Lies of P Demo Review
Contributed by DJMMT
I’ve been excited for Lies of P since I first heard about it more than a year ago. I was immediately drawn to the concept of a dark, violent retelling of the Pinocchio story. I actually got to play a beta build of the game earlier this year at Taipei Game Show. At that time, I couldn’t make a real judgement about the game, because honestly gameshow demos, while fun, are the worst way to test out highly technical games like those of the soulslike genre. Especially when I have to test the builds out in Chinese, which is often the case at the events I attend in Taiwan. That’s why I was really happy to see them release a playable demo on PS5. Honestly, this review is too long for a demo, but that reflects how interested in the game I was going in. I was super thorough in my analysis of the game, because I genuinely wanted/want it to be good.
The first thing I want to say about the game is that I love the aesthetic they’ve gone with. It’s very reminiscent of Steelrising, which I haven’t actually played yet, but with a Bloodborne coat of paint. This game is dark and bloody, but not underlit. The fear doesn’t come from being surprised by enemies randomly appearing, though they do occasionally sneak up on you. It comes from them just being genuinely creepy. I also really appreciate how much effort they put into including classic Pinnochio fanfare. This isn’t just a game that uses the name Pinocchio. They’ve taken the time to reference or include things that fans, whether you’ve read the original book or just watched the Disney animated film, will appreciate. When I saw the original announcement trailer, the first question I asked was “Is Jiminy Cricket” in it?” This is not a joke. In a later trailer, they revealed that he is. In the demo, you get him immediately. They spell it “Gemini,” and he’s actually a robotic cricket, but they pronounce it the way you’re used to, and he really does guide the player, sparingly, with verbal commentary. Another example, that I absolutely love, is the donkey costume. Lies of P doesn’t have Armor like Dark Souls or Nioh. Your stats are tied to accessories, while your clothing is cosmetic. One of the outfits you can get in the demo, is a donkey mask. It’s perfect.
This is a fairly standard soulslike, gameplay wise. You have HP and stamina bars, bonfires (called stargazers), reoccurring enemies, souls that you can recover when you die, a convoluted leveling system where you spend souls to level up and add skill points to one of six categories, weapons upgrading, and pretty much all the same usual fare. You can equip up to two weapons at a time, but you have to of course deal with weight, which, as usual, is annoying and adds very little to creating an enjoyable gameplay experience. The additional mechanics that this game uses to try to set itself apart are weapons durability, weapons customization, and arms.
Now before you get angry, weapons durability in Lies of P is not like in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Your main weapons do have durability, but it’s not a permanent problem, they don’t break permanently, and you don’t have to waste currency to deal with it. Basically, your equipped weapons use up durability with each attack. There’s a bar in the HUD that shows the durability of your currently equipped weapon. You have an item called a grinder that you can use as much as you want, whenever you want, to refill the durability. You can also walk while using the grinder. Meaning that you can be in the middle of a fight and refill your durability while walking backwards from the enemy; assuming the enemy is not running towards you. I’ve even used the grinder in the middle of a boss fight. Durability also resets when you rest at stargazers. Basically, it’s a pointless mechanic that honestly adds nothing to the game. For starters, the durability of weapons is pretty good. Unless you’re actively ignoring the bar, there’s no scenario where you’re going to run out of durability mid fight, save for during drawn out boss fights. I’ve cleared entire areas from one stargazer to the next without having to refill my durability. And again, if you are low on durability, it’s not a finite resource. You can freely refill it at any time.
Really, this mechanic doesn’t make the gameplay more challenging, and it certainly doesn’t make it more fun. It’s only going to affect players in two ways. Those who forget to watch the bar will occasionally run out of durability mid-encounter during long runs without resting. Drawn out boss fights will screw over players not carrying two weapons, because they probably won’t have time to use the grinder in the middle of boss fights with more aggressive, faster moving bosses. It’s a mechanic that exists for the sake of existing that in no way can be used to the player’s advantage for any benefit. Now, if say there was a way to do special attacks that used more durability for massive increases in damage, that might be a mechanic worth having. But currently it’s just one more thing the player has to manage for no benefit other than not dying.
