I gave up my left arm to keep a party member alive, permanently losing the ability to use half of my attacks. That same party member, along with three others, ended up losing his life in a game of Russian Roulette I was forced into playing a few hours later. Permanently. They weren’t knocked out, they weren’t temporarily disabled; they were dead. The silly appearance and dark sense of humor of Dingaling Games’ LISA gives the impression that this will be a light journey filled with laughs and fun. The humor will make you laugh, but only insofar as it takes your mind off of LISA‘s dark world of sadness, depression, and most of all, pain. It’s beautiful in its unflinching look at a bleak future without women or hope, but only if you’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to reach the end.
With women having died out in some unknown catastrophe, it’s especially unusual that main character Brad stumbles across a baby one day, let alone a baby girl. Despite his best attempts to raise her in secret, she’s discovered by a gang and then taken away, setting the player on their journey through this bizarre world. Crossing vast 2D deserts, plains, swamps, and cities carved out of ruined buildings and caves, it will take Brad some time to find the missing girl. Navigating the twisting paths takes a good sense of direction and a better map, as the game’s many caves and paths weave out in all directions. There’s no in-game map, so you’re going to want to dig out pen and paper and make your own.
Death soon becomes an expectation while walking these dusty roads. The combat looks to be pretty standard turn-based RPG fare, but it stands out with its sheer brutality. Not in the visuals, but just in the fact that damage levels are huge. Most enemies deal a whole lot of damage, and healing spells and items are few and far between. That’s just regular enemies, too, whereas bosses and mutants typically can do so much damage it may as well be instant death. You may remember how old RPGs used to show players where not to go just based on enemy strength. If you were getting clobbered, you probably weren’t supposed to be where you were yet. In LISA, not only are you in the right place, but you’re supposed to win. Exactly how you do that is up to you.
You can try grinding for experience, but many of the game’s enemies don’t respawn. You can see most of them while on the map, and when you kill them, they’re gone forever. There are a few places where weaker ones pop up over and over again, but overall, grinding for money or experience isn’t really a possibility. That often means fighting with what you have, or testing one of the multiple routes you can take to see which is the least lethal.
There isn’t a lot of equipment to help you out, either. There are healing items, but most of them can’t be bought in shops and can only be won in combat. Those that can be bought often have some undesirable effect, like how alcohol heals while increasing damage, but it also decreases your accuracy. You can find soup heating over fires that are tended by friendly characters, but there’s usually only enough to fill up a few bottles (speaking of bottles, grab every one you can, as they’re infinitely useful for tons of things). There’s even less healing magic or abilities, so don’t expect to be able to do much here. Most of the time, combat is a pure damage race, one that’s both exhilarating and terrifying as you watch your party members dwindle.
You do have some solid attacks to help yourself out, as LISA brings a ton of variety and fun visuals to the combat. For starters, main character Brad uses a system where you can hit W, A, S, or D when it’s his turn, using a combination of up to five buttons to do combos. As you gain levels, you’ll gain new combos that have elemental effects or do a lot more damage. Brad also flies around the screen in all his 2D glory as you input attacks, doing different acrobatic animations for each attack. Several other characters use this control scheme as well, each with their own flashy, silly strikes.
Other characters use magic-style attacks like throwing wildlife or running people over with a truck. The attacks are deranged, and anything goes in combat this brutal. All of the goofy spells had me pretty excited to use every new magic attack that I gained. Other characters use TP attacks, which work pretty much like magic except that TP builds up as you deal and receive damage. You tend to have to use a few rounds of regular attacks to build up the power of a TP character before you can use their better attacks. No matter how you charge up your abilities, they’re always funny and flashy, making combat fun to watch. They’re also very fast, meaning you won’t get bored through constant combat animations.
Also, status ailments actually work on enemies and bosses. I have played a lot of RPGs where status ailments either never work or do next to nothing against enemies, but LISA is having none of that. Inflicting status ailments is golden in this game, doing tons of damage over time. I was only dealing two to five hundred damage per attack, but inflicting poison or bleed at that same time caused almost three thousand damage a turn. Thank you, Dingaling Games, for not making a good portion of my spells and abilities useless through ineffective status ailments.
That being said, not every ability is all that useful in combat, mostly because not every character is useful in combat. You can make a lot of different allies in the world of LISA, with dozens of people willingly joining you on your quest despite the dangers. Not everyone is all that suited for combat, though, and will often gain abilities that suit their character moreso than make them combat-ready. Just like in the real world, not everyone’s good in a fight, so some of the people who fill your early party are pretty useless. Poor Terry Hintz is really only good for in-game advice, and his flailing stumble isn’t good for anything other than making himself a target for enemies who would otherwise be hitting you.
Some folks become useless in combat at random times, too. Brad is addicted to a drug called Joy in the game, as are a handful of other characters who join you, and if they don’t get the drug regularly, they go into withdrawal. If that happens, they lose a quarter of their max HP and pretty much stop doing damage in combat. They do a little from completed combos, but that’s it. This goes away in time, sometimes through sleeping and sometimes on its own, but it’s always a disaster when it happens. I am convinced that you can ween Joy addicts off the drug, as it seems like withholding it does make the times between each withdrawal get longer every time, but given the risks of combat, it seems like a much better idea to just give in to the addiction. Still, Joy isn’t always easy to come by, just like any other item. We want Brad to be a better, less drug addicted person when he finds the little girl, though, don’t we?