Playing a Pinocchio soulslike was not on my bingo card at the beginning of 2023, but apparently that’s where we’re at now. Inspired by the difficult and gothic Dark Souls titles, Lies of P is a game that draws inspiration from The Adventures of Pinocchio stories by Carlo Collodi. Upon hearing the premise, I first thought that Lies of P was going to be some derivative soulslike with subpar gameplay, utilizing its gimmick to try and curry interest with the player base. After playing the demo, however, I was surprised by how brilliant and tightly controlled the combat was, and the gorgeous, fleshed out environments absolutely helped.
The story of Lies of P is a lot more involved than you’d think, especially given how light on plot many games inspired by Dark Souls present themselves nowadays. The story begins with the voice of a woman awakening Pinocchio, urging him to find her and to help stop the frenzied puppets that are destroying the city of Krat. This European-inspired city experienced its golden age off the back of robotic puppet workers, making a kind of steampunk utopia until the puppets suddenly decided Asimov’s Laws of Robotics were more of suggestions, instead. As you battle your way through the streets of Krat, you’ll find the truth of a mysterious disease, the source of the power that allows the puppets to move, and even get to see an intense recreation of The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo. Lies of P really has it all.
Lies of P studied up on soulslikes and really emulated the experience better than any other title that aspires to the greatness of developer From Software, at least out of the ones I’ve played. Bridges with collapsing sections, enemies that ambush you ever so slightly out of your vision range when you go to pick up an item, and traps like giant, flaming boulders kill you because you walked through a door and went left instead of right- how stupid of you, right? This is something any fan of From Software’s games should be familiar with, but Neowiz, the developer of Lies of P, really likes to troll the player as often as they can.
There’s so much in Lies of P that’s going to be familiar with fans of From Software’s Souls games. Your healing is from an Estus Flask equivalent that recharges every time you reach a Stargazer, which is the fairy tale equivalent of From Software’s bonfires. Defeating enemies gives you Ergo, which is the Lies of P proxy of souls or runes, and you spend Ergo to level up and buy items as you progress through the fictional city of Krat.
The equipment system in Lies of P is incredibly similar to what you’d enjoy in a title like Dark Souls, but there are some differences. Instead of wearing armor, you can instead equip four different mechanical pieces of Pinocchio with different functionality. Some parts may have greater damage resistance, while others may help prevent shock or overheating. Each part, amulet, and weapon you equip has a weight value, and if the total weight is higher than a specific value determined by your maximum equip load, everything you do will be slower, including dodging and attacking. The amulets are the items with the most varied effects, as they can provide you with benefits such as increasing your HP, allowing you to deal more damage to puppets, or increasing your damage after performing a perfect guard.
Combat is what players will engage with most, and Lies of P makes a very interesting combination of Bloodborne and Sekiro inspired gameplay. Attacking enemies will build up an invisible stagger meter, and perfectly guarding an opponent’s attack by pressing the block button with good timing will deflect the attack and also build up stagger, and landing a charged heavy attack after the enemy has been staggered will allow you to perform a devastating fatal blow. You only have a short time to land a fully charged heavy attack when the enemy can be staggered, indicated by their health bar being outlined in white.
The only downside to Lies of P’s stagger system is that you can meet the requirements to stagger an enemy, but be unable to hit them with your charged attacks because many of these attacks are slow. Your initial window to perform the charged attack is only a few seconds, and sometimes the enemy’s attack patterns might not give you the opening you need. If you’re well prepared, you can generally use your Fable Arts or the Shot-Put item to inflict a stagger if a charged strong attack would take too long, though sometimes even despite your best efforts the boss’s health bar will turn white indicating they can be staggered, and they run away to the other side of the arena to do whatever arbitrary nonsense that will probably make you unhappy.
You have access to a basic dodge with reasonable i-frames to keep yourself safe, but it’s worth noting that many bosses and mini-bosses have things called fury attacks where they glow red and do a powerful, damaging blow against you. These attacks are not only unblockable, but your dodge is treated as if it has no i-frames during these attacks, which means your only options against these kinds of moves is to get out of the way entirely by running away or to perfect guard them. Thankfully, parrying boss fury attacks seems to give incredible amounts of stagger gauge, so tight play will often give you just the opportunity you need to perform fatal blows against the boss. It’s also worth noting that there’s an amulet you can get around halfway through Lies of P that will allow you to dodge fury attacks. That can be useful if you’re deep into the game but still have trouble with parry timing.
Out of your starting defensive options of parry, guard, and dodge, it’s important to note that your starting dodge is pretty mediocre. This could be intentional, as the short move distance often will leave you stuck in a boss’s large, sweeping attacks, as it forces you to utilize the block and parry system for at least the first few bosses. For veteran Souls players, this means your “roll behind, stab them in the butt” plans probably won’t work like you think when you first start the game as you largely have Dark Souls move speed in combat versus enemies who attack in a quick, frenzied pace like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You can upgrade your dodge later in the title, but that’s not going to help you through the first few bosses at all.
Blocking is a strong option in Lies of P, at least outside of boss fights, because while you still take damage through your guard and lose some stamina, you can actually recover some of the health you lost if you attack shortly after guarding. Taking any damage without blocking or parrying after successfully guarding an attack forfeits the recoverable health, which is a nice tradeoff. This is similar to the health recovery mechanic in another Souls title, Bloodborne, but requires you be more deliberate: If you block only an attack or two, generally speaking, you can recover almost all the health you lost, though heavier weapon heads tend to have higher guard percentages, so you lose less health when you do block.
