Neowiz Games took a good, hard look at the children's classic Pinocchio and asked themselves "how could we completely turn this endearing story sinister?" and they weren't talking about the narrative of the game. Lies of P is a tough nut to crack when it comes to its unforgiving combat, and yet it'll keep you coming back for more.
As a fan of Disney and having recently been introduced to the soulslike genre when Remnant 2 came out, I was both excited and nervous at the prospect of Lies of P. I have seen more than my share of previews and the game promised to be truly stunning to the eye with its Belle Époque-inspired settings... and it was. I was nervous because I had a sinking feeling that the game was going to make my 20+ years of experience in video games look wasted... and it did.
Lies of P, despite its complete divergence from the Pinocchio we know and love, sticks to the general theme of the story. Our main character maintains his quest to become a real boy with the help of his happy-go-lucky friend Gemini (pronounced Jiminy like the original). But, of course, this journey requires leaving a pile of puppet body parts in his rear-view mirror.
A living, breathing oil painting
That's probably the best way to describe Lies of P. It doesn't draw you in with flashy promotional images then disappoint with a sub-par visual experience once you get into the game. Neowiz found its niche, found its inspiration, and stuck to it.
Artistically, Lies of P truly is a beautiful game to immerse myself in. Neowiz stayed true to its theme in pretty much all facets of the game. Careful consideration was taken into the design of everything from costumes and weapons to character design and architecture. Despite bringing forth the idea of magic in this time period and corrupted puppets, the design was so spot-on that nothing felt out of place.
One HUGE omission that nearly warranted giving the game a zero? I told my first lie and absolutely NOTHING happened to Pinocchio's button nose. It's a good thing Neowiz made such a great overall game, or I would've been on the warpath.
Deceptively cruel combat
Good grief, the combat is a challenge in Lies of P. But, of course, if you're buying a soulslike game, that's exactly what you're after. The game offers very, very minimal room for error in combat and will reward those who perfect the game's mechanics.
Primarily, your best form of defence is to time your block to perfection, or perform a dodge at just the right moment. If you fail to do that, you'll cop a serious beatdown. Never in my life did I think I would complain about being bullied by puppets - at least, not as an adult.
Putting aside ever so slightly how tough the combat is, especially with the lack of difficulty options, it's a welcome challenge that implores you to really study every little component of the game to find some hint, some tiny advantage that you can have over the boss battle that has bested you so many times.
Even with the option to summon a Specter to help fight alongside you, your adversaries will find cruellest and most gut-wrenching way to bring your campaign to an end. From the very basic puppet bad guys to the incredibly powerful bosses, you'll need to read and anticipate your opponent's offensive sequences or you'll be turned into a pile of bolts.
Choices have consequences
On multiple occasions throughout Lies of P, Neowiz puts you on the spot and gives you a good five seconds to make a choice that'll have major repercussions on the outcome of Pinocchio's story. As is the theme of the original tale, lying plays a major role in the trajectory of the game's narrative. In fact, there is more than one ending, so it comes down to the path you choose to walk that will determine how things wrap up at the conclusion.
Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to explore all of the endings of Lies of P, and much of this is because you can't have two save files in the same game run, so it's impossible to explore the different conclusions without having to start from the beginning again. I can understand the logic behind this, but as a writer it's somewhat frustrating, especially considering how tough the game is to beat.
Neowiz has indicated that choosing to lie more increases the humanity in Pinocchio (perhaps a sobering commentary on us human folk), so I am more curious as to what would unfold if I only told the truth. Regardless, I'm curious about how the different endings pan out. I think it's a great feature that improves the replayability, which can sometimes lack in RPGs.
Perhaps a little too much character development
Quick disclaimer: I'm not talking about personality and storyline, rather the improvements and upgrades you can make to your character. Lies of P offers a deep customisation experience and a number of areas of improvement, which left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed and a bit confused at times. To get the best version of Pinocchio, you need to upgrade your weapons with Eugenie, level up with Sophia, and equip additional boosts in Geppetto's office. It took quite a while to wrap my head around all of it, and even now I'm not entirely sure how the P-Organ works.
Additionally, the resources you collect along the way are many and varied, and you don't always know what to do with them until much later - or until it's too late. I was frustrated to discover that the rare Ergo I had collected by defeating a number of very tough bosses could have been used to purchase special weapons or upgrades several acts later in the game. Instead, having understood rare Ergo to be same as its regular counterpart, I consumed it and used it to buy standard weapon upgrades. It's not something you can get back again as the boss battle is a one-time experience, so I had to concede that those weapons and upgrades were as good as gone. Of course, that makes you as a player a bit gun-shy when it comes to using consumables, as you don't know if they're worth holding on to until later.
Lies of P found ways to frustrate me in the best and worst of ways, but the good certainly outshone the bad. I came into the title apprehensive about how much the game would test my skills and patience, and both were taken to the limit. But this is exactly what I expected from a game of this genre, so I was more than satisfied with how my experience played out.
I don't know if I'll find a game in 2023 that impresses me visually the way that Lies of P has, but it has certainly been an absolute cracker of a year for the industry and I haven't got enough hours in the day to try them all. But this one should definitely rank among the most aesthetically pleasing titles of the year, a feat Neowiz manages to achieve without sacrificing the player's experience.
Overall, I tip my 1870s top hat to the team at Neowiz Games for a job well done. They've managed to draw me in with a compelling tale and go through an entire spectrum of negative emotions while trying to best their challenges. It was a toxic relationship, but I'll put this title down with only fond memories.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.