Have you ever actually read Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio? It’s a charming collection of stories that show what happens when a little bastard continuously agonizes over being a little bastard. It’d be cloying and insufferable if it didn’t have a bit of truth in the presentation of Pinocchio’s inability to work with himself. Between tricksters, beasts, and the occasional act of God, the biggest enemy this puppet faces ends up being himself. Hell, the lying aspect of those chapters is barely even the brunt of the conflict, so much as this motherfucker just being lazy and inconsiderate, which yeah, is pretty common for young people who know nothing about the world as they’re, in fact, unaware of all that society expects of them.
The lessons Pinocchio learns are fleeting, as mischief and merriment make up the bulk of his desires, even if he genuinely feels ashamed of the fact he can’t do what “good boys” do with ease. The puppet becomes a very sympathetic figure for anyone who’s known the frustration of needing to live by the status quo. This story concludes with Pinocchio picking up a 9 to 5 and helping his father thanks to the power of pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. Hyperbole to an extent, but it’s the kind of cut and dry narrative that understandably got lost in its screen adaptations down the line. No longer mischievous, Pinocchio is a sweet boy pulled to temptation and sin due to the actions of those around him. In a way, having this innate vessel of mercurial intent makes the onus for redemption all the more palpable.
Neowiz’s Lies of P becomes a pretty interesting anomaly in this case; a video game about the puppet what lies and gets fucked over for lying, getting to save the day and bust robotic heads. It’s a ridiculous concept born from a legitimately ridiculous source and between the absurdity of the title, the grimdark aspects of the initial trailer where the gruff Mr. Gepetto hauls around a box in an abandoned snowy cityscape, and the fact you’re a foppish little lad just really makes it hard to take seriously at first glance. However, the demo from earlier this year showed promise in such a concept, and specifically the handling of something that’s equal parts off-kilter and sincere. Code Vein hits the niche of “Anime Soulslike,” Jedi Survivor gives us a glimpse at major franchises using the Soulsborne skeleton for their own expanded universe tie-ins, and The Surge was a video game that was released in 2017. There’ve been attempts to codify From Software’s blend of exploration and action as its own genre, but the funny thing with video game genres is the way they love to rely on derivative nomenclature (just look at the abundance of Metroidvanias and Roguelikes). Lies of P, in this whole mix, is its own thing. It is an action adventure game with stamina and stagger based combat mechanics that allow you to level the titular puppet up in order to better handle the challenges ahead of them. I belabor the definition here to signal just how much Lies brings to the table and how it manages to become a whole new concept, escaping the shadows of Yharnam many were so eager to cast it into.
Our story begins in the city of Krat, a place of industry populated by automatons known as Puppets who are fueled by a mysterious energy source called Ergo. These robots, normally bound to a Turing-esque Grand Covenant to never lie and never kill, go haywire, leading to societal upheaval and the emergence of a group known as the Stalkers who fight against the puppet menace. You awake in a train car in the midst of this heavily affected Krat, eventually making your way to Hotel Krat where you meet various survivors of the catastrophe, and are tasked with saving your creator, Gepetto. While you yourself were created to obey and be a model boy, your lies become a signifier that you are more than just Gepetto’s wishes. As Krat reveals its secrets throughout the night, the line between truth and fiction becomes all the more blurred.
You don’t explore Krat by yourself, either. Early on you encounter a small companion by the name of Gemini (pronounced Jiminy). Gemini, by function, is your lamp that can help illuminate the path, which is a much needed addition at certain sections of the game. Gemini becomes the reactive voice to all the happenings in the world of Krat, and it’s genuinely a delight for a genre that often can have silent or one note protagonists. You already have a narrative stake in this story as a puppet who lies and who kills these robots dead, but to have a little sidekick chirping in about being so ticked off about the Fox and Cat who lie to you is refreshing. He jokes, he ponders, he has as much investment in the events going on during the Puppet Frenzy as you do.
