Lisa: Definitive Edition Review – Enjoying a Painful and Joyless Experience

    Title: LISA: Definitive Edition
    Developer: Dingaling Productions
    Release Date: July 18, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Serenity Forge
    Genre: RPG

Lisa is a series that many of my friends have fallen in love with, either due to its heavy themes or gameplay. For years, they have badgered me to take the plunge; time was just never on my side. I was always playing something else or working so much that I couldn’t play anything. So, it was about time for me to finally experience what others had considered a classic with this new and improved version of the game.

This definitive edition comes packed with two games in the Lisa series, The Painful and The Joyful. The Painful follows Brad, a man hooked on a drug called Joy, in a post-apocalyptic world. While aimlessly wandering and deciding whether or not to end his life, he happens upon a baby girl.

He takes her home and, while talking with his friends, decides to raise her as his own. Years later, his daughter, Buddy, has been captured, beginning his long, joyless journey to get her back. The Joyful follows Buddy after the events of The Painful and acts as an epilogue. This title is much shorter but explores the world and gives more insight into Brad’s past.

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The first thing I have to say about Lisa is that many times I felt uncomfortable. The themes set up are about abuse and the cycle that people find themselves trapped in. It attempts to show how hard it can be to break the cycle and how it can just keep those down. That being said, this feeling made me more emotionally invested in Brad and hopeful to get a better ending for him. I even did a joyless run, handicapping Brad’s stats, my first run naturally. I wanted, no, needed him to become a better father than what we were shown so far.

That uncomfortable feeling never left the entire time I was playing, but I knew that this was the point of the entire series. I needed to confront this feeling and choose to either keep going or quit. Needless to say, I couldn’t put the title down; I was hooked. The story led me along while the battles, which were inspired by Super Mario RPG, kept me entertained for an experience that I never wanted to end, even if I did find contentment when it was finally over.

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This version of Lisa is probably the best way to experience the title for first-time players and gives more than enough reason for returning players to come back. The HD graphics, while nice, just ensure that it can run on modern televisions and consoles. The game looks nice, but it’s still pixel graphics, so while the updated visuals make everything more crisp, they aren’t really needed.

The sidebar visuals for the game are very nice, and they change depending on the area that you are in. These sidebars can be turned off but give so much character that it feels almost like they were there from the original release. This also goes along with the rumble feature that tries to make the most of each platform’s controller. For example, on Switch, when I was traversing an area that had a few burly men working out. I could feel the rhythmic thumps of the music they had in the background.

These features aren’t necessary by any stretch of the imagination, but they added a depth of immersion that I hadn’t felt with Rumble in years. Even though this title is almost ten years old, this new release keeps striving to find new ways to impress players with the use of features that other modern titles just don’t do.

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Extra content like added boss battles and stories, as well as endings, are a fantastic addition to a game that is already an impressive ten hours to complete just going through the story naturally. They are integrated so well that new players won’t be able to tell the difference between this added content and the original.

There is also the painless mode which allows players to enjoy the story with reduced difficulty. This mode still allows players to experience the joyless ending if obtained, as well as the various different characters that the game has to offer. However, pain mode has its own specific ending that cannot be seen in the easier mode. Pain mode will also add more encounters or change encounters entirely, making for a truly painful experience for those that choose it.

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The battle system takes heavy inspiration from the Mario RPG series. Brad is a master of karate and will have players input attacks to perform combos. These combos can be selected from the menu as if they were a normal skill, but playing this way reduces the amount of damage Brad can do. His other mechanic revolves around the use of Joy, either lifting him up to deal insane damage or crippling him to the point of barely even hitting targets. This created an interesting choice for me, give Brad joy to up his damage against challenging foes or try to kick the habit for Buddy.

I remember looking in my inventory at the joy of one particularly rough battle, fighting the urge to take the pill for my joyless run. I managed to resist, but it created an interesting paradox as it forced me, as the player, to fight Brad’s addiction myself. I knew the consequences of taking it, but not taking it would hurt me in the short-term fights that were coming my way.

The rest of the party members have less in-depth but still unique gimmicks that have varying levels of usefulness. My favorite was the truck driver that suffered from depression. This effect lowered all his stats permanently, but he had a truck that would run over people. Crying would raise his SP, allowing him to be self-sustaining, as our enemies merely became bumps in the road for his truck.

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Lisa: Definitive Edition is a title that I wish I had played years ago. It excels in a way that others struggle when juggling an in-depth battle system, modern features, and a mature narrative. The added content of this Definitive Edition makes it the perfect time to experience a game that may have flown under your radar. Still, you may find it strange to be enjoying such a painful and joyless experience; oh well.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Nathan Mejia

The guy who will play anything you throw at him. Will talk your ear off about anything and everything Video Game, Music, and Anime related. You have been warned.