LISA: Definitive Edition

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LISA: Definitive Edition review
Samuel Corey


A Life Ruining Gaming Experience

A World without Women

Post-apocalyptic hellscapes are a dime-a-dozen when it comes to video games. From the irradiated wastelands of Fallout to the zombie-infested expanses of Days Gone. Yet, I have never seen a video game post-Apocalypse quite like Lisa: The Painful. Here, all women across the world vanished instantly in "The White Flash" leaving their husbands and fathers behind. Apparently, women really did make the world go 'round because in their absence society has collapsed. The surviving men dress in rags, form roving gangs, and commit unspeakable cruelties to one another. A huge percentage of the population has gone stark raving mad, and any attempts to impose order are necessarily limited to a few scattered outposts. All commerce has vanished, and the only economy that exists is trading pre-flash pornographic magazines.

More than just violence and madness though, the world of Lisa: The Painful is gripped in a pervasive feeling of hopeless despair. There is no future for mankind, and the characters we see, at least those sane enough to understand it, are just playing out the remainder of their lives in melancholic routine.

Lisa: The Painful focuses on Brad Armstrong, a depressed, drug-addicted, former martial arts instructor who is haunted by memories of his younger sister: The titular Lisa. Lisa hanged herself long before the events of the game, after being abused and molested by her and Brad's father: Marty. Her dead body greets the player on the start screen, and a ghostly form appears in visions throughout Brad's journey, especially when he doesn't have a fix of Joy (his painkiller of choice) to chase the visions away.

One day, Brad finds Buddy, an abandoned baby that is the only living girl in the entire world. He resolves to raise her in secret with his three friends/roommates, knowing that if her existence was to become common knowledge she would be in danger until she came of age. In his attempt to protect Buddy, Brad accidentally winds up recreating the same dynamic that his sister lived through, where a drunken Marty would keep her locked up at home and not allow her to leave.

To his credit, Brad realizes what he's doing. So he kicks drugs and makes a mask and costume for Buddy so that she can venture outside the house without risking being discovered. Yet Brad is by no means perfect, he gets the craving for drugs again, goes on a bender, and wakes up with his home ransacked and Buddy missing. The last girl in the world, in a wasteland of perverts, madmen, and degenerate scrum. Brad knows that he has to find and that he has to save her.

Do You Like Pain?

Make no mistake, the game lives up to its title. I won't go into spoilers for the game's plot here but it suffices to say that Brad's journey will not have a happy ending. He is a man trying to do his best in a difficult situation and trying to overcome his not-insignificant personal flaws. Yet he's doomed, and in trying to make up for mistakes he's made in the past he is only hurting himself and the people he loves in the present. His motivations are comprehensible and even sympathetic but the result is catastrophic. It's not quite the life-ruining gaming experience promised by the marketing material, but it is certainly a day-ruining experience.

The miserable story is mirrored by malicious cruelty in the game design. Difficulty spikes are everywhere, with seemingly unbeatable enemies popping up with fanfare to wipe out your party and send you back to the last save. Some enemies will have attacks that can permanently kill a party member, meaning the guy you built your strategy around is suddenly gone forever. Likewise, this game despite being a 2-D sidescroller has fall damage, with lethal fall damage being a possibility if your party is injured or if you drop into one of the innumerable bottomless pits. Even the act of resting at a campfire is not without risk, as you can be robbed during your sleep, attacked by poisonous spiders, farted on by perverts, or have your companions kidnapped. Most annoying you can wake up from sleep to realize that one of your party members has just left you entirely.

Yet it would be wrong to characterize Lisa: the Painful as a purely unpleasant experience. It is also, perversely enough, the funniest game I've ever played. Its jokes range from the grotesque and juvenile to the witty and refined, and all benefit from being surrounded by such a relentlessly depressing game. You will need a good laugh as you play through Lisa: The Painful, and the game is more than happy to give it to you. I dare you to watch the flashback sequence where bulldozer driver Horrace Finkle relives events from his tragic life and not crack a simile.

Not Much of a Remake

The announcement of a definitive edition remaster for Lisa: The Painful felt like a joke. It promises 4K resolutions for a pixel art game that would have looked ugly on the SNES and 120 FPS when most characters have a walk cycle consisting of two frames (one where both their legs are on the ground and one where both legs are in the air). It feels like the whole thing is a joke, and given the humor of the game it would hardly be out of place.

What also feels like a joke is the censorship. On the PlayStation version of the game, alcohol has been renamed to soda and cigarettes have been renamed to candy cigarettes while all the depictions of suicide, rape, drug addiction, and gruesome violence have been left intact. It would be like “censoring” Saya no Uta by removing a reference to two characters meeting for a beer while leaving in all the cannibalism.

The publisher also mentioned that two scenes would be slightly altered for racial sensitivity, and this too seems to be a joke. I found some old lets plays of the scenes in question and they are identical to the scenes in the definitive edition. I suppose it's possibly a glitch with the PC version of the game, but it's just as possible that there was never any censorship at all and the whole thing was a ruse to get some additional media coverage and buzz about the release. The news of censorship was the first time I heard anything about the definitive edition's release.

That said there are some new additions to the game that enhance the experience. The best improvement is that a range of new conversations were when your party rests at a campfire. These new sequences give your party members a chance to shine and help to keep them from feeling like figures that do nothing but help you out in combat. The story remains focused on Brad's journey, but now his companions feel a bit more fleshed out and present after they are recruited.

Lisa: The Painful certainly didn't need a remake, and this remake is far from the most technically impressive. That said, the game is still an absolute classic and the re-release is a great chance for those who haven't played the game before to pick up the most depressing and hilarious RPG of all time.

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fun score


Compelling central character and narrative, Unique world and setting, Unforgiving gameplay that fits the theme of the game, One-of-a-kind soundtrack


Technical improvements in the definitive edition might be a joke.