The LISA series began with what was essentially a fangame of Yume Nikki and now that it’s established itself as a post-apocalyptic indie RPG, it’s had attempts at fangames of its own. Several fangames tried to get off the ground and I’m pretty sure that LISA the Spiteful was the first attempt. Most of these attempted fangames just sort of ended up dying out, reasons ranging from lousy drama to having other obligations. However, one game has managed to climb out of the pit of games that couldn’t be made, releasing a demo consisting of its first act.
LISA the Pointless is by EdvinasKandrotas, with the game set to be divided into three parts, with the first part, Mystics of Trash and Violence, currently out. Rather than focusing on the core cast of Lisa, Brad, Buddy, Rando, etc or the conflicts resulting from Buddy being discovered in post-apocalyptic Olathe, the Pointless is divorced from all that. It takes place in the same world, with the characters and the chase for Buddy being alluded to, but they’re ultimately background noise for the new characters as they head to unseen parts of Olathe.
The main character is Alex Churchland, a martial arts practitioner turned garbage man turned garbage. Starting from the intro sequence, he already shows a contrast to the past protagonists. His backstory’s comparatively mundane and nice, lacking the abuse that plagued the lives of Lisa, Brad and Buddy. Alex is implied to not have his biological parents around, but he still has support in an aunt that encourages him to follow his ultimately failed dreams of being a martial artist. Being a failure is kinda lousy, yeah, but it’s still rather mundane in comparison to the other characters. As a result of his somewhat ordinary life, Alex is a normal person, lacking the aggression and trauma of Brad and Buddy nor having the addictions that made their problems worse. Just an ordinary dude in the wastes trying to survive.
The second party member – and pretty much the only other party member for most of the game – is Joel Miller, a scavenger on Garbage Island that finds Joel alive in a body dump, along with a lucky bullet for his custom gun. Dubbing Alex as his lucky charm, he decides to tag along with Alex on his journey to safety, striking up a quick friendship, which brings up another comparison to past protagonists. Brad himself is never really shown to have any affection for his party members and he is perfectly willing to sacrifice them for his own gain and Buddy shows an open distrust for Rando. Alex and Joel however end up having a genuine friendship that’s never really called into question. Just two dudes being dudes traveling across the wasteland together.
My problem with these two characters is their motivations. They want to leave Garbage Island and seek out a mythical city, a presumed safe bastion in Olathe. Finding a safe place in a post-apocalyptic world is a perfectly understandable goal on its own. The problem mainly stems from how they contrast with the rest of the characters. Most of the characters that Alex and Joel run into are hopeless, choosing to live their lives as scavengers or joining up with a gang that revels in the bloodshed of the post-apocalypse. Almost everybody else doesn’t believe in the city, nor do they choose to pursue it. So why them? What in their backstories makes them hopeful individuals in a world of trash and violence? What keeps them as mostly nice people in a world that’s jaded, for that matter? I don’t have a problem with Alex and Joel being nice people and I sort of welcome it, but they just seem kinda unnatural in the world of LISA.
Their quest of looking for sanctuary in the post-apocalypse factors into the game’s main theme of finding meaning in a ruined world. Is it truly pointless to look for safety in Olathe, if there is such a thing? Is it futile to even do anything? Both of the main areas in Mystics of Trash and Violence looks at futility in different ways. The people of Garbage Island are resigned to their fates at best and at worst, they’re committing suicide by tying bags over their heads to join the trash. Alex, as a garbage man, is also given a quest by a local crackpot leader to get “intimate” with the trash around them and while it’s initially played for cheap laughs, at the end Alex just feels disgusted and sees it as nonsense, with the trash mystic admitting that it’s all just to introduce meaning in their lives.
The second area, Downtown Olathe, focuses on violence. Initially, everybody there just seems to be having turf wars for the fun of it, the leaders on somewhat good terms with each other to distract from the conditions of the world they’re in – then the Infinity Franchise enters the scene. The Infinity Franchise is the ultimate army of assholes in a post-apocalyptic world, slaughtering people while sporting red and green jerseys with “88” printed on instead of the usual diesel punk shit. Why do they do the things they do? For no reason. The Infinity Franchise is nihilism in tacky jerseys, killing not for pleasure or self-defense, but for its own sake. They embrace the infinite nothingness of death and they will bring Olathe to infinite nothingness, acting more like an end-of-the-world cult than an evil army – which given the strange supernatural undercurrents of the gang, they actually kinda are a cult.
