[NSFW] LISA: The Joyful (PC)

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  • System: PC
  • Also On: iOS, Steamplay
  • Genre: RPG
  • Max Players: 1
  • Age Rating: Mature 17+
  • US Release: December, 2014
  • Developer: Dingaling
  • Publisher: Dingaling Productions LLC
  • Similar Games: Earthbound, LISA: The Painful, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

It’s the end of the road; after fighting, getting kidnapped, and eventually having your face mutilated, the maniac that pursues you approaches. Arms cut off, eyes gouged, arrows, bullet wounds, burns—nothing can stop him. Your father (though he doesn’t like being called that), Brad Armstrong, one of the most powerful men in the world, approaches after having defeated an entire army. “Did I do the right thing?” he asks tearfully, as he collapses before you. Regardless of your answer, he won’t be saved—you won’t be saved. Now your journey starts as you and your only friend, former warlord Rando, head off to defeat the other warlords of Olathe. You are Buddy Armstrong, and you will be nobody’s prisoner, nobody’s victim anymore.

Finally, a happy entry!

No joy is to be found, though there shall always be Joy.

LISA: The Joyful is the last entry in the LISA series, taking place immediately after LISA: The Painful ends. You play as Buddy Armstrong, adopted daughter of Brad, as she fights the warlords of Olathe to bring meaning and value to her life. Like the game it expands upon, LISA: The Joyful is a sidescrolling, menu-based RPG built in RPG Maker. Using pretty much all of the assets from LISA: The Painful, it exhibits the same graphical and musical charm as its predecessor. It would be misleading to describe it as “More of the Same”, though; while it is the same gameplay and graphics engine, the story somehow takes it to the next level. Alongside surprising difficulty and atmospheric escalation, we’ve got a game that goes above and beyond the bar set by its predecessor.

Combat is still similar, but a different narrative, and Buddy’s new skillset, force a different perspective on battles.

LISA: The Joyful carries the same gameplay as LISA: The Painful, with menu -based RPG combat and 2D exploration. Combat has you mixing status effects with character attacks, once again allowing bosses to be debilitated by common debuffs, and Buddy’s unique “Precision Attacks”. When using Buddy’s skills, you need to line up a shrinking circle with a static circle as close as possible to maximize damage and apply status effects; the game counts on this and punishes you if you do not. Healing items are more scarce than in LISA: The Painful, enemies hurt more, allies are less plentiful, and character upgrades are less frequent. While the base elements are similar, your knowledge of them are put to the test in a more difficult experience.

Well, that's...

While the music is not dead, RIP in peace Widdly2Diddly.

The graphics and music also remain much the same. We have 2D graphics unlike anything RPG Maker provided (save LISA: The Painful), presented in a way that RPG Maker games rarely provide. The music is often atmospheric, well crafted, and occasionally surreal and disturbing. It all takes a darker turn in LISA: The Joyful, however, due to story reasons. There are darker colors and fewer visual jokes and cheerful music tracks. This, in turn, does a good job of capturing the overall mood of LISA: The Joyful…that everything is getting worse and nothing gets better.

Oh... No... Not this...

Pictured above: the cycle of abuse.

The story is the darkest, most compelling point of LISA: The Joyful. Where LISA: The Painful had hope and sacrifice as major themes, LISA: The Joyful‘s major themes are freedom and anger. Following Buddy as she conquers Olathe is distressing, seeing how she was hurt by everyone around her, and how that pain will end up destroying everyone she meets. It’s a story fitting to end the tragedy of the LISA series—until you reach the final scene. The blame for the state of Brad, Buzzo, and Buddy is shifted upon the titular character, Lisa Armstrong, dead from suicide brought on by the abuse she faced as a child. It’s awful, without warning, and downright wrong to place the blame solely upon a victim of abuse instead of, perhaps, her abuser. Despite this major flaw in the story, it is still an excellent tragedy, though not for the squeamish or soft of heart.

It’s all about the feelings a game inspires, but even then at the end of the day? Sometimes, it’s still a middle finger.

So, representation is an ugly ball with this game series. For race and bodies, it still features an astounding amount of variety. Through strange phrasing, it sounds like one character is implying he’s transgender. My big issue is how the game ultimately ends up representing a victim of abuse and her accountability for the events that followed in the wake of her abuse. While it accounts that victims of abuse can in turn become abusers, this point is also made with other characters. The unfortunate part is that, not only does the game’s creator consider her the worst character in the game, but eventually the narrative also shifts full responsibility for the state of several key characters onto Lisa. While unreliable narrator is a thing to consider, as well as the fact that abuse victims can themselves abuse other people, to paint one as the worst character and sole cause of all the misery in the game is a little messed up.

What started as "Capture her for humanity or your pleasure!" turns to "Kill her for humanity or your survival!"

Even this short chapter features significant character development.

Honestly, though, LISA: The Joyful is a strong game and evokes powerful emotions. Where The Painful features saving innocence as a major theme, The Joyful’s defining theme seems to be a young girl’s right to decide the course of her life. The two games create an interesting narrative of a father seeking to protect his daughter, and a daughter looking to break free from her father’s shadow and create her own life. Combined with the horrible lives both characters lived, I would have to say that if you played LISA: The Painful you should definitely play LISA: The Joyful. If you enjoy tragic stories, adult themes, and wacky humor, pick both games up. I cannot recommend LISA: The Joyful on its own, though, as it requires LISA: The Painful so much to establish familiarity with the characters and the world. However, together, they’re dark indie games which tell a gut-wrenching story of some very adult fears and emotions.

Self deprecating humor at its finest.

  • GameCola Rates This Game: 7 - Good
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Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm nonbinary/gender neutral(my pronouns are xe/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. Somehow I found myself on this corner of the internet. I hope we all can be friends and have a good year together at this school!

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