Review – Lisa the Painful: Definitive Edition (Switch)

ndIt’s a given that many indie games set out to accomplish three things: tell a story, share an emotion, and entertain the player. While successfully hitting all three is a matter of perspective, we often undervalue or overlook what exactly the effective emotion that’s being evoked might be. Just last year, I had an opportunity to play Dropsy, a point-and-click adventure that used bizarre humor and eccentric characters to convey a story about loneliness and the sense of alienation amongst people. It was a memorable experience, and I truly treasured my time with that odd clown. However, I felt the emotion didn’t necessarily hit strongly: it was a constant, but came in such wide strokes that it didn’t always hit me on the same level that a movie or book might.

So when I heard that the fabled Lisa games would be coming to the Nintendo Switch, I got excited. I have only had the chance to play the first, aptly titled Lisa the First, many moons ago on my Wii through a homebrew port. The game was short, disturbing, and captivating; telling about a young girl, an abusive household, and trying to deal with the shifting reality that comes as a result of growing up under horrid circumstances. While it’s not a game that I would ever recommend, it’s something that’s worth investigating in a sort of video game appreciation manner. Like how you’d say someone should play Pong to see how far consoles have come, or they should watch Pi to prove that Aronofsky can make an upsetting film with almost no budget.

Lisa the Painful Opening Screen

An opening shot of what will clearly be a happy game.

Lisa the Painful: Definitive Edition is the second game in the Lisa trilogy and the first game that is of quantifiable length or gameplay. Lisa the First is little more than a 2D walking simulator through nightmarish conditions that are triggered by arbitrary moments. It feels very parallel to Yume Nikki in terms of presentation and is also full of Earthbound-inspired sprites that probably prevent it from ever reaching an official release (but curious players can find it from most RPG Maker fan sites). Be aware that it touches on subjects of sexual abuse and abandonment, so do not go seeking out that particular nugget without a bit of context.

Likewise, Lisa the Painful is a complete game that is also 2D, is also nightmarish, but is a full fledged RPG of truly staggering proportions. Set in the land of Olathe, you play Brad Armstrong, a man amongst many men trapped in a world where no women exist due to an apocalyptic event called The White Flash. The world is desolate, bestial, and inhumane. Brad himself is a chronic drug user, seeking to bury the past and his own awful childhood that constantly creeps back in. One day, Brad discovers a baby, which turns out to be a girl, and vows to raise her safely in secret. Yet secrets never stay that way, and Brad’s adoptive daughter, Buddy, is kidnapped. Ignoring the odds stacked against him, Brad sets forward to combat demons, both present and past, and to try and set the world right in at least one way.

Lisa the Painful Demon

And getting rid of filth like this that exists in the world at large.

While this is Lisa the Painful: Definitive Edition, for the purposes of the review I will be looking at the game as a whole and not focusing on the upgraded or changed elements that exist within this edition. As I have no basis of comparison to the original version, I have to take the fact that there’s new boss battles, new secrets, an upgraded UI and HD graphics as fact and just go from there. For players looking for a side-by-side, I’m afraid that will be someone else’s review.

Lisa the Painful is FASCINATING. Stripped of all context and identity, it’s a JRPG-inspired romp which bucks so many conventions of other Western JRPGs. This game has a relatively vast world that can be difficult to transverse and explore. Players have to double back constantly to find new avenues and hidden secrets that previously could not be obtained as new forms of transportation and access unfurl. You’ll meet a whole host of characters who can join your party, each with different and unique skills and abilities. Everyone’s approach to combat is different, and you end up building wildly different parties depending on where you go, who you see and how you choose to spend your time.

Lisa the Painful Rooster

Leveling up Rooster is worth it for more chicken-based attacks alone.

Brad, for example, uses a fighting system that’s reminiscent of Sabin from Final Fantasy VI, but you can also just enter arbitrary buttons to fight and get some damage instead of always needing to do a specific combo (which will use up SP, skill points). Likewise, the masked luchador, Rage, has the same style, but knows different combos and, arguably, is much weaker. Items used in combat are scavenged relics of the old world, like perfume (as a revive) and diet cola (as an SP refresher). Some party members use ranged weapons (guns, arrows), some hurl animals (chickens, squirrels) and some just talk to create different status effects. 

Status affects, unlike many JRPGS, have such an important role in this game as they can be debilitating and, weirdly, permanent. Brad is very much a drug addict and will very much go through withdrawal at the most inopportune times, forcing you to either find a place to rest or slake his thirst with a drug called Joy (which is a running thematic throughout the game). Joy will then increase all his stats and heal him, but the likelihood of him going through withdrawal again soon increases. Likewise, characters who get Drunk may experience their own problems when sobering up (though potato liquor is some of the most affordable and available stuff in the game). Character who are Pissed can’t focus on the fight properly, striking a pose to look Cool means you’ll get your health back, and getting your Neck Snapped means you’re dead. Forever.


And getting kicked in the nuts means incapacitated for the rest of the game, so enjoy that, dude.

