LISA Session 03 Review
Strong men only
Why I played it:
Apes haven't yet retaken the Earth, so I have to pass time somehow.
How it works:
The Gang start out in a gang town, right after beating up the Jackson Five and whoring out a crow's last farewell. Crows are the gold in this here LISA, and if you find one, you spend that shit the instant you get in contact with it. If you don't, you're gonna have a lamentable expedition. The save spots are less generous that what you'd find in a Kingdom Hearts game. I loaded a save spot, I played for an hour, I saved again, and I quit out of respect.
The Gang found a bunch of nerds in a cavern, including one bloke who watches you while you sleep, making you pay for the privilege. Some random asshole in front of the gasoline lake said to kill a bunch of dudes for entrance, so The Gang obliged, knocking out two thugs, one man taking a nap, and another sitting in front of a gasoline fire. You'd think they'd try to run away, but I guess they aren't smart if they can sleep through being set on fire.
The asshole fades into thin air, and The Gang refresh their tastebuds with the sweet taste of gasoline. You'll see a lot of that word thrown around. You know what it makes? Bombs. And when a video game gets bombs in it, you know something special is going to happen. That is, if you haven't built your entire identity around the thing, but then all that Mr. Bomberman has are a couple of black-dynamite spheres that look, sound, and have the destructive power of a baking soda volcano. These bombs are made out of bottles and have the damage to match. Only fair that you pick up a dozen of them.
The Gang uses their newfound power to head to the "strong men only" section of the world, where snakes hide amongst spaghetti strands and a guy in a tree is less of a threat than a scaly noodle. Give the snakes credit, seeing as they made The Gang piss themselves a few times just because the little blokes were everywhere. Chalk it up to a noodle to make grown men run away in fear.
After a few expeditions to the obligatory full-heal resting spot, which is being used more in this game that your mom is being used by someone who hates her, The Gang find a tiny bundle of sticks they can also rest at - a spot which they swiftly learned were full of thieving snakes. The slide into your pockets, steal your beef jerky, get stuck in the bottles and make more snakes pick them up and run away so the humans don't see their stupidity, and make you grateful they didn't steal your motherfucking bombs.
Good thing too, seeing as The Gang got stuck fighting another blob motherfucker out there on the playground - though it was less a fight and more punching a brick wall. The bloke dealt a thousand damage to himself every turn, making the whole endeavour a prayer that he won't end up hitting one of your party members, with health half as much as yours and the team medic being as durable as grass. Fortunately the event never came to pass - though a boss that kills himself is a boss that deserves to be ridiculed.
The reward? A kid's bicycle. The game opens up at this point, letting The Gang travel back and forth between rest stops without moving like a bologna, though at the risk of falling off damn near every cliff you ride across. The ability to jump between cliffs is a simple one, though one of those simple-yet-sensible pieces of game design which makes sense in context and isn't arbitrarily limiting your ability to progress like you might find in Dust: An Elysian Tail, with all that crystal gem business giving me flashbacks to Tumblr. The speed boost, too, is much needed. I didn't think it was necessary, being a slow-thinker myself, though being able to explore caves fast means that there's potential for much bigger setpieces, so long as you aren't going Sonic speed and being unable to fully appreciate them.
So The Gang uses this power to whore out some water, get some porn, pick up broken beer bottles, and jump over what some cunt said I had to be a few pounds lighter to jump over. The nerve. Everybody in this game is fucked up in some way, and you'd think you'd get used to being insulted. I guess Brad has the patience of a child abuse victim waiting for God, because I wouldn't stop for that man on my Red Racer bicycle.
Then Brad finds himself in a flashback to somehow even shittier times. It's less for the experience of describing the thing rather than the experience of being there, so let me try. Brad visits the Full House set with a friend whose wife and son hates him and laments about how Brad has a much better life than him... how Brad has no wife, no kids, nobody to nag or be nagged by. How he teaches martial arts and gets to be free. And then the child from F.E.A.R. shows up, and gives Brad PTSD.
And then he finds a crow, and runs to that shit like you'd run to a clown giving out free money. I guess crows are trying to make up for their Castlevania reputation, exploding in shame after you save at them. There's not even any question in this game. If you see a crow, you drop everything you're doing and save. Fuck the health, fuck optimisation, fuck you. I'm not losing the last hour's worth of my life just to get 50 more health points.
What I felt:
This game is a bit like Haruhi, actually, which is my new benchmark for things which reveal their story in bits and pieces inbetween throwing random bullshit at you. LISA is actually more subtle in that respect - it reveals to you a great deal about the backstory of the game, but it does so inbetween long sightseeing tours of some of the worst sights you'll ever see in a video game, though still hilarious due to the absurdity of the situations (including a bit where you light an orphanage on fire).
