LISA: The Pointless – Scholar of the Wilbur Sin

LISA: The Painful RPG is one of the few RPG Maker games that broke into the general gaming mainstream and it’s one that’s gotten a lot of fangames and mods. The most well-known of these fangames are LISA: The Hopeful and LISA: The Pointless, which are excellent games and the latter happened to be one of the earliest things I wrote about before I stuck to an identity and voice for this blog.

LISA: The Pointless is not a done game, though. The experience we were given was only Chapter 1, Mystics of Trash and Violence. But surely, Chapter 2 or whatever else is on the horizon, right? Well, in the years since the original releases of Mystics of Trash and Violence, the developers have been working on something called the “Monster Update,” which aims to massively expand the first chapter while redoing a lot of the art to fit the standards expected in the future. To give an idea of what to expect, the game’s intro somehow ballooned from a few minutes to more than half an hour.

It’s kinda cool I guess, but considering the state of the intro, I wonder if the project’s been subject to a lot of feature creep, and how much of the new stuff feels necessary.

However, funnily enough, as the official expansion churns on, somebody else had made their own expansion on LISA: The Pointless. It isn’t a massive overhaul, but it really does change the base experience of The Pointless in ways that feels meaningful to the world and not, well, pointless.

So today, we’re talking about LISA: The Pointless: Scholar of the Wilbur Sin, by JCJimmy. Released in 2021, Wilbur Sin adds a whole bunch of new stuff to Mystics of Trash and Violence. I was excited when I learned about this game because I really enjoyed The Pointless, and the thing is, I’ve kinda re-examined my thoughts toward the original LISA: The Painful (especially after I read that obnoxious interview he did along with the YIIK guys), so I took it as a chance to look at The Pointless in a new light.

So, if you’re planning on playing this and just want to stick to the beaten path, I’ll say that you may as well stick with the original version of The Pointless. Scholar of the Wilbur Sin is an expansion that doesn’t interfere with the original ideas of The Pointless and instead builds on it, so almost all of the new stuff will be for people that want to explore and engage with the world.

If you don’t know about the original LISA: The Painful RPG, LISA takes place in a post-apocalyptic world blighted by something called the White Flash, which killed/disappeared all the women and turned the world into a wasteland. You played as Brad Armstrong, a man that adopted a baby that turned out to be a girl, and he sets out on a miserable journey to rescue her when she disappears into a world that desires her.

However, the main characters of The Pointless don’t give a shit about that. Instead, Alex Churchland – a failed martial artist – sets out to look for the City, a possible sanctuary in a world gone wrong. He is joined by Joel Miller – a gunslinger whose gun is mostly for show – who accompanies him because this is kind of a dudes rock game.

A stated design intention for the original LISA: The Painful RPG was to craft a world where everyone is an individual, where “every character [in Lisa] will have their own individual spirit and look.” All the non generic enemies have identities with a first and last name, unique appearance, unique skillsets, etc. Part of this is also to enforce the idea that you don’t know who is friend or foe in the game; maybe this character is a future party member, maybe this guy is just an NPC, or maybe this guy will immediately try to kick your ass for no good reason.

However, I feel that the original game doesn’t fully embody that goal. The party members and bosses are kinda Jojo stand users where you can kinda recognize who’s actually important at a glance, and a lot of enemies at a point wind up being edits and recolors of previous ones. But I understand, because the original game was mostly made by one guy and there were a lot of characters, so I get that it’d be a hard ideal to fully capture.

The Pointless, though, had a different situation. There were far fewer characters and while it had a primary director, it had aid from other people in the LISA community. The smaller pool of characters and more manpower put into it resulted in a much more unique population that better fulfills these goals. Wilbur Sin, in adding onto the game, just takes it further, adding a bigger variety of original weirdos in the game. Yeah, many of the characters are represented by two sprites (their overworld/battle sprite and their corpse), but really, that’s all you need to get things across – plus, it’s practical. Everyone has more varied designs, to the point that I was genuinely unsure which NPC was just an NPC or somebody that wants to rip my throat out.