Weapon heads probably sounds like a weird thing to say, but that’s where a big part of Lies of P’s customization comes into play. Weapons you find will consist of a head and a hilt, with the heads determining things like base attack power, whether the weapon applies an element, and things of that nature, while the hilt seems to determine attack speed, weapon damage scaling, and more. Weapon scaling effectively works like From Software’s titles where the more points you put into technique (this game’s version of dexterity), the more damage you’ll do with finesse weapons like rapiers. Being able to mix and match your weapons can lead to some fun combinations like using an electric club attached to a rapier’s hilt guard.
Your weapon pieces also have powerful Fable Arts that can enhance your weapon with a status effect, or just allow you to perform a giant attack to help stagger your opponents. So if you find a new powerful weapon head, you can keep using your favorite hilt’s Fable Art too. The only downside to the weapon crafting system, one that Lies of P either poorly explains or didn’t explain at all, is that weapon heads have their own preferred type of damage among slashing and stabbing, so if you use, say, a hammer head on a rapier’s hilt, you’ll do less damage as the hammer head does poor stabbing damage since using the rapier hilt causes you to thrust the weapon. This mechanic is more realistic, but the visual design of the menu doesn’t really do a lot to tell you that the damage type is correct outside of using two horizontal lines that are easily overlooked. Beyond that, and I may be in the minority on this, I don’t think you need realism in a title with a giant, motorized pizza cutter sword, and the removal of the slash versus stab damage reduction would probably double the number of viable weapons.
Upgrades you can obtain as you progress through Lies of P can improve your dodge, allowing you to dodge when knocked down, for example, so you don’t get hit once and then chain attacked while you lay on the ground with no options. It’s worth noting that these upgrades are optional, and you only get enough of the currency to unlock around a third of Pinocchio’s skill tree in a single playthrough. This means that you need to weigh the options of having a better dodge versus being able to wear another amulet or increasing the window to stagger an enemy. It is worth noting that eventually your dodge does become quite good if you invest skill points into it, allowing you to dodge twice in quick succession which is great for when mini-bosses or bosses perform their eight hit combo that’s difficult to parry each hit, but having a better dodge locked behind two distinct upgrade nodes seems incredibly asinine and can easily cause players to hinder their own progress unknowingly.
It’s also worth mentioning that items are very, very powerful in Lies of P. You’ll find grindstones that not only restore the durability of your weapon, but can enhance your blade with electricity, acid, or flames to deal additional damage or reduce enemy stagger resistance. Throwable items scale off your stats in this, as well, which can lead to them dealing big damage. Using them during boss fights is a legitimate strategy to inflict status ailments or deal damage at range. You can also toss sawblades at an enemy you can see waiting to troll you. Don’t ignore throwables or enhancement items because they’re extremely powerful and can make overly difficult encounters much more manageable.
Dark Souls had some infamous moments for enemies popping out from around a corner, catching you off-guard with mimics, and other traps, but Lies of P literally does this two or three times between every Stargazer. It’s good design but it winds up being a little tiresome and trite- there’s only so many times you’re going to be startled when you walk towards an item and get surprised by an enemy leaping out from behind a pillar in your blind spot. You know exactly what’s going to happen once you approach the item, but it’s like playing Dungeons and Dragons with a DM who really, really likes to place traps around every chest and corner. Some of the traps are especially cleverly designed, but enemies from your blind spot that you couldn’t possibly see coming happens a tremendous amount in the final areas of Lies of P, to the extent that it had become an expected matter of course: just drink your Pulse Cell to heal and move on.
That being said, the environmental design is great. The city of Krat and its surroundings is an absolutely amazing place to explore, and each subsequent location you go to, like a poison swamp or majestic cathedral, are beautifully designed with all sorts of goodies to loot. Boss design is where Lies of P really cranks up the challenge, with flurries of rapid attacks that will absolutely demand you learn how to avoid damage whenever you can. Some bosses can be large and intimidating, like a giant clown robot or swamp monster covered in tentacles, but I found the human-sized bosses, especially the one that wielded a lightning-powered claymore, gave me more trouble than anything.
The sound design of Lies of P is excellent, as you’ll always know when an enemy is looming around the corner thanks to unearthly guttural noises and the strange clicking and whirring sounds among a whole host of effects that help unsettle you as you turn any and every corner. I actually felt palpable relief in Lies of P when killing an enemy on my climb up a tower, and the echoes of footsteps, gurgling, and other noises suddenly stopped- I used the audio cues to determine that I killed everything in the area and could now loot in peace. To add onto this, the music is excellently done too, both in stages as well as with the numerous collectible records you can find throughout the adventure so P can gain humanity.
There was an absolute ton of care put into Lies of P. Some of the design elements are… frustrating, to say the least, such as how upgrading your dodge is probably something you won’t be able to do until chapters 3 or 4. The largest issue with Lies of P is that it’s extremely difficult. If you really appreciate a challenge and have the patience to practice difficult fights until you succeed, then Lies of P may well be your favorite title of 2023. If you lack patience, think that developers trolling you is unfair, or simply don’t enjoy repeatedly throwing yourself at a brick wall until you eventually figure out the patterns and succeed, Lies of P will likely do nothing but frustrate you. I, personally, had an amazing time in the city of Krat, and can’t wait to see what developer Neowiz will come up with next in their children’s fantasy novel extended universe.