Lisa: Definitive Edition Review – Joy and Pain In Abundance

Lisa: Definitive Edition Review

This game might not be for you. It absolutely wasn’t for me, in spite of its fascinating premise and snappy writing. LISA: Definitive Edition is a clever, cruel, well-crafted game that I couldn’t stand. It turns out that I have no patience for this specific sort of emotional landscape. I hated this game, in other words. On the other hand, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. LISA is a brutal experience that I found fascinating, though not exactly enjoyable.

You play a middle-aged wreck in a world without women. You’ve got nothing much to live for until a young girl comes into your life. It’s once she’s taken that things kick off. The graphics are a kind of pit trap. You’re lured in by the harmless sprites, only to be impaled on the narrative and the worldbuilding. Anything you can imagine is possible here, so long as it’s funny, sad, or awful. If it sounds like I’m harping on the atmosphere a lot, that’s because it flattened me so completely. But it’s not just the aesthetics. The gameplay is also built on brutality.

Mad, Mad World

You pick up a whole host of colorful characters on the way to your goal. Don’t get attached! People can die, like, for good. And at the drop of a hat! Someone was kidnapped from my party. When I eventually found them, the captors demanded a ransom. I didn’t have the money, so I told them to kick rocks. Anyways, they killed my buddy immediately. Whew! This is what I’m talking about. For me, events like this are demoralizing. They sap the energy and momentum right out of me. But I recognize there’s something powerful here. Maybe you read that and got properly amped about LISA. Maybe you want some hard, horrifying choices in your life.

LISA: Definitive Edition Review

Although the visuals start off pretty harmless, they don’t stay that way for long. It turns out you can cram a lot of troubling imagery into a handful of pixels. Dead bodies, abuse, addiction, and even mutilation are all on the menu. LISA portrays a world in decay, where madness pushes up through the rusted upper layers. You never feel safe. The fragile stability you’ve gathered could disappear at any moment. For some, that narrative tension is thrilling. For me, it feels like a barrier. Well, actually, I’ve got one problem with LISA that’s separate from tone or tension.

Wandering The Wasteland

Progress through the game is tied to a lot of backtracking. The level layouts are also very mazelike. The level design is also somewhat obfuscating. These three elements make it very easy to get lost. Which, when combined with the oppressive tone, sapped my energy to continue. The game is short, and there are guides in a pinch. But still, I felt an enveloping dread that had nothing to do with the horrible world I was in. Even so, feeling so lost is perfectly apt, at least for this game. Perhaps this too is a deliberate design decision. If so, I’m still frustrated, but I understand.

The difficulty level is also designed to wear you down. Your companions vary wildly in strength, while the enemies get steadily more difficult. You have to deal with a host of confusing status effects, and medical supplies are quite limited. There’s a common drug choking out the populace, and you happen to be hooked on it. The withdrawal symptoms are brutal, too. At least from a distance, I recognize how unique and compelling this system is. Every obstacle feels like one too many. You ride the ragged edge of being overwhelmed at all times. Of course the definitive edition includes a Hard Mode.

LISA: Definitive Edition Review

If you’ve played and mastered LISA: The Painful, the definitive edition bundle also includes LISA: The Joyful. It’s a whole separate game, one that follows a different POV. Also, that ‘Joyful’ subtitle is a hilarious misnomer. This is still LISA, after all. If you’ve played the original 2014 release, you’ll notice a few changes. New music has been added, and the game itself has been polished up mechanically. If you’ve never played either release, the definitive edition is a great entry point.

Thanks, I Hate It

I may not be the target audience for LISA, but I recognize quality when I encounter it. The mechanics subvert the usual RPG tropes, leaving you tense and scrambling the entire time. The world itself is both funny and awful, with a heavy dose of post-apocalyptic tragedy thrown in. The level design left me feeling disoriented, but I think it was meant to. The graphics get your guard down, setting you up nicely for the brutal writing. The game is tough too, which feels appropriate. I have no idea what to score this game. Although I hated playing it, I can tell it was a well-crafted experience. I can’t honestly recommend LISA: Definitive Edition, but some of you will check it out regardless. To you I say, have fun! You will not soon forget this game.

***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Clever writing
  • Unusual mechanics
  • Unforgettable aesthetic

The Bad

  • Feels bad, man
  • Confusing level layouts
  • Punishing difficulty