Who doesn’t love a good fairytale? Nippon Ichi Software is well known for odd (and creepy) games like Yomawari: Night Alone and htoL #NiQ: The Firefly Diary that meld Japanese-style ghost stories told in modern settings, with results that never less than adorable. Having some familiarity with games like these I’d already fallen in love with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, mostly as its premise sounded like a common fairy tale – with a thoroughly modern twist. I expected amazingly cute artwork and wasn’t disappointed. I was also hoping for addictive puzzles, or at least engaging gameplay that would make such a crazy adventure worth the effort. On this front, things were less rosey.
Deep in the forest lays monsters of all kinds, including a witch said to grant any wish in exchange for something the wisher holds dear. In this forest is a wolf who sings to the moon each night, her beautiful voice heard throughout. One night, a prince hears the singing and ventures into the forest. He loves the singing so much he comes each night to listen to his mystery singer until one night he can’t help himself and starts clapping, desperate to finally meet the person behind the intoxicating voice. He climbs a cliff, knowing the answers he seeks are within his grasp, and it’s not long before he finally comes face to face with the object of his affection.
In a panic, the wolf reaches out to cover the prince’s eyes so he won’t see her hideous appearance. In her hurry she accidentally slashes him instead, blinding the prince and sending him plummeting to the ground. The prince lives, but the wolf’s guilt eats at her for what she’s done to the poor boy. To rectify this she visits the witch and, in exchange for her singing, is given the ability to transform into a princess – but still able to go change to her original form. This ability granted, she goes back to the castle, retrieves the prince, and the two set out a journey through the forest to ask the witch to restore his eyesight.
In her wolf form however, the “princess” is invincible and able to kill enemies with a few hits, jump higher, and move heavy objects. She’s able to drop down from any height without injury and is just all around a badass. In her princess form though, the wolf has a limited ability when it comes to jumping and dropping from too great a height can kill her. The prince is similarly vulnerable since both can die from just one given by a single monster, which can get annoying.
Obstacles are presented in the way of environmental puzzles, like having to cross a bridge that can only support one or two people a time. In the beginning, the wolf is doing most of the heavy work smacking large rocks into place or slashing monsters. The prince is able to lift objects and walk short distances when instructed later on, but in the beginning he’s a sitting duck. His only useful ability is being able to hold a lantern that can light braziers that help show the way through darker levels. There’s a skip option that becomes available after spending ten minutes in a level that’s convenient, so you’re not stuck trying to master the same jump for twenty minutes.
The majority of the game is a long escort mission with the wolf in princess form guiding the prince. It’s not until the final level these mechanics brings all these elements together to make for a heart-pounding finale. Most of the time, however, it felt like I was playing the same level over and over. Smack a rock onto a switch, get on the next platform, and maybe find a minor challenge of getting the prince lifted up into the next area. There wasn’t enough variety in the puzzles and half the time those available barely required my neurons to fire off to find the solution.
I’m torn on The Liar Princess and the Prince. On the one hand I adore the story and the artwork. Every scene would look right at home in a storybook – and I wouldn’t mind a few prints to hang on my wall. The choice to make the “princess” not really a princess at all, but a wolf in disguise, puts a nice spin on things. I also liked how the wolf is both villain and the hero, building a relationship with the accidently blinded price that felt far more interesting than the game itself. It’s a strange premise, but one I really did enjoy. But as a puzzle platformer the gameplay is lackluster at best, and few games can rely on cuteness alone. Maybe there’s something to be said about a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing, even if the ‘sheep’ is an irresistibly charming princess.