Lies of P Might be the First Soulsborne/Like That I Actually Finish

Eight years ago I picked up a little game by the name of Bloodeborne. I did so primarily because of my growing affinity for the Lovecraftian aesthetic; something that, at the the time, I was enamoured by after having just completed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I had little familiarity with FromSoftware at the time, having maybe heard them mentioned in a video review or another.

It wouldn’t be long, however, until I would become very well-acquainted with the name FromSoftware; a name that would swiftly but surely make its way to the top of my hit list each time I fell to one of the many creatures in Old Yarnham; an occurrence so frequent that it would quickly become mundane.

You see, I was at a point in my life where I was just seeing myself getting back into video games. It was a hobby that brought me much joy as a child, but somewhere along the lines took a backseat as I made my way through the miasma that is adolescence. One day while cleaning my apartment I decided to dust off the old Xbox 360.

I went out to a GameStop for the first time in years and picked up whatever on the shelf looked interesting; which ended up being Bioshock Infinite. I played through that game in basically one sitting, deciding to skip all of my film school classes the next day. Playing through Bioshock Infinite is something that I doubt I’ll ever forget, and was the catalyst in bringing me back to video games.

It made me realize not only how much I’d missed playing games, but also how well, when done right, a story can be told within this medium. And so off I went, buying secondhand consoles and games from sketchy figures on New York City’s Craigslist; making my way through everything from 16-bit-era classics, to Grand Theft Auto 5. It was a swell time. However, there was one barrier that reared its ugly head every-so-often: difficulty.

Growing up, I didn’t care too much for difficult games. I was happy to press the “easy” mode on any given game and saunter on into whimsical worlds. If a game proved too difficult, meaning my character died more than ten times, then instead of bludgeoning my head against a wall, I’d move on to another game. Ten deaths, that was the limit. If you think I didn’t finish many (or any) games as a kid, well, then you’d be right.

Castlevania SOTN
This game had some rage-inducing moments, let me tell ya’

Thankfully, I found myself to be a little more persistent in my early twenties, pushing myself to trudge through some of those barriers. Only to a certain extent, though; some of those early NES games proved far too challenging. So, when I started up Bloodborne, I didn’t know what I was in for.

All I knew was that this was an action game whose world was created with an art-style that looked incredibly atmospheric. And, well, I wasn’t entirely wrong. I just didn’t know I was going to be kicked in the face (literally and figuratively) to the point where I didn’t even care if the environments looked like globs of goo.

I spent fifteen hours in Old Yarnam. In that time I only managed to kill two bosses; the Cleric Beast, and Father Gascoigne. When I tell you that defeating Father Gascoigne is one of my proudest moments as a gamer, I am not lying. I know there are “true gamers” reading this right now who are scoffing and rolling their eyes at such a statement, and that’s fine (though I kindly suggest touching some grass).

I’d never played a game like Bloodeborne up till then, and this was me only a year-or-so back into gaming on the regular. In that time the hardest games I’d played were retro side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania. I had no idea that level of difficulty existed in the third dimension.

I should have stopped playing Bloodborne after my tenth death to the Cleric Beast, or my twentieth to Father Gascoigne. The seven-year-old me definitely would have. But I persisted. Why? Because I loved every bit of this game. From its art-style, to the winding connected pathways of Old Yarnham, to the enemy designs, to the haunting music, to the weight and fluidity of its frenetic combat. I didn’t want to stop playing, irrespective of my increased blood pressure.

Though, it was the elation of downing Father Gascoigne and the following sadness in learning about his tragic backstory that made me realize it was time for me to part ways with Bloodborne. Even though I was well aware of the fact that I was just scratching the surface of what this game had to offer, I knew I couldn’t bear to run through a different area of Yarnham over-and-over again before finally downing another boss, only to repeat the cycle again.

Father Gascoigne, Bloodborne.
I hate you, old man. But I also kinda love you.

So I left Old Yarnham, moving on to other adventures. Though, not a week goes by where I don’t think of that decaying town, its suffering inhabitants, and the creatures that I’d left unacquainted. In the years since, I’ve staved away from other FromSoftware games, and haven’t tried the many “Soulslikes” that have come with the rise of the genre’s popularity.