Of note, Wilbur Sin actually adds some new party members, and to reinforce the idea that anyone can be friend or foe, the new party members are minor NPCs from the original Pointless. Like, nobody major, nobody cool, just a bunch of guys that’s willing to rough it with you for a simple act of kindness. The new party members actually wind up presenting some replay value because for the most part, you can have only have one third party member at a time and they’re mutually exclusive with each other.

With these new party members, the game is balanced to be harder to account for the extra manpower you can bring in. Like its originals, Wilbur Sin is a turn-based RPG. Alex is the primary attacker of the gang who performs attacks by inputting button commands to use special moves; there’s a flow to using him in that he has to get into stances to recover his SP, like a proper martial artist. Joel is primarily a support with a large range of debuffs to use, but he can use the limited use bottle resource to glass enemies real good and act as an evade tank.

As for the third party member, your choices offer a bunch of utilities. If you’re looking to ease Joel off of being an evade tank during your time at Garbage Island, Georgy can be a good standard tank, but if you want more firepower, Darry has you covered. When you get Downtown, Geen can tear things up with pure damage moves that synergize with an array of status effects, while Salt Crab acts as a tank with some recovery skills to ease the resource burden. Overall, there’s a nice variety of skills to use.

And you really have to make effective use of those skills, especially if you’re doing the side content, because the game is unforgiving. The original version of The Pointless was already hard, but the new content cranks it up a notch to account for an extra party member. Besides the general difficulty going up, resources feel more scarce, because not only are healing items limited, but the shops themselves have limited inventories now, too. If you don’t plan on burning through your resources, you better get good at killing those jerseyheads before they give you a reason to use them up.

Now, Downtown Olathe is really where Wilbur Sin shines as an expansion. The starting area of Garbage Island is already expanded a bunch, including an area that delves into an original new backstory, but it’s all small compared to Downtown Olathe. If I had to make a rough guess, the size of Downtown Olathe quadrupled over its original incarnation, adding whole new areas that give a better impression of this city being a Place instead of some random ruin. In fact, I’d say that it’s a good thing that most of the new stuff are side areas, because the normal route offers a good offramp when you’re done exploring. If you find yourself running low on resources, well, you can always just continue the main story.

Honestly, I feel that it’s right for the game to use the Dark Souls reference title, because Downtown Olathe reads as a city from one of those games, at least from my perspective of absorbing those games through cultural osmosis. Not in the sense of it being hard (though it is), but in the sense of the world being an interconnected place full of mystery full of obscure and esoteric secrets, where seemingly innocuous actions leads to some horrible consequence happening in the world

To do that, the game really expands on the nature of Downtown Olathe’s gangs, who were a small presence beyond their leaders in the original Pointless. You see the Bad Angels, a bunch of flashy jerks that are enthusiastic about the Game – a recreational wargame where the gangs of Downtown Olathe fight for territory to distract themselves from the conditions of their world. You see the Corps, a more recreational gang that can be seen as the local jocks. They’re all a bunch of fun weirdos to talk to and they paint a picture of life in the post-apocalyptic world of Olathe.

And a much different picture is painted when you revisit these areas again to see them ravaged by the Infinity Franchise, with many gang members getting killed or converting over.

There is no real central bad guy in LISA: The Pointless, but the closest thing would be the Infinity Franchise as an entity. Whereas the people of Garbage Island tried to find meaning in trash, the Infinity Franchise believes that there’s no point in anything and that all living things are just meat in the beginning and the end – so they may as well turn everybody back into meat.