The battle system is the same as the past games, with the nice feature of actual health bars for the enemies added in. Alex plays like Brad, using keyboard input combos to use special moves, but he’s also riskier in that he has a lower SP pool and recovers it slower. Should he keep building up SP to do stronger attacks or to have some left over just in case he needs to dodge, or should he just be unrelenting? Some moves also have stronger beneficial effects, but they also stick Alex with some bad effects as well, so playing him is kind of a risk-reward type deal. As for Joel, he’s essentially a gunslinger, but he canonically only has one bullet for his gun, so he really can’t fight at all. Instead, all of his skills play around with status effects, bluffing his enemies into thinking that the gun is loaded to recover SP and strike fear into them or taunting them. If some more offense is needed, Joel can toss bottles at enemies to take advantage of his high but unused attack stat, though those are a bit precious.
I say precious because that brings me to another part of the Pointless‘ gameplay: the difficulty. The game is pretty much designed in mind for LISA players that beat Pain Mode, that fun difficulty mode that adds more encounters as well as making save points one-time use only. The Pointless keeps the one-time use save points, but it also makes the game’s currency far less plentiful and there are less resources, so if you’ve never played Pain Mode or found it too hard, welcome to hell. The game does introduce items that act as a one-time use save, but they ended up falling into too-good-to-use territory for me, especially since I could never tell if the next person I’d end up fighting was a total pushover with a save immediately afterward or not. Most enemies are also pretty demanding, which isn’t so bad, as it kinda pushes you to make the most out of Alex and Joel’s abilities.
The difficulty however is balanced out by the fact that a large amount of the game is optional. It’s way easier to count the number of battles that are actually required out of all of them. Even the final boss of Downtown Olathe is optional, continuing on with the plot if you lose (though you miss out on getting his weapon). However, you will be missing out on a lot of interesting stuff if you just forge on ahead. Personally, I really liked going through Downtown Olathe and watching the place turn even shittier than it started out while the friendly NPCs die off or buy into Infinity Franchise madness. It’s really nice environmental stuff. Just know that you might end up getting fucked up going off the beaten path.
The art of the game is a real nice improvement over the original LISA games. While the art style’s generally the same, it is also way more detailed, characters and environments looking more grittier to better fit the look of an awful world. The background parallaxes also sometimes steps away from the usual “mountains on the horizon” for more impressive backgrounds, like the sky over Garbage Island as seen in the first image or the looming, ruined buildings of Downtown Olathe. As for enemy designs, it’s a lot less reliant on using recolors and edits of pre-existing sprites, so it feels like you’re fighting unique people. The original LISA games kinda tried to do that by giving most of the enemies a name, but it kinda went into sprite edit territory at some point and ultimately only the bosses stood out.
My only problem with the art – and I’m not sure if this is really just a pet peeve or not – is that I got tired of the red and green color palette used for a good part of the game. Fuck the Franchise’s jerseys and their bloodstained lands.
The music is also a high point for me, continuing LISA‘s trend of high energy battle themes in RPG Maker. Some people think that putting bombastic music in RPG Maker games is ill-fitting, but I don’t care, I’m all about this shit as long as it’s good and this was some good shit to me. The most prominent musician on the soundtrack for me was definitely Taitoki. For the uninformed, Taitoki was a prominent figure in the LISA fanbase known for making a bunch of rad fan songs. She composed a bunch of songs for some of the fangames that sprang up, but those never got far. Thankfully, some of that music’s been repurposed for Pointless, finally finding itself in a concrete game for the public. The music’s pretty great, ranging from a somewhat adventurous and upbeat tune for Garbage Island to a menacing battle song for a gang of cannibalistic Franchisers.
My personal problems with Mystics of Trash and Violence just sort of lie with the main characters being inexplicable pillars of hope in a pointless and violence world, as well as the fact that you only really have two of them, so I’m hoping that later parts gives us more looks into Alex and Joel’s characters and more party members to give us more to work with. As a fan sequel, LISA the Pointless is pretty good in terms of presentation, but its difficulty may make it inaccessible to people that never played the original game’s Pain Mode. It does end on a pretty interesting cliffhanger, so I’m looking forward to what the later parts will bring.