There's no shortage of Souls-likes vying for our attention, but only one can claim to put a dark and twisted spin on the everlasting story of Pinocchio. Developed by South Korean studio Neowiz Games, Lies of P presents a very loose retelling of Italian author Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. This grim reimagining, combined with a striking Belle Epoque-infused setting, ensures that Lies of P's aesthetic stands apart from other Souls-likes, including From Software's own. Bloodborne is still a clear inspiration, as its tonal atmosphere and combat design call to mind the cosmic horror masterpiece, leading to it feeling overly derivative at times. Still, Neowiz also implements just enough originality for Lies of P to eke out its own identity, even if it's as thin as a puppet string.
The story sees you take on the role of P, a lifelike puppet who wakes up amidst the carnage of a puppet-led invasion of the fictional city of Krat. If you're familiar with Pinocchio, you'll likely recognize character names such as the puppet-maker Geppetto and the talking cricket Gemini. Their names are usually where the similarities end, however--either in relation to the book or any Disney-produced retellings. For one, Gemini isn't an anthropomorphic insect but rather a tiny puppet caged in a lantern on P's belt, acting as both a guide and source of light. Similarly, characters like the Fox, Cat, and Alidoro are reimagined as common criminals and thieves, who don their respective animal masks in order to achieve both anonymity and infamy.
It's this unique take on a familiar tale that makes Lies of P such an intriguing proposition, so it's hard not to feel disappointed when the story doesn't kick into gear until close to its final act. For the most part, you're tasked with visiting various locations where you'll need to either rescue someone or defeat a specific enemy before returning to the game's central hub. Without an overarching goal to propel you forward, it feels unfocused and only attains a sense of momentum in its final few hours once the antagonist reveals themself. There's very little to latch onto before this point, outside of a curiosity to see where the narrative could potentially go. It's not a case where the game is holding back and being intentionally opaque either. The story is predominantly told via expositional dumps and there's little sense of mystery as a result. There are interesting moments dotted throughout but they're fleeting, and I don't think it's too harsh to expect more considering the source material.
Lies of P also features a morality system that occasionally asks you to make a choice between two options: Tell the truth or lie. Puppets can't lie--it's baked into their programming--but as we all know, Pinocchio is special in this regard. The lies you tell are almost never hurtful or deceitful; you lie to provide comfort rather than confront someone with an uncomfortable truth. One such example lets you ease a dying mother's worry by telling her that her (dead) child is still alive and well, so these choices aren't particularly difficult to make. The decision you choose will mostly depend on which branching path you're eager to see play out. Every time you lie, P's springs react--he becomes more human--so I exclusively lied throughout my playthrough to see what effect this would have on either the story or gameplay. I won't spoil the changes I encountered but overall the mechanic didn't feel well used. Neowiz says there are three different endings to unlock, which are affected in some way by how honest you are, but aside from attaining different rewards, it's tough to say how much of the game is impacted by your choices without replaying the whole thing again.
Nevertheless, the morality system and the story's shortcomings are lessened somewhat by Lies of P's setting and fantastic sense of place. Each location you visit is sprinkled with interesting lore and visual storytelling, and the game's art design and foreboding atmosphere combine to give the city of Krat an unmistakable personality. The prospect of venturing further into its haunting bowels was all the motivation I needed to push on.
Krat's Belle Epoque-era aesthetic is immediately evocative of 19th-century France, right down to the snippets of Bal-musette music that still linger, like echoes of the city's former glory. Back before the events of the game, Krat was a city of marvels. The invention of animatronic puppets gave rise to a period of prosperity that's evident throughout, as Neowiz meshes its historical setting with notable steampunk flourishes. After flying too close to the sun, however, the city's affluence has been shattered by what survivors are calling The Puppet Frenzy. This mysterious affliction has turned the once-docile puppets against the city's denizens in violent fashion. Blood-stained bodies now litter the cobblestone streets, while bags of luggage are strewn next to carriages and across train platforms as evidence of those trying to escape the fallen metropolis.
Gaslit street lamps and glaring signs for theater productions cast light on the gloomy aftermath, as twitchy, clockwork puppets emerge from the shadows wielding battered stop signs and candelabras as makeshift weapons. Lies of P oozes atmosphere at nearly every turn, whether you're traversing through Krat's bleeding heart or wading through the ominous forests and scrap yards on its outskirts. The striking visuals aren't just for show either, as it's melded into excellent level design that adopts the strongest aspects of the genre. There's obvious care and attention put into enemy variety and placement, and locations tend to corkscrew back on themselves, rewarding your exploration with vital shortcuts via ladders and unlocked doors.
