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Prelude to Pain

Lisa: The First is an exploration/puzzle game about the titular girl’s traumatic home life conveyed through a surreal world. It’s heavily overshadowed by its sequel, Lisa: The Painful, but provides context to that game’s events, and there are several references to it in the sequel and its DLC. It’s also a good game in its own right, though not for any reasons that are apparent on the surface.

Let’s Talk About Graphics!

These are a double-edged sword. They are fully custom and err toward a simple style, but may come across as lazy or crappy at times. The environments are generally bland, but can also feel bleak, evoking a sense of emptiness. Some areas are more detailed than others, and while it has its share of voids, there are some more defined locations that still manage to feel unnatural. The aesthetic is juxtaposed with the atmosphere, as it’s not a very scary game, but can feel intimidating in spite of its bright colors. The overtly frightening things are reserved for its further reaches.

Let’s Talk About Audio!

This is easily a strength. SFX and music are both custom, apart from a couple RTP sounds. A few of the more unique sounds were repurposed in the sequel along with some of the music. It’s generally quiet in an eerie sort of way, and tracks have been used carefully to set the tone of each area. The game’s audio works together with its simple presentation to bring the story across.

Let’s Talk About Story!

This is mostly kept subtle, but the important points are obvious enough not to be missed. It isn’t told through regular dialogue. Our protagonist is silent and the characters she talks to aren’t necessarily real. Since nothing that’s being shown is literal, you have to piece together what each part means, and there’s a lot that can be theorized even with how much is made clear. It’s all about context clues, though it’s hard to make a cohesive picture out of it. In a way, the details aren’t important overall, but it’s nice they are there to ponder over. It’s not the sort of thing you’re meant to just “get.”

Let’s Talk About Gameplay!

This is nothing special for RPG Maker as the emphasis is on the meaning behind what’s taking place rather than the actual doing of it. You move around, check objects/NPCs, find key items, and get to the root of Lisa’s escapism. You’re presented with a number of portals to try which you can visit in any order. You can also warp to a separate map to check your inventory or return to the hub at any time. It’s a lot like Yume Nikki in this regard, but with less visual flare (and more reasonable looping voids).

You may find progress halted in one area and the solution in another. The game is small enough that it’s never too far to walk, and you can backtrack to the hub in an instant. There are no battles, but it does feature some navigation challenges. One segment involves the dodging of some rapid-moving spiders who are mostly on fixed paths. Getting caught only means having to try again from a checkpoint, and these are positioned mercifully. There are some basic rock-pushing puzzles too, but they’re hardly worth a mention.

While some of the inventory items have clear uses, there are others that are less obvious, and some with no use at all. However, the game doesn’t make a big production of it, and you can get by easily enough just by talking to everyone available or checking objects that stand out. There aren’t any important things hidden inconspicuously.

Let’s Wrap This Up…

While this game has many good component parts, the whole package can feel a little underwhelming. You need to be willing to engage with it in order to get anything out of it. There’s not much to really hook you, so without supplying your own curiosity, it could seem like a dull experience. It doesn’t have the humor or style of its sequel to carry it, but it’s an important entry in the series all the same. If the game’s style just isn’t for you, I suppose someone’s theory-crafting video analysis would do. Personally, I give it a…


She can leave the house, but…