LISA: The Painful RPG is one of those games that takes many influences and put them together with the utmost love and passion. Released about a year ago, it’s an Earthbound inspired Indie RPG, very much Like Undertale, but with a less obnoxious Homestuck- like fanbase (I only say that because of how ubiquitous it is- it probably is that good of a game- who knows). Amazingly, it’s written, and developed by one person who goes by the name of Dingaling.
Inspired by Fist of the North Star, this game’s primary setting, with the exception of story building flash backs is a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with buff dudes fighting each other. This apocalypse is what makes the whole game so interesting. It inexplicably has created a world without women, leaving men to wallow in crippling depression, and forcing them to handle the end of the world in their own deprived and perverted means.
This game has a ton of wrestling references as the creator is a huge fan, which u can see from his twitter account, he even got Brad’s name from Bradley Armstrong, the late WCW wrestler.
The lore isn’t out right told to you, but is present within the world itself, so you will have to piece some things together, a lot of which can only be speculative. There is a sequel to this game which takes place immediately after the events at the end of this game which helps answer questions.
In LISA the Painful RPG, The story first takes place with the main protagonist Brad Armstrong as a child taking the blame for his friends as they stole the neighborhood bullies’ basketball. He’s then pummeled by said bullies, after which the selfless Brad is then put in the player’s control. The start of the game is just set up, only having the player be able to walk left or right, exploring the small neighborhood in which he lives in. As you make your way through the neighborhood, you notice your own home is further away from the rest of the homes and is in horrible shape due to neglect. Once inside the home, you are confronted by Brad’s father, as he notice how in bad shape Brad is in, and proceeds to throw a beer bottle at him for ruining his shirt with a “I’m not buying you another damn shirt”. Bradley’s then told to go to his room, where he proceeds to weep while the title “LISA” fades in.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and Brad is a grown man, complete with a full beard and a fro. The setting is now a barren wasteland, later which is confirmed to be the result of an apocalyptic event known described by everyone as the “Big Flash”. Brad one day hears a baby’s cry. With quick investigation he comes across an abandoned baby girl. With no other choice other to bring the baby the safety, our selfless Brad returns home with the baby. Back at home, Brad’s friends, the same of which he stood up for many years ago suggest bringing the baby girl to the local militia in hopes of repopulating the human race. Brad without hesitation rejects that option in favor of raising the girl on his own.
This decision is based on the previous iteration of the game (which is a free RPG maker game) simply named LISA. Brad is not present in that game, except the series namesake and Brad’s baby sister, Lisa Armstrong. In that game, Lisa is trapped in her home not to leave her room by order of her and Brad’s abusive father. Lisa is forced to dwell in her own mind and deal with some horrible things. Disturbingly, the game ends with Lisa taking her own life. Brad feels responsible in not being able to prevent that and see’s the new baby girl as his second chance to redeem himself.
After finding the decision is made, a montage is shown the baby girl (affectionately named Buddy) growing up. The montage is handled very well, with no dialogue. It shows Buddy being raised by Brad and his friends. Her life is a sheltered one, as Brad knows the horrors of what a world of deprived men would do if they knew a female existed. In this montage, Brad is shown balding due to stress and age, as he constantly takes Joy, a blue drug. This drug is Brad’s escape from his past, making him feel numb against the weight of his abusive and traumatic childhood. One day, when walking back from a Joy binge, Brad finds that Lisa has been kidnapped, leaving one of brad friend’s critically bad shape. Before taking his last breath, he tells Brad that Lisa has been found out by the local militia. Now this is where the game really starts.
The Over world in LISA is presented as a 2d Side-scroller. The combat, turn based. Progressing through areas require a bit of logic puzzle solutions- not as stupefying as the Wario Land games, but enough to make you feel good about yourself after solving. You eventually come across a children’s bicycle which you use throughout the rest of the game to travel at a faster pace.
Brad’s combat mechanic is a fun and interesting, letting you execute 5 hit combos using the WSAD keys, each key being a punch or kick from Brad’s left and right arms and legs. Certain combos trigger special moves, a lot of which are obtained by leveling up. Another interesting mechanic is Brad’s addiction to Joy. This requires you to find and take more. Otherwise, you go through withdrawals that prevent you from dealing out damage.
There are tons of potential party members, each obtainable by different means and each with their own memorable personality and fighting style. Some of these members range from masked wrestlers, a bad ass cross dresser named Queen Roger and a talking fish who happens to be a lawyer. You can only have three at a time though, which makes for interesting combination of teams.
The gameplay mechanic that makes Lisa the Painful RPG so painful are the frequent game changing choices you must make throughout the game. These choices come in the form of ultimatums when taken in the mercy of mad max looking villains and local gangs. You either can give up all of your items, or a bullet goes through a party members head. In other instances it’s a party member’s life or one of your arms. If you choose to give up an arm, you do less damage throughout the rest of the game. There’s the potential to lose BOTH arms, forcing Brad to fight with just head butts, kicks and bites. And these ultimatums come regularly and in different ways, one being you and your party kidnapped and forced to play Russian roulette with the possibility of losing a shit load of party members, some or all of which you’ve grown attached to. The gameplay reminds the player how bleak and fucked the world of LISA is and how tough and miserable it is to live in it. At the same time, it’s a bright and goofy game.
If you read Adam’s review on Turbo Kid, and took his advice to watch it, and most likely loved it, you will most definitely like LISA the Painful RPG. With the apocalyptic setting and mixing of genres you can make clear parallels between the two. LISA swings from extremes, with a spectrum running from lighthearted and weird humor, to sobering gore and unsettling horror to crippling depression.
Dry and crude Humor is littered everywhere. From absurd events to item and character descriptions, you will have a good and maybe confused chuckle here or there. The horror aspect I think is on par with the likes of Silent Hill. Joy mutants, which where Joy addicts that have taken so much Joy become cronenberg’s and go on blood fueled rampages. Those doey eyed fuckers are littered all over the place. These Joy mutants serve as the periodic tough as shit boss battles. They’re not outright scary, but just very erie, cease to resemble what they used to look like as their bodies have been stretched, twisted and bloated due to Joy. There are other fucked up enemies hanging around making sure you’re tense every time you explore caves or dilapidated buildings.
The music in this game serves as a crucial element and executed so well in conjunction with the game’s tone, from upbeat hip hop, to ambient droning pads for those Silent Hilly moments. The sound track is well crafted and was the reason why I was exposed to the game in the first place.
Brad has become such a lovable and complex character for me throughout the game. You get to see him go through sooo much shit, possibly getting his arms chopped off, riding a shitty children’s bike, and having to deal with the weirdest fucking people in order to save his surrogate daughter. Beyond that I can’t really say anymore without spoiling anything.
All I can say though is this game made me have nightmares. Not of scary boogeyman , but just crushing depressing, heart wrenching dreams. It didn’t make me want to kill myself or anything like that, but for me the story was a powerful experience touching on issues like having an abusive childhood and how that can loom over you for the rest of your life, sacrifice for redemption, or especially for a loved one. This game will treat you like utter shit, and you will love every minute of this 12 hour experience. It’s definitely worth the 9.99 bucks for the stand alone game, or 16.99 US for the complete edition that includes the sequel, soundtracks and some artwork via Steam.
ALSO, there has been some crazy good fan art for this game.
I’ve made multiple attempts myself (including the one at the beginning of this article):