Side-Scrolling RPG LISA Is In A Mess

There may be a good game somewhere underneath the unexplained mess that is LISA. I’ve yet to find it, despite watching its unskippable, fifteen minute long intro four times now. I know there’s good to be found here, but it’s worth mentioning the state the game’s been released in.

Running either in a 640×480 window, or stretched to full screen, with no options to expand between, its splendid pixel art is either too small to discern, or too big to enjoy. Once started, it launches into its deliberately esoteric, achingly slow opening sequence, during which you’re very occasionally required to walk a character to the left or right, before it takes over again. When this is finally complete, it puts you straight into a JRPG-style turn-based combat sequence, with no explanation of anything at all. Finish this, and you’re finally free to roam. Roam to the right, and it kills you, and forces you to watch the entire thing again.

I’d already started it again twice, in efforts to fathom what the stinking hell is going on with its controls. Again, as there’s no explanation of anything, I was left bewildered, wondering if I was missing something as I moved a character to the left or right in a world that appeared to have surfaces to jump and interactive objects but which wouldn’t let me jump or interact. Wondering if I was supposed to be using a controller instead of the keyboard, things became even more ludicrous. That fight sequence required using WASD to attack, in some form. Those letters are mapped to the controller so ludicrously that one of them falls on the d-pad, another on the Start button.

So remap them, right? Oh my goodness. After finding the control options by blind luck (F3, it turns out), I discovered a madness. I could assign A, B, C (?), X, Y, Z, L, and R to, um, “Button 1”, “Button 2”, and so on. Huh? Great. So no help there. Back to the keyboard.

Oh wow, the keyboard control options are even more insane. As far as I can tell, they require an Enigma machine to fathom.

(I’ve just spotted on the Steam forums the developers explaining that,

“R = W on the keyboard

X = A on the keyboard

Y = S on the keyboard

Z = D on the keyboard”

No.)

I’ve heard lots of good things about LISA, but you can’t release a game in this state. I’m going to persist, watch this godforsaken sodding intro yet again, and see if I can discern some method of saving – I’m not convinced there’s a manual save, since I’ve found no such option after hitting every key on the keyboard. (Guess what! F12 resets the game back to the main menu without warning!)

37 Comments

  1. Gap Gen says:

    The game’s own Steam page describes it as “The miserable journey of a broken man…” so at least they’re not violating the trade descriptions act.

    Also do the devs get kickbacks from Big Ellipsis? Just asking…

  2. kalzekdor says:

    So, it has the option to customize the keyboard controls, but the actual keys you can use are hard-coded, and you can only alter their functions? That is the most back-ass-wards thing I’ve heard in a long time. Not only that, but only certain keys can be used, and the function names are (what I can only presume to be) deliberately obtuse.

    Either there’s some very meta stuff going on here, or that is just… bad.

    • statistx says:

      It is 100% RPG Maker. “Always Sometimes Monster” had that menu too, but those devs were able to put their own Settings menu OVER it, which is the more elegant way of course.

    • Scrape Wander says:

      I’m under the impression that many of these issues are related to the challenge of using RPG-Maker to make games.

      That being said, something tells me that the developer has responded to at least one of the tutorial complaints: link to steamcommunity.com

      After playing the demo, there is very little anyone can tell me that would prevent my thorough excitement for this game. I’m really happy the dev came through with a complete version…now if only half of my kickstarter-backed devs could do the same :)

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Wish I could have seen John’s face after pressing F12, made me giggle that did.

    Also isn’t that the key for taking a screenshot in Steam?

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      It sure is. I’m guessing this won’t end well for a lot of people.

      100% positive reviews on Steam right now though, so I guess some people have been able to overlook these flaws.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Or they designed the controls.

      • statistx says:

        To be honest, if i had bought the game, i wouldn’t even have noticed the mentioned flaws, since i allready dealt with enough games out of RPG Maker and thus have my controlls set up, got my external program to change window size and know to not touch F12 XD

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s strange that all these years after Steam overlay screenshots have been around, developers still put things on F12.

      Civ V put quickload there. Even on the Steam version. Back you go to some previous autosave, without confirmation. (I can’t remember if a patch fixed this, or I just found the way to rebind it.)

      • Gap Gen says:

        You reminded me of the panic when I would quicksave in Half Life instead of quickloading, and trap myself in a death loop of falling in radioactive goo.

    • purex. says:

      It’s the default key but you can rebind it in the settings.

