To challenge the undisputed champion of souls-like video games, a genre acclaimed for its opaque stories, epic boss battles and punishing difficulty, a young South Korean studio turned to an insecure puppet who has a shaky relationship with the truth.
This version of Pinocchio, though, has a mechanical arm that can be fitted with a grappling hook to pull enemies into range or a flame-throwing device that incinerates them.
Jiwon Choi, the director of Lies of P for Round8 Studio, said his team looked for a globally recognizable character with promising lore when it began the project. “The story had everything we were seeking for Lies of P: elements of innocence and gore with dark humor and compelling characters,” he wrote in an email.
FromSoftware has had a stranglehold on this style of game since it released Demon’s Souls in 2009. Now labeled souls-likes, the games have become a genre unto themselves, known for frequent, cavernous lows and euphoric spikes of victory. FromSoftware’s most recent iteration, last year’s open-world Elden Ring, sold more than 20 million copies.
Lies of P, which officially releases on Tuesday for the PC and the past two generations of PlayStation and Xbox consoles, appears to have been inspired by other FromSoftware titles, evoking the gothic horror of Bloodborne and the laser-precise combat of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It has received generally positive reviews but must still convince a die-hard community that it is a real souls-like and not just a wooden imitation.
Transporting ideas from Carlo Collodi’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” into the fictional city of Krat, which is inspired by the Belle Époque period, Lies of P presents a dark, lush and terrifying world. A slender shadow in Victorian dress cautiously stalks the streets of a ruined city, sword in hand. Bloody, broken figures are everywhere, and the air is soon punctuated by the shrill sounds of clashing steel.
Souls-likes live and die — and die and die and die — on their combat systems. Lies of P wears its Sekiro and Bloodborne inspirations on its sleeve, requiring the main character, P, to sidestep or parry enemies in frenetic battles with slim margins for error. Perfectly blocking an oncoming strike can wear down the enemies that P encounters, from rank-and-file soldier puppets to hulking bosses, leaving them vulnerable to a powerful attack.
One system that sets Lies of P apart is the ability for players to disassemble weapons into handles and blades and then fuse them in whatever combination they wish. Wielding a giant wrench attached to a saber’s hilt may better fit someone’s preferred fighting style. “The vast amount of freedom it offers in combat will forge a distinctive gameplay experience,” Choi said.
Offering the tools to succeed is a vital component of well-crafted souls-likes, which must overwhelm players while convincing them that victory ultimately rests in their hands. Upsetting that balance can make it feel like trying to win the Daytona 500 on a unicycle.
Souls-like combat has been compared to rhythm and memorization games, where improvement requires learning how enemies fight. If an attack animation feels too random or difficult to read, a fight can come down to luck instead of skill. A game’s camera angles can also be a factor, blinding a player to incoming attacks.
Round8 knows it cannot please everyone with the level of difficulty in Lies of P — what frustrates one player captivates another — but the initial sections of the game have been tailored, Choi says, to gently guide players. A shop and a dummy that players can use to practice parrying are placed right before the first boss, although the difficulty ramps up considerably from there.
Lies of P could come the closest of any souls-like this year to nailing FromSoftware’s formula; Lords of the Fallen, which failed to shake up the genre when it was first released in 2014, is expected in a new version next month, from Hexworks and CI Games. FromSoftware, which did not respond to a request for comment, has announced an Elden Ring expansion but has not detailed any plans for a Bloodborne or Sekiro sequel. Instead, it turned to one of its oldest franchises this year by releasing Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, a mech combat game.
Geppetto and other aspects of the Pinocchio tale — popularized in the Disney movie from 1940 and explored by many other filmmakers — are woven into Lies of P. In a seeming echo of Isaac Asimov’s fictional laws of robotics, the game’s puppets are created to serve humans and bound by a series of laws. One says puppets cannot harm humans, a rule that has clearly been broken, and another forces puppets to always tell the truth.
Yet P is different: He can lie, affecting how the game’s narrative plays out. In an early encounter, an ill woman asks P to find her baby. When he does, P must decide between a hurtful truth or a compassionate lie. Choi said he hoped that aspect of the game would foster moments of reflection about what it means to be human.