Arise, Ye Pinocchio!
HIGH The many bosses and mini-bosses!
LOW The world is far too linear for a soulslike.
WTF Why can’t I attack that obvious traitor before it’s too late?!
I believe a certain percentage of the world’s gaming audience will take even a moderately good soulslike over anything from another genre, any day of the week. Aside from the difficulty and bleak tones, soulslikes offer an underlying level of intensity that many action titles struggle to maintain for the length of a campaign. At the same time, they effortlessly establish a ‘beat this, if you can!’ relationship with the player — a unique kind of psychological trick, both alluring and treacherous, making them hard to quit for the right sort of person. However, there are many ways a new soulslike can go wrong, and the scrutiny from fans of the genre can be intense. With all that said, I’m happy to report that Lies of P is the latest noteworthy entry in its ever-expanding genre.
Lies of P’s moment-to-moment mechanics combine several aspects from popular soulslikes that came before — for instance, much success relies on how well we can manage the genre-standard always-dwindling stamina reserves. Attacking, dodging, running, jumping — all of these actions drain a portion of the character’s lung capacity, and if it was to deplete, we’d be open to severe punishment from any opposing force lingering nearby. However, we can block incoming attacks. It won’t completely negate the force of the impact, but striking soon after will restore a portion of lost health back.
Aside from blocking, we can also parry if we block at the particular instant when the enemy’s weapon is about to connect. Unfortunately, there’s a hidden difficulty regarding perfect parries — the English localization of Lies of P isn’t as accurate as it needs to be.
For example, the game ‘explains’ that I can nullify any enemy attack if I tap the block button at just the right time to land a perfect parry, but that’s not exactly how it works. In actuality, to perform a ‘perfect parry’ nullification (followed by a satisfying metal-against-metal clunking noise and the possible breaking of an adversary’s blade) we must not only press the block button at the right moment but also proceed to hold it for the next few milliseconds. Without those extra frames of blocking, the parry won’t happen and the player will simply take damage.
Needless to say, that is not a harmless ‘misunderstanding’ given how Lies of P practically insists that we master parrying via its generous selection of bosses with entertaining rhythm-based attack patterns. Plus, even regular foes have access to special “fury” attacks that can only be repelled by a perfect parry. Therefore, it’s unfortunate that Lies of P doesn’t spend enough time (in its translation or otherwise) to ensure that players understand how this core mechanic works, but I’m inclined to write that off as an oversight, and not an intentional misrepresentation of the ‘proper’ way to play.
However, once we’ve figured out how parrying works, it’s easy to find tons of enjoyment with it! Lies of P offers a voice different from the average soulslike — it sets a peculiar tempo and everything about it works better and better as the campaign progresses! So yes, this game takes a good while to truly get going. Admittedly, the timing to land a parry gets trickier when more dexterous enemies start popping up, but exploiting the system is well worth it in the end, even if Lies of P enjoys racking up the difficulty up to 11.
As for the early areas, they are reminiscent of common soulslike scenarios — corners hiding two or three enemies in ambush positions when only one is easily visible, suspiciously barren uphill sections where a rolling ball suddenly makes an appearance with the intent of squashing the player, and so forth. Still, even if I correctly deciphered these challenges on time, dealing with them in Lies of P feels a bit ‘off’ at first.
Part of this, I think, is that the developers opted to lock some basic moves genre fans expect behind a skill tree. As a result, we cannot pull off intuitive things like rolling after an enemy forces us to the ground or being able to string two dodges in a row. That seems like an arbitrary hurdle that might discourage newcomers to the genre far earlier than intended — in a soulslike, such moves should be completely available from the start, and the gameplay in P suffers due to that imposed sluggishness. Luckily, Lies of P manages to outgrow those shortcomings before it’s too late.
The game’s many weapons come in two categories — regular (found as item pick-ups across the world) and special (armaments that require interacting with a merchant and parting with a specific boss soul to obtain). We can utilize them with the usual assortment of light, strong, charged, running, or jumping attacks, but can also perform special attacks that cost no stamina, yet drain the energy bar instead. Filling the energy bar back up is possible by landing hits on an enemy or by using consumables (which are quite effective in Lies of P, especially those of the explosive kind).