  4. Oakreef says:

    The header image desperately needs to not be a jpg

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      Or indeed you may have stumbled on an issue with the game’s tiny scale.

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        Nah. I think Oakreef, like myself, is just nitpicky about compression artifacts. JPEG was designed for photos. It doesn’t deal well with images where colors don’t gradually blend into each other, and will cause distortion “noise” around sharp contrasts. It’s quite apparent (to me, and presumably Oakreef) around the sprites in the header image.

        PNG will generally compress pixel art as well as, or better than JPEG, and will never cause distortion.

        • Jalan says:

          You two aren’t alone. Seeing that ugly fuzz hovering around the characters is just sad.

  5. statistx says:

    Hahaha. Oh RPS, you obviously never played fanmade RPG Maker games from Japan. I allready had to fight through that control menu in the past and once you set it, you never have to touch it again.

  6. statistx says:

    Same as with Always Sometimes Monster. If you want to have it in window and not small as fuck, look for ResizeEnable or similar programs.
    It allows you to change the size of locked Windows.

  7. namad says:

    btw the following is actually in some ways default/industry standard

    “R = W on the keyboard

    X = A on the keyboard

    Y = S on the keyboard

    Z = D on the keyboard”

    most emulators by default will use the setup of:

    zx for snes’s ab
    as for snes’s xy
    and then
    qw for snes’s L and R
    or for a ds or nes or really many emulators and even many low budget ports

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      If it’s an “industry standard,” it’s for a completely different industry. Imposing undocumented SNES-emulator defaults on a PC-only game is fuckstupid.

  8. Ephant says:

    “Running either in a 640×480 window, or stretched to full screen, with no options to expand between, its splendid pixel art is either too small to discern, or too big to enjoy.”

    Press F6. :)

    Important note for fullscreen:
    – DON’T start the game in full screen mode (via F1 > “launch in Full Screen”)
    – DON’T press alt+enter to make the game go full screen
    – press F5 instead

  9. MechanicalPen says:

    Sounds like a classic case of developer blindness. RPG Maker engines have odd and nonsensical settings, but if one spends enough time with them they become familiar enough to almost make sense. And then you tell someone that the keys A, B, C, X, Y, Z, L, R are mapped to shift, esc, space, A, S, D, Q, and R like that makes any sort of sense.

  10. KDR_11k says:

    Jim Sterling managed to do it: link to youtube.com
    Apparently it’s up+space to jump.

  11. Moraven says:

    Yoda Stores was windowed and lower resolution… maybe it will work here? Maybe?

  12. RedMagicks says:

    Streamed the game to my TV and played using a wireless keyboard. ALT+ENTER worked fine for going full screen. As far as the controls go they are defaulted to Z, X, arrow keys. All pretty standard.

  13. swimming anime says:

    This is a really irresponsible article. Figure out how to play a game before trying to write about it. There are like 2 buttons in this game, and theyre the same as every other rpg maker or emulator in the universe.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Bullshit. I should not need to be familiar with either emulators or RPG Maker to play a commercial PC game. It is the dev’s responsibility to tell the player the controls, not the player’s responsibility to Google for them.

  14. Happolnareff says:

    I made an account just to say
    You jumped off a clearly deadly ledge, at the beginning of the game, and decided to make an article about it. You may just be upset.

    Think about it.

  15. Lotus Gramarye says:

    I know it’s a law that game journalists are supposed to be bad at video games, but really? Cliff with no apparent bottom has been code for instant death since Super Mario Bros. Not to mention they give you a save point pretty much immediately after the intro. You can press F6 to change the window size; not the most obvious, but you can also do it by editing an ini file in the game’s root. Which should be obvious/easy to do for anyone with any sort of PC gaming experience.

    F12 taking you to the menu is a legitimate issue, but from what I understand that’s something that’s built into the engine and is not possible to change.

  16. DRUNK AND ANGRY says:

    I can’t believe this is the review LISA gets on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. This game has enthralled me and gives me that “video games are awesome” feeling that only a few special games do.

    This game is funny, bewildering, heavy, and deep. Nothing else has approached the subject matter with a kilometer stick, which is intense by the end of the game as it all sinks in. I even went and played the developer’s first free game (which LISA is a sequel to) just to try to get more story. I’m addicted to reading the forums and seeing various fan theories.

    Sorry, just shocked at this. I don’t know, I saw a cliff and did not jump off. I did accidentally hit f12 and reset the game. I also did not like the controller binds, so I fixed them with a little brainpower. (Windows key+ R, run joy.cpl, see what buttons correspond to button 1, button 2, etc, and bind them to something that worked for me.) I mean, PC gaming right? Or just use the keyboard.

