I was immediately intrigued when I saw the original trailer for Lies of P. You play as Pinocchio in a steampunk, gothic Victorian world seeking to quell tides of robotic enemies on your quest to rekindle the human spark within. When I went to add it to my wishlist, however, I noticed it wasn’t the traditional RPG game I assumed it to be; it’s another soulslike. Slightly deflated, I tried out the demo that dropped at Summer Games Fest 2023, and having plowed in far too many hours I remain staunch in my belief that Lies of P would have been better if it had shrugged off the From Soft formula.
“Well maybe you should just git gud, Lauren,” I hear you type furiously. Yes, maybe I should, but in all honesty, it’s not the fact that I’m ‘just bad’ at soulslikes that has dampened my Lies of P experience – in fact, I’ve managed to get myself to the Hotel Krat without smashing my keyboard. It’s simply that Lies of P’s story would be better suited to a game less determined to make you run a nightmare gauntlet and more willing to let you slow down to breathe in the atmosphere.
You awaken in an old train at the behest of a female presence, personified as a fluorescent blue butterfly. You’re tasked with getting to the Hotel Krat, the game’s central hub. As you emerge from the dimly-lit oak interior of this long-forgotten locomotive, you’re greeted with the crumbling remains of a train station, swarming with creepy robotic conductors who are very intent on murdering you.
Having dispatched them using my shiny new rapier, all I want to do is explore every nook and cranny of this former bastion of industrial progress. I want to venture down the platforms, rummage through the other abandoned trains, and get a feel for what this bustling travel hub once looked like. Instead, I’m forced away up the stairs to another battle, then through predetermined rooms to face a boss. I simply wish to exist in this world for a time and interact with it beyond attacking its robot residents, but the checklist soulslike formula and the game’s endless goading are almost antithetical to this style of play.
It’s the same on the streets of Krat. While you have a little more freedom, there’s one set path you have to follow, with points of interest lurking just on the inaccessible periphery. Round8 has developed a beautiful world with limitless lore potential, but the way it thrusts you forward from fight to fight confines you to seeking out collectibles that only provide tiny windows into the days gone by.
The drip-fed story, coupled with the fact that you’ll probably have to replay bosses five or six times, means that Lies of P’s early hours simply grow more frustrating than captivating. It’s the same grind soulslike players have experienced so many times before, and so far in this case, it hampers the narrative’s potential. Pinocchio is, at its core, a fable, but Studio8’s innovative twist gets lost amid the boss battles and the blood.
And that was always my concern with this one. While there is some promise in this retelling of an age-old story, Lies of P too often reduces itself to back-to-back hacking, slashing, and a whole lot of dodging. While I’m rarely one to critique a game for what it’s not, I can’t deny that this concept, this wonderfully grimdark fairytale world and its many secrets, would have been more enthralling if it could get over its own prescriptive adherence to the soulslike checklist.
Of course, I’m aware that this is a demo and some things may change – we may hear more ominous phone calls that detail the downfall of Krat, and perhaps those small slivers of lore will coalesce into something fascinating. But, right now, Lies of P’s storytelling and worldbuilding are restricted by its soulslike nature, and while you may grow to love the grind, you’ll probably find yourself questioning how much you care once you’ve been beaten to a pulp by the Parade Master for the seven(teen)th time. So no, it isn’t about me ‘gitting gud,’ it’s about the fact that Lies of P could offer so much more if it wasn’t ‘just another soulslike.’