Neowiz also implements just enough originality for Lies of P to eke out its own identity
Lies of P's basic framework is also familiar, latching onto many of the genre's long-standing hallmarks. Stargazers act as Bonfires; Ergo is an upgrade resource you attain by defeating enemies; you lose Ergo when you die, unless you're able to return to the site of your demise and reclaim it; the leveling system is stat-based, which has an additional impact on weapon buffs; and Neowiz even has a penchant for bombarding you with giant rolling balls, turning any incline into a potential threat.
Combat, meanwhile, shares a number of elements in common with Bloodborne. Encounters are fast-paced and emphasize being active and pushing the advantage. You can block attacks, which chips away at both your stamina and health bar, but immediately retaliating lets you regain your lost health. This quickly establishes that it pays to be aggressive, even if you initially adopt a defensive front. Parrying incoming attacks is more effective, however, since it negates all incoming damage, but doing so is much harder to consistently pull off. The timing window is strict and demands that you learn an enemy's attack patterns and cadence, especially when facing one of the game's fearsome bosses. It's worth achieving some level of proficiency, though, because perfect parries also inflict break damage, sending enemies into a staggered state that leaves them open to a deadly critical strike.
Timing, rather than positioning, is key to staying alive, yet this approach turns most encounters--but especially boss fights--into lessons in pattern-learning. The enemies you come up against enjoy messing with your rhythm, hesitating for what feels like a second too long on overhand swings, or throwing in an unexpected attack at the end of a combo. This presents a fun challenge but does feel a tad rigid. Nailing a perfectly timed parry is immensely satisfying, though, with each successful block producing an outpouring of incandescent sparks. Combat, in general, is thrilling throughout. Weapons feel weighty and collide with a delightful thud, discharging a gush of oil that covers P from head to toe. It's punishing as well, to the point where even the lowliest enemies can send you to an early grave if you're not focused. However, the difficulty curve never falls into the trap of feeling unfair. Its challenge increases gradually and I can't say I ever encountered any moments where it felt too easy or too difficult, even if a few bosses stumped me for lengthy periods. From a gameplay perspective, Lies of P is a Souls-like in the purest sense, and an accomplished one at that.
Unlike the city's other puppets, which are typically designed with specific functions in mind--think maids, police officers, and miners--P is malleable and can be tinkered with. His left arm, for instance, is home to a variety of secondary weapons, from a Scorpion-esque grappling hook to a mine launcher and flamethrower--fulfilling a similar purpose as Sekiro's prosthetic arm. This system is limiting, to a certain extent, since you can only switch between your various arms when resting at a checkpoint, and while it doesn't allow for the same variety of build options as a From Software game, each one adds a small measure of customization to the game.
Despite this, you're still given a healthy degree of freedom when it comes to picking a weapon. Each weapon in the game--with the exception of those acquired from fallen bosses--consists of two distinct components: the head and the handle. The head can be anything from an exploding pickaxe to a saber blade, and this dictates the weapon's attack and guard attributes as well. Meanwhile, the handle affects the weapon's stat-scaling and move set. By using the weapon assembly feature, you can mix and match these two components to create a plethora of unique killing tools.
Maybe you'll transform a halberd from a thrusting weapon to a slashing weapon, or alter a strength-based weapon so that it scales with dexterity. Both the head and handle of each weapon also contain a disparate Fable Art--special attacks you can unleash after building up enough Fable energy by damaging opponents. Fable Arts can take the form of a single devastating maneuver, a flurry of consecutive strikes, or even bolster your defensive capabilities for a short while. Being able to pair different Fable Arts adds another layer of flexibility to the weapon assembly system's near-limitless variety.
There are a few other specks of originality sprinkled in. When you die and lose your Ergo, for instance, the amount left diminishes each time you sustain damage when attempting to retrieve it. This isn't a massive change, but it adds some extra tension to those moments when you're forced to carefully retrace your steps.
For the most part, however, Lies of P is content to adorn existing mechanics and ideas with its own story and aesthetic. This may be a derivative approach, but it nails the core Souls-like experience, with each of its various mechanics seamlessly coalescing to create a thrilling action game that's challenging, varied, and dripping with atmosphere. It's easy to be reductive when a game wears its influences on its sleeve as boldly as Lies of P does, but plenty of other games have tried and failed to recreate the same magic. It's not an easy endeavor, and while it doesn't shake up the formula or reinvent the wheel, Lies of P is still one of the genre's most accomplished and enjoyable entries--and that's the truth.