    Anyway, I hope RPS gives it a better shot as the dev patches it (He already put a balloon with a note attached to the cliff so people don’t jump off). I don’t know, I just feel like something that recaptured that childlike feeling of being consistently amazed by the medium deserves better coverage.

  17. BorisStovich says:

    Appalling and unprofessional. John Walker tells readers nothing substantial about LISA beyond a story of his lazy attempt at learning to play the game, while trying to convince us that LISA is a terrible mess of a game purely based upon its long introduction and awkward settings menu (an artifact of RPG Maker).

    The heart-rending story of LISA, lightened somewhat by outstanding comical writing and art direction, is one that its audience will never forget. LISA is filled with moments that will crush you, tickle you and unsettle you. The superb pixel art and the haunting, drug-laced soundtrack work perfectly together to deepen the uncomfortably funny atmosphere of the game. Although LISA is dressed like a JRPG, it forgoes the level grinding typical of the genre by featuring a unique enemy for nearly every battle. Over 90% of the battles in LISA are unique set-pieces of moderate difficulty. Most players should be able to experience mastery of the “bewildering controls” (which are quite intuitive actually, contrary to what the author of this article says) in less than thirty minutes after the intro.

    LISA is an outstanding game for adults, and belongs on lists of top recommended RPGs of 2014 alongside Divinity: Original Sin, Legend of Grimrock 2, Wasteland 2 and Tower of Guns.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      I notice you didn’t address any of his actual complaints.

      Also Tower of Guns isn’t an RPG in any sense.

      • BorisStovich says:

        Tower of Guns is an FPS with choosable classes, character progression, random loot, shops, randomly generated dungeons, and randomly selected plots. But you are right, I suppose it can’t possibly be an RPG in any sense.

        Have you played LISA?

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          Tower of guns doesn’t have classes. Picking a gun and a perk at the start of the game isn’t a “class”. Most of the rest of the things you mentioned are either features of roguelikes, or just gaming tropes in general. Tower of Guns is the only game I’ve ever seen with a randomly selected plot, so I’m not clear how that indicates anything.

          I have not played LISA, which is why I’m depending on articles and comments like this one to keep me informed, so it would be nice if you actually addressed John’s very reasonable-sounding issues instead of ignoring them.

          • Honesthombre says:

            Let me go ahead and address John’s complaints in the review, along with explaining why I think he did a poor job of reviewing the game:

            “I’ve yet to find it, despite watching its unskippable, fifteen minute long intro four times now.”

            I can certainly see how this may be an issue if you happen to die before the first savepoint, as John did, though I have no idea how he managed to die four times without reaching a save point. In the initial version of the game, there were exactly two ways to die before reaching the first save point. The first is via a battle that is extremely difficult to lose (I’ll address this in more detail later) and the second is by falling off a cliff to the right, which is not only much less sudden than he makes it sound (you can see the cliff’s edge while standing on the other end of the screen), but the creator also addressed the issue in response to complaints by making it impossible to fall off this cliff. In the current version of the game, the only possible way to die before the first save point is if you somehow manage to die in a difficult to lose tutorial battle.

            “Running either in a 640×480 window, or stretched to full screen, with no options to expand between, its splendid pixel art is either too small to discern, or too big to enjoy.”

            This is a legitimate issue with the game, though it’s also a limitation of the engine. I found the fullscreen option very playable, however. In addition, this is also being addressed by the creator, since he recently got the help of a programmer, who helped him put out an alternate windows build (currently in beta) that allows free window resizing, among other features not typically possible with games made in the RPG Maker engine.

            “Guess what! F12 resets the game back to the main menu without warning!”

            This is typical of all RPG maker games, and isn’t easily changed. That said, the alternate windows build disables this and also works with the steam overlay, so this issue seems like it’s getting addressed as well.

            “When this is finally complete, it puts you straight into a JRPG-style turn-based combat sequence, with no explanation of anything at all.”

            While it’s true that there’s no explanation with this initial battle, it’s also true that this battle gives you little options is extremely difficult to lose. In fact, the only way it’s even possible to lose this fight is if you defend for several turns in a row, so you don’t accidentally kill the weak enemy as it slowly whittles you down. If you do nothing but basic attacks, you’re guaranteed to win. The game also explains its one unique combat feature before the second fight in the game, which is its combo system (this fight is a bit tougher, but you’re also forced to walk past two save points before you reach this fight).