The main identifier of the Infinity Franchise are their infinity jerseys, which is a gaudy red and green with a number 88 on them. So, when I originally played The Pointless, I didn’t really see a meaning in that number and just left it as 8 looking like an infinity symbol. However, in some circles, “88” is a Nazi dog whistle. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence either; in doing background research on the game, I learned that the original lead developer, Edvinas Kandrotas, ran a satirical deviantart account taking the piss out of Polish nationalists. He knows what that number is and the fascist undertones to the Infinity Franchise feels deliberate – and the additions JCJimmy puts in hammers it in further.

Fascism arises in times of crisis, offering amoral solutions under a strong guiding leader or principle. In a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, any villain that isn’t some ancap libertarian is a fascist that took power through providing something for people to rally behind. And the thing is, the Infinity Franchise is both of these archetypes. While many of its members act like those libertarian marauders, they all rally under an organizational system run by a banal evil clerk, killing for the sake of climbing up the rungs of infinity under a mutual belief that life is meaningless. There seems to be an organized effort at radicalization, with one of the game’s minibosses reprogramming televisions to flash “88”s and “KILL” as extremely simple propaganda. A few former members of the Corps pretty much get Infinity-pilled just from watching these screens.

In a weird way, the Infinity Franchise embodies both right-wing anarchism and fascism. “One franchise, infinite kings,” an Infinity Franchise member declares in a gang that simultaneously holds a strong central principle for violence while being completely aimless and directionless in enforcing it. There’s no in-group, as anyone can join. And there’s no designated out-group to oppress either, because everyone is the out-group. The Infinity Franchise is a mix of cynical, contradictory ideologies, coming out the other side as something completely… pointless. Wear the jersey, spread the jersey, kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill….

What of the gangs that the Infinity Franchise supersedes? Well, if there’s a political view for the Infinity Franchise to rally behind, it’s that the old way of life sucked. Meanwhile, the gangs try to uphold a sense of normalcy. As previously said, the gangs hold the Game to provide structure to the lives of Downtown Olathe’s denizens. There’s one particular gang, the Bureau, that goes so far in upholding a sense of normalcy that they are based in an office, where its members try to have relatively normal office affairs as if the world had never ended. And there is some sense of normal politics going on, because the leaders of said gangs hold a meeting (heavily implied to not be the first of many) where they all hang out and chat about the Infinity Franchise.

The gangs of Olathe wind up reading to me as a liberal order trying to cling on to normalcy as the world falls apart. And the thing is, in times of horrible crisis, liberalism offers very little to people that want serious solutions or change. Not only does this system not actually fix anything, but if just offers a lesser version of the promise of the Infinity Franchise. So, it’s kinda no surprise that people wind up getting Infinity-pilled, because while it does not solve the problems of the post-Flash world, it is a major change in a world of men wasting away until the end.

But now, you may be wondering: what is Alex and Joel?

So when I wrote about the original version of The Pointless years ago, I complained about them being unnaturally nice in the wasteland. And honestly? That was a dumb criticism. Both games have a fucked up snake man with fire powers. There are multiple people that can shoot rays through their fingertips. One of your party members persists on salt alone. They’re allowed to just be nice guys. Joel drawing a nice cat postcard after he and Alex talked about his past love of cats and drawing? That’s nice. I love these two.

Besides, they’re there to embody the game’s theme: in a pointless, violent world, is it worth trying to find a place of stability? The old order is dead, but there’s a chance for something new. The gang members representing the old way of the world scoff at the existence of the City, but our characters believe in it and the promise of a genuine change in the world – a change that isn’t going all in on violent nihilism.

However, while you can pursue that hope… you can also pursue that violent nihilism as well. In the original version of The Pointless, Alex can reach the first fold of infinity, but there wasn’t enough people to kill to go beyond that. But Scholar of the Wilbur Sin adds a lot of enemies. A whole lot more. Engaging in the expansion’s new content essentially drags Alex into the violent world and further into infinity. Yes, you can kill a few people, but that’s justifiably self-defense… but aren’t you curious to see how bad it can all go? Don’t you want to see the world rot? Do you feel that things have gotten so bad that violence is the only solution?

