A cautionary warning: Do not enable Pain mode on your first playthrough. You don't need it in your life. The primary difference between Pain and Normal mode is that save points in Pain mode can only be used once before exploding and being gone forever. No explanation is given in game as to what it does and the default selection is Pain mode. I played for 4.2 hours before restarting the game to get out of Pain mode; at that point my save file only had 1 hour 52 minutes recorded because of a couple very costly deaths. This nearly ruined the game for me. Don't make my same mistake.
You know when you see a macabre painting and you're like "Damn, that's some great artistry, but I just can't get into the subject matter."? For me, this game is often like that. I can intellectually appreciate the mature themes that LISA tackles in a kooky, comedic way. However, the dark comedy can't fully wash away the emotional muck that this game submerges you into as it shows you some of the worst sides of humanity. Your views on whether these heavy topics have a place in your entertainment and if you can laugh at them are the biggest determinants on whether you'll like this game. If you can stomach the rest, LISA's writing, characters, visual style, soundtrack and combat won't let you down.
Welcome to a world without women. It is brutal, perverse and often hopeless. Adult magazines have become this land's currency and addiction to a new drug called Joy is rampant. You play as Brad Armstrong as he seeks to rescue his adopted daughter, Buddy, from this world that sees her both as a savior worth safeguarding and a sexual object to be used and passed to the next guy. He found her as an infant and hid her away from the world as he raised her. He sees protecting her as a means of redemption for past failures... And this is just the game's setup.
A colorful cast of characters bring their own quirks and vices to this story. Some are addicted to Joy and will suffer withdrawal during combat if you don't feed their addiction. Others are simply lonely and are easy to convince to join your band of misfits. There are 30 characters to recruit and seeing a slice of each of their stories is a delight. A number of disparate antagonists make regular appearances, some to make your life miserable while another is surprisingly cordial. It is refreshing to see such a diverse, nonstereotypical supporting cast of both playable characters and NPCs.
Some of the themes in this game couldn't have been addressed as successfully without stellar writing. It deftly blends humor in with displays of abuse, addiction, hopelessness, insanity, questions on child rearing and other parodies of real world issues. I welcome less black and white, good vs evil narratives in the game industry, but at the same time I feel like this game took it a little too far into the dark side. Its depressing elements frequently outweighed its funny ones. The general flow of text, the text box style and the comedy itself are all reminiscent of the Mother series (Earthbound), and I mean that as a great compliment.
LISA's art style fits the world beautifully. It, too, compares to the Mother series, but with a more grungy, bloody take on it. It is not always the most detailed or varied, but characters stand out as distinct from one another. Perhaps even better is the soundtrack. It consistently sets the oddball tone of this world and what happens in it. There are a few repeated melodies, often in very different styles, that really help to tie the soundtrack together as a singular whole. I, for one, am very glad to have bought the game packaged with its soundtrack.
Combat is an enjoyable turn based system where each party member can play very differently. Some, like the main character Brad, use a combo system where you string together small attacks to trigger special moves. Others use something more akin to a traditional mana system. Others still need to build up points by using basic functions before they can unleash more devastating attacks. Rest assured that you'll be able to find a group that fits your playstyle among the many options. Be warned that there are situations both in and out of combat that can permanently kill party members. With such harsh consequences I reached a point where I felt like I needed to play with the excellent LISA wiki open for reference in the background.
Adjusting for my restart time, a single, thorough playthrough took me roughly 18 hours. I consider that a good length for this type of game and an excellent value compared to its cost. Looking at Steam global achievement rates, there is a concerning drop off between those that get the first achievement (85%) and those that finish the game (16%). However, most of that occurs near the beginning where only 28.2% defeat the first real boss. Still, it's worth noting that clearly this game isn't everyone's cup of tea.
With all said and done, I don't regret having played LISA. I do not, however, plan to play either its prequel or sequel. It is a more memorable game than many others but I will remember it with conflicted emotions.