"...but even style can't hide a lacklustre and undemanding bore."
The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince is a product of one of Nippon Ichi Software's annual events. Every year, employees can pitch a game idea to the company, and whoever wins is guaranteed to see their dream game become a reality. Yomawari: Night Alone is just one of the games born out of this process. Like all previous winners, Liar Princess has something a bit different to offer compared to the studio's usual output; in this case, it's a gorgeous visual style. But, just like the titular princess, that gorgeous exterior is hiding something horrible. Or, at the very least, disappointing.
Liar Princess is told through storybook-style cutscenes, and the tale starts off with the Prince, who is enamoured by a beautiful singing voice coming from a terrible wolf. The Prince, unbeknownst to what's waiting, climbs the rock that the wolf is signing from, and out of surprise, the wolf swipes for the Prince's face, blinding him. Upset with what she has done, the wolf goes to see the witch, who grants her the power to turn into a princess. She then vows to cure the Prince of his blindness.
There are a few endearing moments between the Princess and the Prince, and a couple of scenes where the characters meet a few unusual characters (the goats are not what you'd imagine), but Liar Princess feels like it's retreading old ground. It's meant to be a fable for kids with a slightly dark twist, and it achieves that without ever telling a compelling story. The characters have little personality, perhaps marred by the fact the game is narrated by a single voice. I like what it's trying to do, but for a game so heavily weighted on story, it's barely memorable.
I've already pointed out the game's gorgeous style, and that's easily Liar Princess' strongest asset. The game's cutscenes are told like a storybook, with pages flipping and even art styles changing. One moment the story is presented in a very crisp style full of greys, greens and all sorts of muted colours, then the next it changes to a black and white sketched style. I loved these moments, as they often reflected the mood of the plot. The black and white scenes often show the Princess either sad or horrified, whereas the more colourful sections reflect the pairing's more heartwarming moments. It's this cutesy-but-creepy vibe that kept me intrigued.
This visual, moody style doesn't translate as well into the gameplay and exploration, sadly. The forest is split into various areas through chapters; each of these areas is dimly lit, with a glow from unusual plants, or sometimes just flickering embers keeping things bright. The only way these areas really differentiate themselves is by what colour they are or whether the weather is different. They offer nothing exciting, and after a few short sections, I was already bored with walking through the game. It doesn't help that most of the game's music blends into the background, either.
The main aim of Liar Princess is to guide the Prince safely through each area. You can swap between the Princess and her wolf form at will, and can only do certain things in each form. For instance, only the wolf can attack a creature and protect the Prince, whereas the Princess can pull levers and hold the Prince's hand. There's only a small smattering of puzzles dotted throughout the game, and all of them are extremely simple, with even the most challenging only taking one or two attempts to get right. Later on, you do gain the ability to instruct the Prince to pick up objects and move left or right without holding his hand, but there's such little variety in the puzzles it's almost mind-numbing.
The design of some of these areas, along with some of the puzzles, do have one cause for frustration — the ledges. A lot of the time you'll need to jump over gaps or hop down a steep set of stairs carefully, but if you fall too far then you or the Prince can die. The margin between falling too far or falling to safety is so fine that it's impossible to tell what a safe fall is and isn't. And it's instant death too. Luckily the game autosaves very frequently, so at most you'll only be redoing one small puzzle or section, but doing the same puzzle five times over because of an awkward landing is not my idea of fun.
These minor platforming segments, sometimes coupled with mushrooms which you can bounce off of, also highlight issues with the game's controls. The order of the jump button and the attack button took me a good 20 minutes to get used to, but beyond that, moving left and right in mid-air is either limited or ridiculously hard to control. I'd sometimes try to move right while jumping up and hardly move an inch, only to miss landing on the mushroom and die, or I'd move too much and send the Prince flying in front of me, killing him.
There is a saving grace for some of these more awkward sections, and that's the ability to skip them entirely. After ten minutes in each section, you can opt to skip the area and go straight to the cutscenes ahead, then continue through to the next section of the chapter. While Liar Princess is incredibly easy and short, this option is something that should be considered for those who just want to enjoy the story. This really helps out if you're trying to grab all of the collectables, which unlock various pieces of art in the game, as some of the flower petals you need to pick up are a little trickier than the usual fare.
I was honestly really let down by The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, but it's not a terrible experience by any means. The artwork is really gorgeous and with a bit more work and in a different medium, I think the story can be enjoyed by many. As it is now, though, Liar Princess is an easily forgettable experience. As an experiment from Nippon Ichi, it's definitely different and more appealing than some of their other properties, but even style can't hide a lacklustre and undemanding bore.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.