Lisa: Apocalypse Economics 101
Lisa might just be one of the most bizarre role-playing games I’ve ever played. It’s rare to find a game in this genre that approaches its’ story and gameplay mechanics and completely making the player rethink basic concepts like currency, party members, and in-game items as well. These three aspects tie into this sort of twisted economy, and if you want to make it to the end you’ll need to become an entrepreneur of the apocalypse.
Magazines as money?
The key to becoming a world-class entrepreneur is to first understand what you’re dealing with regarding currency. The apocalypse has no need for simple paper money, and for good reason too, it doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s important to keep in mind that the world within Lisa is a world without women, well there is technically one woman and you as a player are trying to rescue her. With this in mind, the currency within this world happens to be adult magazines rather than paper money. My initial first impression of this was bewilderment followed by immediate laughter at the absurdity of the idea. It clearly made sense from both a gameplay and plot perspective but the more I thought about it the more horrifying it became. As if learning of some Eldritch truth, I realized this might actually be some sort of social commentary the developer may have been trying to get across. Money is considered something neutral by nature, it has no implied meaning on its own. With magazines representing money, we see that it quite literally represents lust in its most explicit manner. It’s understandable within the context of the game because we are dealing with the fall of society, but it echoes back to the real world in a rather uncomfortable manner. The game objectifies women by showing their only portrayal within the game as a physical object and it shows an unhealthy standard. We however still do this to some degree within certain industries by imposing some sort of model standard that women are expected to achieve. Maybe I’m looking a bit too into this earthbound inspired RPG but I do think it’s hard to ignore this unusual type of currency after playing the game for so long.
Disposable party members and you
Now that we know the backstory of our currency, how do we find a way to practically use this to save the last woman within Lisa? Simply put we can buy some party members to aid us in our quest. Not everyone, however, needs to be properly compensated for their services, some just happen to tag along. A customizable party isn’t really treading new ground when it comes to gameplay, but what Lisa does differently is that there is perma-death for your compatriots. Imagine doing the self-imposed nuzlocke challenge from pokemon as the main gameplay gimmick and you basically have a fiendishly difficult RPG. What’s cool is that the game plays with that concept pretty nicely. Your teammates are only instakilled in battle by these horrendous looking mutants that you encounter every now and again. All of them possess an attack that involves biting off your teammates head (gruesome is putting it lightly). You’ve also got to worry about something as simple as resting. Here your party members can either depart permanently by their own volition, or they can be kidnapped. In the event that they are kidnapped, you’re usually presented with some sort of moral dilemma. Do I pay the bulk of my magazines to bring them back, or were they pretty weak to begin with and not worth my time? After a point I found myself shudder when I thought of this because these aren’t virtual monsters you’re working with, they’re humans. It’s unusual to even consider this line of reasoning but Lisa incorporates it rather well with its’ hard-hitting moral choices. There are times in the game where you need to decide whose well-being is more important, yours or your friends? By the game’s standards I was considered selfish because I chose to invest in the one constant in my party rather than be altruistic and help the other teammates. I paid the price for it eventually too. The has over 20 plus playable characters, and because of my mistakes, there was a long portion of the game where it was just me exploring the apocalyptic wasteland. If there were ever a feeling of genuine loneliness and isolation to be felt within a video game, it would have been right there. In my tunnel vision to save the last woman on earth I realized at some point I would have to go at it alone.
Joy: invest in yourself
I thought at some point, “going alone might not be so bad right? I’ve just gotta pull out all the stops, but more importantly, I’ll have to use something I was hoping I wouldn’t have to.” Throughout Lisa, we learn about our main characters addiction to this pill known as “Joy”. It’s an experimental drug that is known to make its user feel nothing, however, it comes at a cost. The mutants I mentioned earlier happened to be people who transformed because of their addiction to the drug. Joy has more than just a plot purpose, it is actually an in-game item you can use as well if you choose to do so. Perhaps it’s because of my selfishness toward my party members, but at some point in the game, I felt as if I had no choice but to submit to Joy. It was a strange process, it gave me guaranteed critical hits in battle but it also made the withdrawal my character had much worse. When I wasn’t using Joy I would consistently be hitting 0’s in battle, making the turns where I wasn’t Joyed up much less effective. It is not necessary to use these to beat the game, in fact, you’re even punished for it. If you ever take Joy, then it locks you out of a bonus epilogue cutscene in addition to the harmful effects in game. It is actually to your benefit to sell Joy as well, as it gives you the most magazines compared to other items. Similar to how I was terrified whenever I fought the mutants, I was scared of what I was turning my character into and how it reflected my thoughts as well. My desperation felt tangible as I trudged closer and closer toward the end of my journey. In the end, I did save the last woman on earth, but similar to the protagonist’s thoughts I also asked myself, “Did I do the right thing?”