Alongside Gemini are the various residents of Hotel Krat. Much like Majula in Dark Souls II, Hotel Krat becomes your location to level up and enhance your weapons among other gameplay resources. Throughout the events of the night the hotel gains more guests who each have their own reasons for taking refuge from the chaos outside. Having a place to return makes the exploration of Krat worth it, especially as you slowly learn more about the people in this city. Lorenzini Venigni, the heavily Italian inventor in the city, would be easy to hate if he weren’t written to be equal parts pathetic, noble, and lovable. It’s a testament to both Venigni’s voice actor and the writing on display that a brilliant philanthropist engineer who’s also the richest man in the city can still be one of my favorite characters in an ensemble in the year 2023. Antonia is a woman affected by Petrification Disease, the plague-like illness also impacting the residents of Krat, who reminisces about the better days. Her sweetness isn’t put upon, as she also encourages you to lie and uncover the mysteries of Krat. These interactions do a lot in providing a lived texture to Krat. I won’t say this is an issue in all Bloodborne derivatives but it’s definitely a problem I’ve at least noticed in other games attempting to tread the line between hopeful and hopeless; there’s an uncertainty in the words of everyone at Hotel Krat but you continuing to fight and to grow ultimately fills them all with a renewed optimism. Gepetto is the only one who asks you to be a good boy among the many residents, but through your time spent leveling up and upgrading and building this rapport, the other residents come to know you as something even greater: a friend.
Speaking of Krat’s denizens, the enemies are truly something else when it comes to how you can understand difficulty in these games. Throughout the course of the plot your main enemies will be either puppets affected by the Frenzy, ravenous machines who will attack anything and everything, and the remnants of the Alchemists’ experiments which, for a lack of a better term, are Ergo zombies. While there’s only two larger categories of enemy in that regard, the actual variety between levels is incredibly diverse as you make your way through to the boss of each ruined location. There’s a section very late into the game that is hilarious for being a showcase of just every kind of threat you could find from crawling pieces of automaton carcasses that have been inhabited by otherworldly horrors to just the hardest motherfuckers who will kick your ass unless you know remember how to deal with every single one of them. The bosses are also great, but I do understand critiques about the trend later on of bosses consisting of two phases with a health bar per phase. Bosses like the Parade Master do a good job of introducing the player to how what they’ve learned to do in standard enemy encounters can also apply to these more meticulous fights right down to wearing a boss’s weapon down with enough timed parries. There’s a rhythm between level and boss, not necessarily something where you find X weapon in the field to defeat Y boss, but more figuring out the primary hook of a level could give you ideas on how to tackle a boss be it exploitation of weaknesses or concocting loadouts that are good for single targets as opposed to a swarm of foes.
Narrative aside, it feels really fucking good to hit stuff in this game! Your stats are the standard split of health/stamina/carrying limit/strength/dexterity/magic. Weapons you find over the course of the game are all split between their blade which can be upgraded for pure damage output and their handle which affects the kind of damage scaling that would be best to upgrade, Motivity (strength) or Technique (dexterity). The game lets you pick one weapon per style at the start, but it never directs you to only choose one path thanks in part to the weapon crafting system. Crafting in this case boils down to choosing a blade and handle to combine, resulting in various different options to find what’s the best fit for your playstyle. Leaning into a dexterity build for my run eventually led me to using the Booster Glaive, a somewhat heavy weapon that still allowed for repeated hits to build up stagger. I eventually took the heavy hitting blade itself and paired it with the handle for a curved dancer’s greatsword which scaled perfectly on Technique, and that ultimately became my weapon of choice for the midsection of the game before opting for a boss weapon that truly shows how versatile Lies of P’s combat system is. You can put a huge greatsword blade on a dagger handle and that’ll still work for the most part, or put a fucking wrench head on a pole for extra reach. Not only this, but every blade and handle have their own weapon arts attached to one another which ups the ante on what combinations would be viable. Do you want your fuckoff greatsword to have an instant parry? Would you like to add a fucked up charge slash to a hammer? Who cares anymore! Krat is lawless and your mishmashing of weapons is going to be the key to saving everyone.
Your left hand becomes the focus of the Legion Arm mechanic, a swappable power up that can range from a grappling hook you can use to pull enemies in with, elemental blasts for electricity, fire, and acid damage, or a whole third-person reticle cannon arm, among other upgrades. I ended up finding my niche pretty early on, but the multitude of weapons is astounding if you give yourself the space to explore. These arms are also upgradable, with their own skill paths to explore a build that feels best suited to you. Admittedly, it took me a while to really lock down a rhythm with the left hand, if only for the fact swinging with your main weapon is so easy and fun to do. Imagine never needing to worry about your hunter gun in Bloodborne because you could just hit enough sick combos with your trick weapon to enable stagger. This isn’t to say the mechanic is unnecessary, however, as the various arms provide ample coverage the more you choose to upgrade and make use of them. The Puppet String became my go-to not only for being lightweight but also for having a final upgrade that essentially lets you do Sekiro shit on enemies by getting up in the air for a downward slash. Lies of P has a lot of options for customization, so while you may not find yourself engaging with every little piece it’s still nice to know just how flush with options the game is.