I’ve played through a few titles, like Hollow Knight and Unsighted, though I feel those games are more Metroidvania’s with some “Souls” elements, rather than proper “Soulslikes.” The reason for my veering away from such games is because of a fear of disappointment. A disappointment that would come from an inevitable comparison to Bloodborne; the only game thus far that I’ve allowed to chip away at my sanity with its unforgiving difficulty.

That is, until a relatively unknown South Korean studio announced a game that looked suspiciously close to the game I love so much. To steal its blurb from Steam: “Lies of P is a thrilling soulslike that takes the story of Pinocchio, turns it on its head, and sets it against the darkly elegant backdrop of the Belle Epoque era.” To say that this is a “Soulslike,” I feel, would be a misnomer. This is a “Bornelike,” or “Bloodtype,” or — this is Bloodborne but with a discount Timothee Chalamet playing Pinocchio as the main character.

From the moment you step out of the train and onto the wet cobblestones of Krat, to the placement of enemies around the winding map, to the satisfying swings of your blade, to the foggy facades of crumbling 19th century buildings, every bit of this game oozes the ambiance and atmosphere only comparable to FromSoftware’s masterpiece.

And the more I played, the more excited I got; although not only because of its clear inspirations from Bloodborne, but by some of the quality-of-life aspects the game introduces that makes for a far less infuriating experience. The most impactful of which being the placement of a stargazer (Lies of P’s equivalent of bonfires) in front of boss areas. This is, far and away, the most useful mechanic that makes the game leaps and bounds more accessible — not easy, accessible.

Lies of P
At the stargazer in Moonlight Town.

It’s this very element that seems to be the core of all “Soulslikes” that I simply do not have the patience for. I understand the need to push players, and the punishment of death is a way to do that, but the endless tedium of having to backtrack through an entire section of a game, mindlessly mowing through the same enemies, only to then fall to the same boss as you try and understand its move-set with each encounter is aggravating.

Lies of P solves this by essentially eliminating backtracking. There’s still some, as it’s not like there’s a stargazer at every corner, and death does result in the loss of Ergo (the game’s equivalent to Souls), but it’s always manageable. This allows me to grind for Ergo the way that I want to, upgrade and level up as I see fit, then tackle the boss when I feel like it because I know death will only set me back a couple rooms away. Not to mention all my lost Ergo upon death is collectable right outside the boss’ door as well.

None of this takes away from the difficulty of the boss fights themselves, which can be brutal. All it does is encourage players to keep trying, instead of punishing them for failing — which is inevitable in a game like this. Half of my spike in blood pressure against Father Gascoigne wasn’t in the fight itself, it was in the lead up to it.

Having to retread the enemy-filled streets, constantly fearing having to use too many health vials before the boss fight, and knowing that one wrong step could lead to disaster, was an agonizing test of my sanity. Lies of P mitigates that experience with not only having stargazers in boss areas, but having more around the city in general.

Additionally, the game offers a slew of customization options for weapons, allowing you to change and alter your weapon handle and blade as often as you’d like. If things get really tough, you’re even able to spawn an A.I controlled player for boss encounters, making for a far easier (though never completely easy) experience.

It’s options and quality-of-life elements like these that I want to become a standard across all future “Soulslikes.” I wrote about Unsighted a few months back in a longer piece about difficulty. Unsighted was quite a challenging game, but its brilliantly implemented accessibility features allowed me to complete it. None of those features made the combat and enemy A.I easier, but simply allowed for a little more room for error.

Lies of P
No matter the handle, the Electric Coil Head remains undefeated.

It’s unfortunate that Lies of P developers, Neowiz, went by the way of nerfing much of their game recently due to public complaints of difficulty, instead of thinking of new ways to implement in-game features to soothe some of those difficulty spikes. I understand it’s the easier and more cost-effective route, but feel it’s a quick bandage for a problem that could have benefited from a more clever solution.

I’m sure I’ll be thankful for the recent update as I make my way to those later stages, but I would’ve loved to face the challenge with options at my disposal to curate the gameplay experience for my needs. Still, what Neowiz have offered me has thus far been enough to play halfway through their game, a game that reminds me so much of Bloodborne. And though I doubt it’ll ever top the magic of Old Yarnham, I’m at the very least happy at the idea that I may just be able to finally finish one of these damned games.

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