The weapons customization system is actually pretty cool. Basically, all weapons contain two parts: blades and handles. While not all weapons are blades, that summarization works for the purposes of explanation. You have the ability to disassemble weapons and build your own combinations of blades and handles. And you can do this with all the weapons. The reason you would do this is to take advantage of both the attack style(s) options and the fables system.
When it comes to attack styles, there are only two available in the demo, that I was able to find: slash and stab. After extensive testing, I have to say that stab is objectively better. I’m sure some people can make slash work, but stabbing gives you the best stamina management to damage output ratio. It’s also the most effective way to deal damage from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. At the start of the game, you are given three weapons to choose from. Even with its lower base stats, the rapier is the best weapon, because of the ability to use stab attacks. What’s cool is that any blade can be made into a stabbing weapon. It just needs to be attached to a stabbing handle. In the demo, I found handles that slash, handles that stab, and one that alternates between the two. Sadly, you can’t manually choose when to use which type of attack. It’s a one by one alternating combo. Meaning it’s always stab, slash, stab for regular attacks, and it’s always slash, stab, slash for heavy attacks. I don’t know why anyone would use this. You can even make a police baton into a stabbing weapon, by attaching it to a rapier handle. So the most effective way to fight, when it comes to base stats, is to find a blade with high innate damage, like a greatsword, and then attach it to a stabbing handle. Sadly, I was only able to find one stabbing handle, and I hated it’s fable, which brings me to the second part of weapons customization: fables.
Under the stamina bar in the top left corner of the screen, you have a set of small, blue bars that fill up by dealing damage. The demo gives you three to start with. The end of the demo confirms that you can expand this to more than three bars with upgrades. Fables are special techniques that consume those blue bars when used. But the techniques are tied to weapons components. Each blade and/or handle has its own fable. So far, all weapons I’ve seen have one fable for each component. These techniques vary significantly. Some are attacks, some are defensive techniques, some are status boosts, and there’s probably other stuff as well. Fables cost different amounts of bars to use. From what I saw in the demo, blades tend to have attack fables that cost more to use, and handles tend to have defensive or status affecting fables that cost less to use. My favorite attack/blade fable is a stab flurry that costs three bars. My favorite secondary/handle fable temporarily raises attack power and costs one bar. I really like this system because it gives the player an additional layer of customization that has tangible effects on performance in positive and immediate ways. That said, it’s irritating when you find a component you really like using, in terms of performance and stats, that has a fable you don’t like. In my case, the only stabbing handle I found had a fable I absolutely hated, but since stabbing is the best way to play, I used that handle anyway. I just never used the fable.
While the multi-layered weapons customization system might sound cool on paper, it’s actually a hindrance to the experience. There’s too much customization for you to just want to settle on keeping things at default and ignoring it altogether. But there’s not enough customization to be able to actually create the weapons really want to play with. For me, I wanted the stats and length of one blade I had, the primary attack fable of another blade I had, a stabbing handle, and the secondary fable of a slashing handle I had. Meaning that to get the ideal weapon for your preferred playstyle, you need four different variables to line up at the same time. As this is almost never going to happen for a majority of players, most people will end up playing the game feeling unhappy with the inevitable sacrifices they will end up having to make. While this is true for most games, the difference here is that the included customization options make you feel like you could get really close to perfection. Which in my opinion is probably worse than never getting close at all. Now, hopefully there’s some ability that can be unlocked at some point where you can combine components or change fables in some way to eventually get your perfect weapon. But I won’t be surprised if that’s not the case.
Finally, there’s arms. Arms are a secondary weapon system that is similar to the arms in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Basically, you have a robotic arm that is a single special property/technique. You have a limited number of uses with the arm that refills automatically when you rest. So far, I’ve not found an item that refills the arm outside of resting, but I have to assume such an item exists. Like weapons, arms appear to vary a lot in their forms/functions. The arm you start out with lets you do a slow but powerful punch. I basically never used this arm, other than for testing. The second arm you acquire, which you don’t get until after you defeat the first boss, is way more useful. It fires a wire at an opponent, via lock-on, and pulls them towards you in a stunned state. With larger bosses, it just does a small amount of damage from a distance, which is extremely useful in certain situations. The description of the arm says it can also pull you towards enemies, but I have not encountered this occurrence as of yet. I used this arm all the time, but only on certain types of enemies, as it has limited charges between resting. Finally, after defeating the third boss I got an electrical arm that basically does short range hadoukens. These are very effective on certain types of enemies.