The P-Organ is another great addition to the gameplay blueprint that also provides variability in how someone can meticulously craft a deadly foppish lad. This skill tree opens up early and has one initial level: four permanent upgrades that require two quartz each to activate, which you get in hidden chests or by defeating midbosses across the various levels.These upgrades include features like an additional dodge or an increase in healing items, both of which can be pretty invaluable and immediate no brainers to upgrade. Each node also allows for the choice of a passive skill like decreasing damage from dodging, or increasing your load for throwables or consumables, and each level provides more nodes and skills to upgrade. It’s a system that really elevates gameplay and to have all these different means of optimization alongside your standard Ergo leveling is a blast to mess around with. In this game I’ve done the least amount of Strength leveling I’ve ever needed to do, because I instead had access to Dex weapons that were strengthened not just by me opting to put my Ergo into Technique but also getting upgrades to my stagger damage, my backstab damage, hell even adding to the amount of poison bombs I could throw at enemies. Plenty of folks will tell you that hitting people with the big wrench is great and I won’t deny that, but it rules when a game gives you so many tools to mess with, and there’s actual ways to bolster that method of play.
The ending I got came as a result of lying at almost every opportunity I had throughout my playthrough. The thing about these lies, however, is that they never truly felt malicious. Pinocchio in Collodi’s original novel is just a rite bastard who will do whatever the whim commands of him and not learn anything until the near end when his back is against a wall to do the right thing. In Lies of P, you’re being forced to bend the truth about grief, love, and the fragility of humanity. Early on, a woman asks you to find her baby in the wreckage of the police station, the revelation of this quest being that she’s in fact referring to a doll near the police station. You return this doll to her and are given the choice to either play along and recount how beautiful her child is, or just say she’s not holding a real baby. The lies you can choose to tell never come out of malicious intent, if anything they’re lies many of us tell: planned embellishments of reality. Lies can beget other lies, but if anything these build your own platform, like telling someone the robot wife they lost truly did love them and getting a wedding ring as a reward, the true symbol of unity between two people that surely could show puppet and human could love one another. Neowiz encourages you to lie, but it doesn’t mean you need to shy away from the truth for everyone. For some folks I tell them straight up what they’re doing is monstrous or provide the harshness of reality, because it’s needed. It’s also good that in this whole lie system you’re rewarded for listening to the various records you collect over time, as being human is more than just one rote formula to follow.
Lies of P is a surprise through and through. This is a game the community immediately saddled with the moniker of Bloodborne 2 and, almost knowingly, it does what it can to buck this title. If anything, this is a game that is evocative of its inspirations, but takes the next step to become its own thing. I recommend this game on the merit of it being a good game that is equal parts challenging and rewarding. I recommend this game on the merit of its storytelling where your silent protagonist is not a blank protagonist, the choices being coloring in the rebellious fire that’s being stoked in this path. I recommend this game for someone who doesn’t want a padded out game, not to say this is a necessarily quick game (as my 60 hour game file would counter), but its hours are spent learning bosses and gaining mastery of how the game wants you to move and attack. It’s rare for a game to be hard enough where I find myself hitting a wall, but persistent in teaching me how to play so that literally the next day with full rest I can break through the wall and take my time to hit the next eventual wall. Collodi’s wooden puppet learns to be real by following the expectations that society at the time demanded of him. Neowiz decided to do the exact opposite, and as a result Lies of P lives as a real game; they aren’t imitators in a genre with a perceived ceiling, but rather fans of the works that are proudly worn on their sleeve while eagerly showing just what else could thrive in this game space beyond the gates of Yarnham and the towers of Anor Londo.
"Nothing wooden about this game's personality!"
When you put a fun concept together with an earnest story and tight gameplay, you get a genuine diamond in the rough. Lies of P manages to be an Action RPG that can hold its own in the sea of games clinging to the FromSoft schema. Its homages still provide a unique spin on its source material from both narrative and mechanical standpoints, leading to an experience you truly need to experience on your own.