LISA the Painful is really, really weird. It’s the sort of game that tries to put your stomach in a knot on every page, but then, in the footnotes, it has a sort of entertaining dark humor as well that intrigues and confuses you, and leaves you wanting more. It’s a story of sacrifice, cruelty, sadism, and mad-cap craziness that, if nothing else, is a truly unique experience. If you’re the kind of person that likes to be thrown out of their comfort zone, loves interesting and original new stories, and is okay with some pretty adult situations that aren’t for the faint of heart, LISA the Painful is your kind of game.

LISA the Painful is a side-scrolling RPG game from the developer Dingaling. This is actually the second game in a series of three (as of this writing), but the first game is a more experimental piece and much more up to interpretation for the most part than its sequel is, so this is an easier place to start.

The setting is Olathe, a community destroyed by some cataclysmic event known as the Flash, wherein all the women and children vanished, and the land was left desolate and fruitless; think of Mad Max, where most everyone is in some looney fuel-injected gang of misfits. This is the story of the men who are left, but mostly, of one particular man, and his particular adopted daughter, who is the last known woman alive. Brad, our protagonist, finds her in infancy and decides to raise her, sheltering her from the outside world that she would remain safe; this isn’t how things shake out, to be sure, and she, Buddy, is kidnapped, leaving Brad to go and save her.

The game’s graphics are pixelated, as in a classic JRPG. While there are some that might chafe at the idea of playing a pixelated game in this day and age, I thought it was a rather appropriate choice after a while. It’s minimalist, while still conveying the gore, the creepiness, the violence in a way that feels natural. Also, the music is phenomenal. It never detracts from the environment, and overall makes the game so much more fun to play.

As far the gameplay is concerned, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill RPG. The combat system, and indeed much of the game’s style and characters as well, are inspired by Earthbound. Brad and the (many, many) party members that you meet along the way are all unique, boasting a wide array of skills that vary widely in efficacy. Much of the fun of this game is switching up your party lay-out to find the best combinations for the late game.

But the most important aspect of the game is the choice factor. LISA the Painful is aptly named, as you’ll be forced into a number of painful decisions that will affect you for the rest of the game. Do you choose between yourself, or your friends? Your stuff, or your health? Without getting too graphic or spoiling too much, the game makes sure that you pay for trying to be kind and virtuous and protective – and in the end, you may be wondering if it was even worth it in the first place

The game isn’t very long, all things considered; I did miss a few side-areas, didn’t pick up every party member, but while also doing some grinding, back-tracking, and generally getting lost, the whole game came out to about twelve hours or so. Even so, it manages to tell its story and leave you satisfied with what you’ve gone through, and it leaves a bit of replayability as well in the form of a “hard mode” and all the side content that you might have missed before. This game most definitely isn’t for everyone. In fact, I’d struggle to say that even most people would like as much as I did, but I would still recommend it to anyone, if for nothing else but its originality, and moreover, the intense story. These things, coupled with an at least serviceable combat and exploration element, I’d rate LISA the Painful as an 8/10.