibly weak as a party member, but can eventually grow to being one of the most powerful. Another is Nern, a historian who is one of those people that just... wont... stop... talking. He’s got stories upon stories and loves to tell you about his previous 6/10 wife and his passion for coupons. While never every character was a stand out, they all had their quirks and certainly a place in your group of four if planned properly.

If you come across a crow, these are your save points. I highly recommend using multiple saves, as this world is highly unpredictable. Even using campfires to refill your health and rest for the night isn’t always a guarantee, as maybe someone dies overnight or gets kidnapped. Maybe you even get bitten by a spider and wake up all poisoned.

The world is harsh at every corner. One minute you’re exploring and finding information as to where Buddy was taken, the next you’re given a choice between your arm or your friend’s life. Maybe you like to gamble? Then you’ll feel no shame playing Russian Roulette with your friends lives for some massive profit. Choices are permanent though, and numerous times I’ve had party members straight up permanently killed because of my choices. Thankfully I can easily revert to an older save and try again if needed.

If you’ve played a turn based RPG before, you’ll feel at home with the combat, mostly. It’s not always as easy as attack or skills. As mentioned before, LISA is quirky, you might need to experiment with what certain skills actually do or how useful they are. Every party member is quite unique, so it’s a matter of trial and error to see who works with your composition, how their skills meld with another, and who simply doesn’t annoy you. Be aware, party members can be instantly killed, even permanently sometimes, so always have a backup plan for Brad. As party members earn XP and level up, they’ll learn new abilities and have stats increased, as par the course for any RPG.

While it looks like any other homemade RPG you’ve seen before, there’s clearly been a big upgrade with The Definitive Edition with clearer visuals and a smooth 120FPS option. The sprite work is done wonderfully as you can easily recognize characters at a glance. The soundtrack is catchy and quite memorable, though can be a little jarring at times when it instantly switches or cuts off when changing scene to scene.

I thought LISA was going to be a cute and casual relaxing experience, but what I got was a dark and very adult themed narrative where nearly every character has some sort of messed up backstory. The apocalypse really brings out the worst in people, as showcased in nearly every interaction with strangers Brad comes across in his search for Buddy.

I now see why LISA: The Painful and Joyful are cult classics, though there are certainly some possible triggers here that have no early warnings beforehand. Full of misogyny, abuse, murder and nearly any other messed up topic you could think of, LISA takes a certain focus and mindset to get through with its seriously heavy material mixed with laugh out loud moments.

**LISA: Definitive Edition was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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