Lies of P is a soulslike action game from Korean developer Round8, a subsidiary of Neowiz. It’s a blatantly ridiculous Pinocchio retelling in the moody, gothic style of Bloodborne. Drawing heavily from the entire breadth of From Software’s “Souls” lineage, it unites a variety of ideas while carving out its own iterations and building a unique identity.
The story of Lies of P revolves around a “puppet” boy, a mechanical being designed to obediently serve humans. What was seemingly a city of excitement, culture, and technological innovation (at least, for the wealthy) has become a dystopian wasteland in the wake of a mass puppet revolt. All over the city of Krat, robotic servants, police officers, workers, and so on have been driven to a murderous rampage while a horrific plague spills out of quarantine. The unnamed protagonist, a creation of the inventor Geppetto, has the unique ability to break what are essentially just the three laws of robotics (plus a fourth one about telling lies). Using this capability, he must defeat the untold horrors that lurk about Krat, rescue survivors, and stop the enigmatic forces that are strangling the city.
The Sum of its Parts
Lies of P’s action pits you against all manner of hulking machines and horrifying monsters (and on occasion, both at once). Mini-bosses stalk key areas in the world and become formidable obstacles all on their own. The combat design unabashedly works off of a “soulsborne” scaffolding, thoughtfully assembling components of Bloodborne, Sekiro, and Dark Souls into a surprisingly coherent hybrid. But it’s not just the borrowed mechanics that are well-considered; there are great design ideas in its elaborations and innovations. For brevity’s sake, I’ll explain just a couple: weapon combining and the pulse cell recharging.
Most of the weapons in the game can be disassembled into two parts: a handle, which affects attribute scaling and attack patterns; and a blade, which affects base damage and damage type. Any given pairing of blade and handle forms a weapon with its own weight, reach, and special attacks contributed by the combined parts. I found myself sticking sword blades onto the ends of massive axe handles for ridiculous reach and high motivity (strength) scaling. I often discovered new weapons that presented compelling combination choices. Moreover, I accumulated enough upgrade materials to meaningfully experiment throughout the game; I was changing my weapons dramatically all the way till the end to meet late-game fights from different angles. The weapon variations do ultimately have their limits, but there’s an impressive breadth of possibility and space to explore it.
Healing items are a crucial element of the tension of combat. Lies of P’s pulse cell item is very similar to Dark Souls’ recharging Estus Flask, but with one key exception: when all pulse cell charges are depleted, an additional charge can be generated in combat by landing several attacks. This means that even when a fight gets desperate, enough carefully delivered hits can restore a crucial bit of health necessary to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s an absolute thrill to be down to the wire, just barely managing to restore a healing charge and stay in the fight a bit longer. It happened more often than I expected, but it was never such a boon that it relieves the desperation.
Like these elements, a good majority of the mechanical ideas in Lies of P provide engaging tools to balance risk and reward in different ways. The result is a potent cocktail of tried-and-true action combat staples and clever twists and flourishes that introduce new drama and excitement.
Lies of P’s storytelling is delivered via a gradual accumulation of characters, discovered notes, and access to new areas that build out the identity of Krat. It’s deeply committed to its moody, melodramatic overtones, but never too proud to have goofy and blustery characters. It has a recurring fascination with truth, deception, and the ever present question of who can truly be trusted. Underlying this is the occasional dialogue choice, which may trigger reactions in the protagonist that indicate a proximity towards humanity or towards his machine nature. These choices can be small things, including taking the time to listen to music on records found in the world. These little details bring moments of nuance to many of the tragic characters and have surprisingly poignant implications about the value of art, empathy, and kind lies.
Despite this inner kindness, Lies of P is also drenched in grotesquery, injustice, corruption and callousness. The city of Krat is fully and truly collapsed, a supposed technological marvel turned endless nightmare. The hubris and cowardice of its powerful and elite drive the destitute into further desperation. Unpredictable mercenaries are nearly all who are left out int he world, and its few other survivors endure immense suffering and loss. The only true haven is the hotel that forms a home base as the story unfolds, but not everyone will reach it or be allowed in.
The game’s story eventually spills outward from a sci-fi-inflected Pinocchio retelling and into something more heightened and heroic. Other narrative threads unfurl and its final chapters delve into some grander JRPG-style ideas much farther afield of the fairytale. Ultimately, though, its strengths are in its little moments, giving narrative weight to decisions by adding what appear to be cryptic mechanical consequences.
I won’t explain my relationship the Souls series and its legacy; I do that year after year. It’s been almost 8 years since I first dipped a toe into Dark Souls, and by now I’ve played a couple dozen games in its design lineage. It’s become one of my genre fixations, one in which I’m always curious to see another development studio’s take on the formula, always excited to see it to challenged and elaborated.
Lies of P did this so well that it had a vice grip on me. I played it every evening for weeks. I found myself streaming my gameplay to friends and watching them play in turn, comparing our strategies and approaches. Its boss fights may have been ruthless, but they provided me with a meditative sense of steady, meaningful progress. Lies of P landing at #1 maybe says as much about where I was at mentally when the game launched than about the game’s own superlative quality. But it was the right sort of difficult-but-surmountable challenge that I needed, and it would be dishonest to place it anywhere else. And besides, the love and attention with which it was crafted makes it thoroughly worthy of the honor.