Furthermore, we can break all non-boss weapons apart and produce entirely new weapons by combining whichever handle with whichever blade. By tinkering with this system, I was able to give longer reach to a fire-infused dagger or transfer a defensive weapon art from an axe to a rapier. It’s a neat inclusion that allows for some player agency, though I found the weapons to be effective enough in their original states. We can also change a weapon’s scaling, which actually mitigates the issue of there not being enough dexterity-based weapons prior to the mid-game. Regardless, P has a lot of decisions to make when it comes to his weapon of choice, and many are worth exploring to the fullest.
But what about P’s left arm? It’s obvious from the trailers and promo art that he looks like a normal human, with the exception of a mechanical left arm. This limb is the biggest tell that we’re playing as a puppet that’s turned against its frenzied brethren and a slew of more ‘organic’ enemy types to save humanity. To combat those odds, P can equip his left arm with choices like a flamethrower, a string that pulls enemies, a shield, and other contraptions that I won’t spoil here. Thus, P‘s left arm becomes a pivotal part of the character build and greatly complements any given offense.
On that note, having the means to dish out damage within a small window of opportunity is important in Lies of P. The enemies are often more resilient than initially anticipated, and the wide selection of bosses and mini-bosses offer truly epic encounters that warrant an analytical approach. The designs of these baddies lie somewhere between the wacky and the grotesque, but I was pleased with both. If there’s any nitpick to be raised, it’s that most of the bosses have a second stage that’s wildly different from the first, despite retaining a reasonable difficulty. These fights are a definite highlight!
Story-wise, P follows beats similar to the classic 19th-century tale of Pinocchio, but also takes inspiration from a myriad of other sources, such as transhumanism, morality, cabaret art, and more. The plot is easy to keep up with due to a plethora of written collectibles and NPC dialogue to engage with, but I found it to be a bit lackluster despite the effort. Without spoilers, the script spreads itself too thin, yet many times when an enemy or an NPC would initiate monologues, I wished that they would cut them short. A part of what makes Dark Souls‘ storytelling such a success is that it evades revealing everything. Lies of P heads boldly in the opposite direction, but I found myself caring less and less as the conclusion drew nearer…
Another complaint might be that while Lies of P looks pretty at all times and is populated with supremely animated character models, the levels are actually linear and “blocky”, for lack of a better term. While it’s impossible to get lost in them, the game’s levels are not all that memorable either. After revisiting a few of the early areas before facing the (real) end boss, I was surprised at how few of those layouts I remembered. The final gauntlet drags a bit too long as well — in my opinion, an entire third of it could’ve been cut and the experience wouldn’t have suffered one bit.
Despite those complaints, Lies of P remains a resounding two thumbs up. While not perfect, there are no serious arguments to be made about this ambitious attempt’s quality. In my view, it most definitely is the strongest contender for best soulslike of the year in 2023!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio, and published by Neowiz Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5, and XBO/S/X. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game has received an M rating from the ESRB and contains Blood and Violence. The official summary reads: “This is an action role-playing game in which players assume the role of the puppet Pinocchio in his search to become human. From a third-person perspective, players explore environments, collect items, and battle various enemies (e.g., puppets, mechanoid creatures) in melee-style combat. Players use swords and mechanical arms with ranged attacks (e.g., Puppet String, Flamberge) to kill enemies. Boss battles depict more prolonged combat against larger enemies. Battles are highlighted by slashing sounds, cries of pain, and large blood-splatter effects. Some environments depict bloody corpses and large blood stains on the ground.”
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Every line of dialogue is accompanied by written text, and I personally found the font size to be easily readable. Sound is completely unimportant for playing and enjoying this game since there are no audio-only cues for incoming attacks. I played it for some time with the volume turned fully off and had no problems. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game offers a controller diagram and the controls are remappable. The default scheme is similar to other soulslikes, meaning we use the circle button to run/roll/dodge, the shoulder buttons are for light and strong attacks, the square button is for using items, the left stick is for movement and the right stick handles the camera.