All-in-all, Lies of P has a solid foundation, but the flaws of the gameplay really come out when you reach the first boss. This is going to sound harsh, especially when considering how positive the introduction of this review was, but this game feels unpolished. The issues aren’t huge game breaking problems though. They’re subtle issues that I’m only able to recognize because I’ve played so many other soulslikes. In fact, if this is your first soulslike, you probably won’t even notice them. You’ll just assume the game is hard, because that’s how the genre always sells itself. But when compared to other games in the genre, there are issues that actively made me want to stop playing the game. In fact, I literally got stuck on the first boss for 45 minutes, gave up, and deleted the demo. It was only because I needed to take more pictures for this review that I begrudgingly reinstalled it, tried the boss again, and then pushed myself to beat it and then continue on through the rest of the demo. Funny enough, I thought that first boss was the end of the demo. I ended up moving forward and meeting/beating the second boss plus two mini-bosses in that same session. While there are several smaller problems with Life of P’s gameplay there are two major ones that immediately push it towards the bottom of the list of soulslikes worth considering for me.
The first problem is that the standard/starting dodge is shit. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s pretty much useless in this game. Your dodge distance is too short to avoid most attacks, especially those of bosses. On the PS5, it feels like there’s a long delay from the button push to the actual dodge on screen. Not cartoonishly long, but long enough for it to ruin a soulslike. Additionally, I don’t even think this dodge gives you i-frames. Which isn’t a problem when the dodge actually works to your advantage for speed and distance. But since this dodge lacks those as well, i-frames are pretty important. Dodging is so important in this genre that it’s literally a Dark Souls meme. A trash dodge in a soulslike is like bad jumping in a platformer. It’s nearly game breaking. Interestingly, this was not a mistake by the developers, but an intentional decision. I found this out at the end of the demo, because defeating the third boss unlocks a skill tree. One of the first things you can choose to unlock is a better dodge . . . That’s annoying, because the standard dodge should at least have some utility. Most game make performance upgrades go from good to better. This game has the dodge upgrade go from useless trash to possibly serviceable.
The second problem is that you have a perfect guard instead of a perfect parry. For some reason, this game really wants you to guard. While guarding is a staple mechanic of the genre, most soulslikes allow the player to choose between guarding and dodging. It really comes down to preference, based on how you like to manage stamina in your build. Now this game, so far, doesn’t make me feel like my stamina is lacking, but that doesn’t mean I want to waste it on guarding. I prefer to dodge. But since the dodge is shit, you’re basically forced to guard. The problem with guarding is that, like in basically every game, guarding doesn’t negate all damage. You still lose HP and stamina when you guard. You just lose less HP. And unless you level up your guard, you still lose a decent amount of HP when guarding; especially when fighting bosses. Ultimately, if you guard too many times, you will die. Most games have some version of a perfect parry. Even games that aren’t soulslikes use this mechanic. God of War: Ragnarok, for example, made this a major part of the gameplay. The concept always works the same. Guarding just before the attack hits nets the player a perfect parry. This always translates to a large amount of damage dealt to the enemy. It’s executed in different ways. Some games leave the enemy stunned for an extended period of time. Some games automatically deal a large amount of damage. Some games give you a QTE opportunity. But what a majority of games with a perfect guarding scenario have in common is that the value in landing a perfect guard is the ability to follow it up with massive damage.
Lies of P doesn’t have a perfect parry. Or at least it doesn’t have it in the demo. Maybe you unlock it later on in the game, but if you have to get so far in before you do, then good luck keeping most players interested long enough to reach that point. That’s why instead of calling it a perfect parry, this game calls it a perfect guard. Literally all it does is let you guard without taking damage. It still costs stamina, and it doesn’t give you the opportunity to deal massive damage quickly. The reward for such a high-risk maneuver is literally just you didn’t get closer to dying. At that point, it’s nearly worthless, because the risk outweighs the reward significantly.