This is the first and most important part of Lisa the Painful that you come to realize: you can’t count on anyone to stick around for the duration except Brad. Enemies have the ability to kill your party members permanently. Trying to sleep at a campsite could result in you waking up to find someone kidnapped and you either pay the ransom or lose them forever. There is an unavoidable moment midway through the game where I had to make some tough choices and, because my luck sucks, I lost FOUR party members permanently, including one that I’d been leveling since the game began. And I couldn’t go back and undo it because I had chosen Pain Mode when starting the game, which means that save points EXPLODE when you save, preventing players from save scumming when something goes wrong.

One can argue that you can play some games and ignore some of the overarching themes or ideas. If you truly love kicking ass as M. Bison, you don’t need to be invested in his storyline to play Street Fighter and have a good time. You can even rock through a game like Red Dead Redemption and turn a blind eye to messed up decisions made to advance the story because, hey, you like horses and cowboys, let’s not complicate things. That feels absolutely impossible in Lisa the Painful, as the very essence of the game is to make players feel their choices. When you have to decide between your livelihood and someone’s life, that sticks with you. When you have to fight anyone to the death, yes, they’re awful and corrupt people, but they are very much people.

Lisa the Painful Hallucinations

My hallucinations tell me otherwise, dude I’m hallucinating.

Everything about this game feels bad and it’s completely on purpose. Dingaling, the developer, has taken painstaking effort to convey details and nuance in the character and world design to convey misery and suffering. Blood splatters have an almost visceral presentation in this pixel art world. The soundtrack is injected with tons of oddly timed sound effects and moments, and the discordant nature of the battle music physically repulses you as you try to fight off people who want to end your life so they have a chance to try and live a bit longer. If you happen to make a choice that results in the loss of your arm, you lose the ability to do one of the best attacks in the game, and you need to live with that.

Our main protagonist, Brad, is not a silent character, but rather a character who has been rendered mute. He so rarely speaks or responds to what happens around him that you forget he has the ability to converse until he utters something grim, sad and harsh. He can be downright emphatic when he’s trying to get information as to the safety of Buddy, but has almost nothing to say when another character is trying to have a jovial conversation or wants to ask him about his life. We get enough of that when Brad hallucinates the times before and we get glimpses of his childhood life of neglect and depression, as well as his adult life of trying to numb the past with a façade. The constant, haunting reminder of what he’s lost injects itself constantly, and he rarely has anything to say in retaliation.

Lisa the Painful Sister

Well, dead sister ghost, I don’t have a great answer for that question…

Mechanically, Lisa the Painful is a competent vehicle to deliver the storyline. There’s not enough random enemies to institute grinding for levels, so trying to choose a party and level them sufficiently before the end is the name of the game. Hidden areas and items make or break your success, especially the discovery of fire bombs (highly useful in boss battles) and additional NPCs to join you and fill in lost spots. The exchange of currency, the psychology of battle, even the fast travel system of bicycle, motorcycle, and truck feels organic and natural to the world crafted therein. The map is nonexistent (hence my earlier comment about difficulty traveling), but that feels purposeful given the nature of the world.

As an emotional and mental endeavor, Lisa the Painful fluctuates wildly between upsetting, distressing, and absurd. You have people desperately clinging to some semblance of order and fairness who get murdered and used up. Moments of gut-wrenching decisions and consequences are counterbalanced by purposefully ridiculous conversations and sight gags. You can climb up a rope that takes several real-world minutes to find literally nothing and have no choice but to just climb back down. You meet one character talking to himself while pooping. Several characters can be bought as mercenaries, sometimes with alcohol. It succeeds as much as it fails, with the developer swinging for the fences at every opportunity to elicit something from the player, even if it’s annoyance or anger.

Lisa the Painful Gasoline Bucket


Players and critics alike have valid takes on Lisa the Painful, and it’s difficult to say which way I fall on this title. It lives up to its name, and there are multiple ways to play, paths to choose, and even endings to discover. It’s grotesque, cruel and torrid, but it’s also honest and unflinching in the portrayal of the very real core of human nature. Lisa the Painful: Defintive Edition is a solid RPG with a serious challenge, but it’s also a game of chance and bad luck that can rob you of all actual work and progress. It’s going to land hard for people who had childhood trauma, and it could be quite triggering for anyone who knows someone or has attempted suicide themselves. Use caution and self-awareness before entering Olathe. It’s a complex and interesting journey, but it is, in a word, painful.


Graphics: 9.0

Crafted in RPG Maker, the limitations of the character and world creation give way to unique designs and choices, to keep the world of desolation somehow unique and engaging. Characters are all distinctly different and awful on purpose. 

Gameplay: 9.0

Excellent RPG elements in terms of standard tropes (leveling, crafting, exploration) and solid execution of unique takes (permanent decisions, addiction affects). Stands alone as a game that feels truly different than anything else in this sphere.

Sound: 9.0

From silly horns to unsettling atmospheric notes, the soundtrack is expertly crafted to evoke the unease that exists in Olathe. The only reason it’s not marked higher is that I never want to hear any of this music outside of the game: it’s tied too closely to the story.

Fun Factor: 9.0

I agonized over choices, a sweated over saving and sleeping to try and recover HP. I held my face in shock when bad luck truly stole something away from my game. It was a hit parade from start to finish, and I can’t believe I endured it all.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Lisa the Painful: Definitive Edition is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Lisa the Painful: Definitive Edition was provided by the publisher.