If we’ve learned anything over the decade and change that Souls-likes have been around for, it’s that the formula can be very fickle. Though any and all fans of the subgenre will likely agree that they enjoy the mainline Soulsborne games, we can’t always agree on what we like about them or why we keep on coming back for more in some games and eventually throw in the towel with others.
Unfortunately, one of the broadest lessons that many games take away from the success of Souls-likes is that they need to be blisteringly hard in order to satisfy gamers. Clearly, this is one of the core principles at the heart of Lies of P, an intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying, entry into the genre.
If you’re relatively new to this genre, or you’re looking for an especially punishing challenge, then you may get more out of Lies of P than I did. However, if you’re looking for that really special balance that makes one of these games worth your while after 2, 5, or even 10 hours fighting the same boss, you’re likely going to find that special sauce is missing here.
Now, it might seem unfair to compare a game like Lies of P to every other offering in its genre. Sadly, though, it is so clear that Lies of P pulls the majority of its DNA from the best and brightest of the Soulsborne games, namely Bloodborne and Dark Souls, that it’s hard not to think about them the entire time you’re playing it.
There are enemies hanging off of ledges that pull themselves up and spring on you as soon as you’re distracted. If you see a shiny item glittering in the distance, you’d better believe that the floor is going to fall away before you get to it. Does the area seem suspiciously empty? Well, prepare to be surrounded the second you open a nearby chest.
While these are all staples of Souls-likes, it’s how they’re incorporated and how frequently they pop up that gradually drains the fun out of the experience. Honestly, over the first few hours, I was really enjoying Lies of P, but the more I played it, the more I realized that the game has very little to offer that’s new.
It isn’t all bad news for Lies of P, though. For one thing, the game looks exceptionally good, particularly in its cutscenes. P (or Pinocchio, if you like) has a unique design for a protagonist as well, looking like a cross between a princely squire and an upper-class waif. Still, with his robot limbs and ticking clock heart, he’s also kind of unsettling in a strange way. Honestly, he’s kind of like a cross between the harmless Timothee Chalamet in Lady Bird and the “oh crap” version of the actor in Bones and All or Dune.
While I’m at it, I may as well address the other elephant in the room. Though I was pretty skeptical of the idea of adapting Pinocchio, one of the most overdone stories we have at this point, and turning it into a gritty, grim-dark Souls-like, the transition mostly works. The new takes on P, Gepetto, the Blue Fairy, and other notable characters from the story are reimagined in really cool ways, and the question of whether an automaton like P can ever really be a sentient being powers the game forward in some interesting ways over its 30-50 hours.
There is also a feature that lets you dismantle any weapon you find and reassemble the parts with pieces from another weapon, which allows Lies of P to boast seemingly endless weapon possibilities. Unfortunately, once you play around with the weapons system a bit, you may find that you’re getting killed by the same bosses and enemies in the same ways, regardless of the combination you come up with. Meanwhile, the moment you hit a wall in terms of difficulty, usually with a boss, may not be the time you want to experiment with a new weapon.
Ultimately, though, these same bosses are the biggest letdown of Lies of P. As is the case with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, there are both minibosses and bosses here. Think Sekiro for reference. However, what almost all of them have in common is that they’re absolutely relentless. They can swing as many times as they want, and chances are, even if they’re using a greatsword, they can outswing even your fastest weapon in terms of speed.
One mini-boss, for example, uses a rapier in a tiny room and can only be realistically beaten through backstabs (yes, those are here too). Meanwhile, each subsequent boss gets harder and harder. The game mercifully allows you to summon an AI helper for any of the standard boss fights, which is a great feature that more Souls-likes should incorporate, but the performances of the helper can vary greatly. Sometimes, they’re killed in 30 seconds, and other times, they outlast you or make it to the end of the fight if you happen to be successful.
Though Lies of P also gives Pinocchio a robotic arm to swap out, it’s not always all that helpful. Furthermore, most of the projectiles that the arm is capable of have a very short range, meaning they’re not half as useful as a bow and arrow or a gun, options that many other Souls-likes offer in abundance.
Finally, the worst change that Lies of P makes to the Souls-like formula comes in the form of its ergo drop system. Ergo is the game’s currency, and when you die, it stays where you died, as you would probably expect. Unfortunately, any damage you take on the way back to it causes your ergo to diminish. Now, why this is such a bad idea is because it discourages you from exploring or fighting enemies until you get your ergo back.
In the end, it’s difficult to give Lies of P anything but a middling recommendation. It’s not a bad game per se, and there are definitely elements that help it to stand out here and there, but when you consider how derivative it is of much better Souls-likes, it’s hard not to compare it to its predecessors and find yourself a bit disappointed that this is the final product.
A PS5 key was provided by PR for this review.
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Though this Souls-like wears its heart on its sleeve in its love for the genre, Lies of P misses the mark on what makes these kinds of games tick. All the same, hardcore denizens seeking a challenge may find something to appreciate here.
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