And with this game, backstory is all there really is, as the plot of "get my fucking baby back" is dead simple. It's instead about the sights you see and what you learn through the few moments of human interaction / suburban flashbacks that gives the game its story developments. It's not like Undertale where things happen out of context and for no reason, where everybody fights you because it's an idiot plot and the kid could have just spoken up and told the frogs to leave him alone. Absurd things happen, but it makes sense within the game's universe, because all of mankind is so fucking desperate and disillusioned that pretty much anything makes sense.
Alright, so it does crib pretty heavy from Earthbound, where bad things always seem to happen when you show up, but who said that was a bad thing? I want the exciting stuff to happen when I'm there - that's the purpose of a story! I want to bear witness to a guy dying on top of a food truck and have his brother react like he slipped and fell on the pavement, because that's interesting. I want to visit the town full of drag queens and bear witness to the guy pole dancing in fishnet stockings, because that's fucking cool.
And the best part is that these events all make sense in the context of the game, where everybody has a reason to be there, where the world is built organically and isn't just a bunch of sprites thrown together on a level editor who you can talk to and have some "random" thing happen to you. The random things happen while you're there, but they rarely happen because you're there. It's this big gripe with Undertale that I have where, despite the fantasy setting, everything seems to be out of context and has no rhyme or reason to the setpieces, and it's obvious that God was having a field day and decided to throw a bunch of shit down a volcano and see what evolves. Even Earthbound was a bit guilty of this, but it invented the concept of random shit happening to the character, so it gets a pass under the "innovation doesn't have to be perfect" clause.
It's only with LISA that you understand how an absurd series of setpieces can coexist with each other and still make sense within the game's canon. Towns don't pop up because the developers wanted a town full of schoolboy gang members, neither do you fight the big motherfucking blob JUST because it's interesting - you fight these schoolboys because they're desperate to eke out a life, and you fight the blob because they're drug addicts who went too far and just wants to get put out of their misery. It's a fucked up setting against fucked up characters just trying to make an existence that doesn't make them feel so fucked up.
What I learned:
That's what LISA is - it's fucked up. Brad's life is fucked up, all your party members are fucked up, you fight fucked up enemies, visit fucked up towns, talk to fucked up characters, see fucked up sprites, listen to the fucked up soundtrack, and take fucked-up drugs so the enemies don't fuck you up. It's a game of horrible people against horrible sights, and everybody is trying to justify to themselves that they aren't horrible people living in a horrible world. Because when the world went to shit, nothing made sense anymore... so they just rolled with it. And when they did, they made it even worse.
And the one thing that Undertale will never understand is that you cannot make the audience enjoy your work by throwing them into tangentially related situations, and expecting them to feel exactly what you expect to feel. You cannot make them laugh when you throw in the obligatory funny scene with the rock. You cannot make them feel sad by making them kill somebody who could have been avoided by sneaking out while they're asleep. You cannot throw your character into a world without any cohesion to it, and still expect your audience to feel something in regards to that world. That's emotional manipulation - and the only people you've manipulated are those too ignorant of the arts to see through your charade.
LISA respects its audience. It does not expect you to laugh when it tells a joke, nor does it expect you to feel sad when something bad happens to somebody. It respects you enough to not force a joke or to be constantly reminded that what you're doing is bad according to the game's arbitrary standards. It doesn't attach you to characters who you're expected to like, and it doesn't remind you of their existence every five minutes by talking. It simply lets them live, as part of The Gang, as part of this realistic apocalypse that LISA has created, and lets you like them by just making them be themselves. They're not alive for your amusement - they're alive for themselves.
I'm not biased against a game just because I found it badly constructed, and I am not biased towards a game just because I like what it has achieved. I am comparing and contrasting these two games because they are both similar in tone, similar in art style, similar in difficulty, and similar in that they both want you to figure out the pieces of a puzzle that occurred after you showed up late to the party. But if during this comparison we find that one makes the other look like garbage, then so be it. It is not the purpose of the reviewer to distribute opinions that are favourable to him, but instead to the audience. And if the audience does not like the reviewer's attempts to teach them about his worldview, then they can either call attention to the flaws of the reviewer, or find one which more accurately reflects them as an audience member.
Time spent: 02:44:44
Crow cocking at Froghand.
Today's page was updated on October 11, 2016!
Just because I compare something to anime doesn't mean I'm a weeb.