            “Finish this, and you’re finally free to roam. Roam to the right, and it kills you, and forces you to watch the entire thing again.”

            While this isn’t the reviewer’s fault, I just want to note again that the drop he’s talking about here has been patched to be blocked by a balloon, so it’s no longer possible to die at the spot mentioned. This was also the only possible location you could fall off and die before the initial save point, so in the current version of the game, it’s impossible to fall off a cliff before having a chance to save.

            “Again, as there’s no explanation of anything, I was left bewildered, wondering if I was missing something as I moved a character to the left or right in a world that appeared to have surfaces to jump and interactive objects but which wouldn’t let me jump or interact.”

            He definitely missed something here. He missed the fairly big notes stuck against certain walls and trees with the word “HINT” on them. Both of these appear directly to the left of the starting point, with zero obstacles or dangers along the way (it’s literally a barren path before these notes). One of these notes explains how to save, which reads: “You can save your game by consulting a crow”, while the other explains how to jump, which reads: “When you’re standing in front of a short enough ledge you can hold the UP button then press the SPACEBAR to jump up. And hold the DOWN button and press the SPACEBAR to drop down.” Even if you somehow miss these two notes, there’s a save point a couple steps away from these notes, which really sticks out, since it’s an animated black crow in a brightly lit area, sitting on a perch in the middle of the road.

            On the controller issues: This game does have some issues with controller support, though these are 100% due to limitations of the RPG Maker engine. This is also likely why it’s listed as “Partial controller support” on the game’s Steam page. Playing with a keyboard, the game works well and with no control issues. That said, as this review pointed out, using a controller is still possible, even if it is less straightforward and intuitive than with some other games.

            Now, I’m not sure if you noticed, but this article only talks about technical issues (which as I’ve pointed out above, aren’t as bad as the reviewer makes out, and was partly due to his failure to examine any of the tutorial notes), and the first 20 minutes of the game (He calls the 15 minute opening slow and prodding, then complains about the first 5 minutes of gameplay). I’m unsure about you, but I find it extremely unfair to harshly judge a 10-15 hour game on its 15 minute opening cutscene and 5 minutes of gameplay. He mentions practically nothing about the game’s story, gameplay, music, atmosphere, or anything else related to actually playing and experiencing the game, since quite frankly, he’s experienced practically none of it. I would understand perhaps being a bit turned off by a poor intro, but as a reviewer, it’s really your job to stick with it long enough to at least get an idea of the actual gameplay. Based on this review, it seems like he didn’t even make it through the game’s 10-20 minute tutorial, and it seems disingenuous to call the entire game a mess when you’ve barely even touched it.

            I feel Rock Paper Shotgun really owes this game a second look, but for now, I’d suggest looking elsewhere for a decent review on this game. This game is certainly no flawless masterpiece, but I found it very engrossing from start to finish, and enjoyed it more than most games I’ve played in recent years, due to its quirky humor, fun and challenging gameplay, interesting story, and wonderful soundtrack and atmosphere. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for me, it was a very memorable and enjoyable experience, that felt well worth my time.

          • BorisStovich says:

            You aren’t very bright for someone so loud, haha. Roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, look it up. Also, picking a gun and a perk is just as much of a class system as most computer RPGs due to the impact it has on gameplay mechanics and character progression. Morrowind prompted the player to “pick a class” despite the choice having little impact on gameplay beyond minor skill point distribution. Is Morrowind more of a class-based game because it used the word “Class”?

            As for LISA, nearly all of the issues stated in this review have been addressed. The reviewer was also wrong about the window/resolution options. The game shipped with 3 window size options and a full-screen option. I have no idea how the reviewer managed to fall off of the same cliff in the tutorial so many times. It appears that in response to this “review”, the developer put an impassable pile of rocks on the tutorial cliff so that John Walker wouldn’t have so much difficulty when he is holding down the walk-right button for no reason. The only glaring issue worth writing about is the controller & rebinding options. As Honesthombre says, this review is unfair and unjust towards one of the most memorable games of 2014.

  18. FILTHY says:

    Z – confirm/interact/jump
    X – cancel/menu

    WASD are what combo characters use to attack
    Don’t walk off cliffs like an imbecile
    Learn to read the signs that have BIG CAPITAL LETTERS that say “HINT”

    Maybe you should become competent at figuring things out for yourself before you go on a silly rant on the internet, you homunculous mongoloid.