Another issue, which is less fundamental but equally important in my opinion, is stunning enemies. I don’t even know if stun is the right word to use here. It’s kind of like the posture system in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. If you land a bunch of hits consecutively, the enemy’s HP bar gets framed in white. If you manage to land a heavy attach during this short window, you get massive damage and the enemy is temporarily stunned. This even works on bosses. The problem is that there’s no indication, that I perceived, for how to gage how close you are to putting the enemy in this status. The white just randomly appears mid-fight and you do your best not to miss the window. Note that the enemy doesn’t slow down in any way during this window. Bosses will continue combo attacking like normal. It’s very easy to miss the stun window while you’re trying not to die. A dedicated posture bar that you could see and manage would be way better.
The major issue with Lies of P is that these two big problems, combined with all the various smaller problems, all work in tandem. It’s death by a thousand cuts. If only one of them was present, you could weather the storm. I still managed to reach the end of the demo, after all. But the truth is that all of them working together ruins the experience. Usually when it comes to soulslikes I often describe them as difficult but can’t put my finger on what specifically makes them hard. You default to damage ratio, but that’s not a real answer in most cases. The gameplay works, but it’s hard. In Lies of P, the gameplay doesn’t feel hard. It feels bad, because of these issues. And these aren’t huge design flaws. All of them could be remedied with patches. Again, at least one of the major ones, at least partially, can be fixed with later game upgrades, as confirmed in the demo. This is probably true for a number of the game’s issues. Which is more annoying than fun.
Interestingly, it’s fair to say that the developers knew that many of these issues would annoy players. The reason I’m comfortable making this assumption is that the game has “specters.” There is no cooperative play in this game. But for boss fights you can summon a spirit to help you. It’s an NPC, and it exhibits basically no strategy, but it does deal damage and act as a damage sponge/distraction. Essentially, you wait for the boss to go after it and attack it as much as possible before the specter dies. For the one boss fight in the demo that it was available for, the specter tended to die at about halfway through the boss’ life bar. Specters don’t seem to guard or dodge. They just keep running into and attacking the boss mindlessly. I still find them useful; even though ultimately I ended up beating the boss without summoning a specter. The one thing I really didn’t like in reference to specters was when they get hit with grab attacks. Boss have grab attacks that do massive damage combos and take a long time for the sequence to end. These aren’t too hard to dodge and I don’t have a problem with them being included. They’re pretty standard in action games. What I didn’t like was that bosses are invincible during these attacks. Meaning that while the specter is getting pummeled and losing a ton of HP, what should be a perfect opportunity to deal massive damage to the boss is wasted.
Playing Lies of P doesn’t feel like I’m struggling to beat the game. It feels like I’m struggling to beat the gameplay. The challenge doesn’t come from having to learn enemy attack patterns or better management of my stamina. It comes from trying to work around several tiny mechanical flaws that feel bad. And it’s for that reason, sadly, that I won’t be buying Lies of P. At least not until I hear about, and then get to test, a patch for these issues. Also, it’s just really stupid that the game starts by letting you level up at any stargazer and then takes that away from you after the first boss. You literally have to fast travel back to a hub point every time you want to level up, after having already leveled up at the game’s equivalent of bonfires for more than an hour of play. That’s just a nonsensical decision, and I really hope it’s not a permanent one. Because it honestly ruins the experience by drastically slowing down the gameplay. Many people will tolerate these problems, or at least weather them until they can upgrade their way past them. But I won’t. Even with the game’s $60 price tag (I can’t believe we’ve already normalized $70), it’s still a no from me. Maybe $20. But I’ll probably wait for it to be a PS+ freebie, if I play it at all. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to love this game.
Lies of P is not a bad game. Like I said, plot and aesthetic wise, I love what I’ve seen so far. But the gameplay sours the experience. Not so much that I consider it broken and unplayable. But enough to where I’d say unless you’ve already beaten all the other good soulslikes, there’s just no reason to waste your time with this one. Because, as is the case with all these games, it’s going to be a massive time sink. We’re talking a minimum of probably 70 hours just to complete a first playthrough. Unless they fix these gameplay issues, that 70 hours would be better spent playing Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1 – 3, Bloodborne, Nioh 1 – 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, The Surge 1 – 2, and those are just the ones I’ve beaten that I actually liked. There’s also a bunch more that I haven’t played yet like Elden Ring, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, and the list goes on. Am I telling you not to play the demo for Lies of P? Absolutely not. Even if just so studios keep putting out more free demos, I encourage everyone to try out this and any other demo they can. But if this is truly indicative of the final product, I will not be buying this game with the gameplay how it is now.