But even if there isn’t a hope to pursue, there is one thing people have, and it’s each other. Alex is dubbed as Joel’s lucky charm in a very not gay way, and they travel the wastes inserparably. And while the other party members don’t have as much of a strong bond with them as they have toward each other, the reason why these people help you are the simple acts of kindness you show them in a world that lacks that. They could reasonably leave Alex at any time, but they will stick with him to the bitter end, because dudes rock.

There’s really a lot of memorable things in Scholar of the WIlbur Sin, but one scene that sticks to me is one of Alex hanging out in a cave of random guys just holding out. They bond, they enjoy a nice song, and they’re grateful for Alex’s presence, because it reminds them that having good company can help them see anything through.

Going back to my previous Dark Souls comparisons, there’s this general impression that the world of Dark Souls is a gloomy, oppressive one. However, while I have not seriously engaged with the games myself, more analytical players view the bleakness as something that highlights the genuine safety and companionship somebody can find in the world. You find safety in the comforting warmth of a bonfire, you can call upon summons or other players to fight side-by-side with you, etc.

And in Scholar of the Wilbur Sin, there are those pockets of safety. There’s a nice village in the desert, and while the society there collapses, it collapses more to natural (?) means instead of a flash of violence. Hidden underneath the violence of Downtown Olathe, there’s a village of people that live on salt, and while they’re all massive fucking weirdos, they’re genuinely friendly. Garbage Island fucking sucks, but there’s undeniably good people around like Darry. And of course, there’s good ol’ chef Lester, always around to trade you goods no matter how bad things get.

And no matter where he goes, Alex has Joel. Even if the City isn’t real, at least they have each other.

So yeah, I’m utterly sincere in calling Scholar of the Wilbur Sin the “Dark Souls of RPG Maker” – just not in the way people would normally say something like that.

As I saw the ending and hopped on YouTube to look at the content I missed, I started thinking: there really doesn’t even need to be a part 2 for LISA: The Pointless. Playing this made me consider LISA: The Pointless’ first chapter as something that can just stand on its own, because unless you’re one of those people that get mad at ambiguous endings, I feel that Mystics of Trash and Violence/Scholar of the Wilbur Sin ends perfectly. If anything, the amount of work Scholar of the Wilbur Sin does to flesh the game out further just makes Mystics of Trash and Violence even more standalone.

Sure, there’s a lot that we don’t know about Alex. Like, what are the circumstances that led to his nearly dead body getting dumped on Garbage Island? What’s his deal with the man he meets that he previously knew after getting off that rock? What’s the deal with that strange pink-gloved man? The Monster Update clearly aims to add more to Alex’s character and more to the game in general, but through playing this, I honestly don’t care. Alex is Just a Guy – and him being just a guy works to me because the game is about average people trying to find some meaning, be it through horrible violence or seeking a safe place. Alex is perfect the way he is, it’s fine for there to just be a little mystery lying around going unaddressed, etc.

On one last note, Scholar of the Wilbur Sin also presents players a chance to learn how to make something like it, because the game folder actually includes the project files. I popped in a few times to see how it comes together and it’s honestly cool to study it. There’s even an interesting set of animation files and skills if you want to, say, mod a certain character in. In fact, in my background research on this game, I saw a video showing off exactly that. So hey, if you want to create a fangame of a fangame of a fangame, you can do that if you have RPG Maker VX Ace.

If you like RPG Maker stuff, LISA: The Pointless – Scholar of the Wilbur Sin is an excellent time and is a must play if you’re a LISA fan. If I had played it last year when it released, I’d honestly consider it to be a good rival with OMORI for my “RPG of the year.” That Monster Update and more chapters loom in the horizon for LISA: The Pointless, but I honestly don’t care, because Scholar of the Wilbur Sin is already good enough of an update for me.

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