One Thousands Lies is a high school coming-of-age story focused on 6 students during their last year before graduation. The story focuses on their interactions in the present while alluding to some traumatic past events that have had a hand in shaping their path to where they are now. To the point of the title, the tale is a study in how all of us, whether subconsciously or not, try to influence the narrative surrounding our lives and choices, both for others and for ourselves — even if our attempts are sometimes nothing more than an exercise in deception and misdirection.
Through the everyday adventures of the main character and his orbit of friends, we start to get a sense of the shape of critical events that have shaped their view of the world, their place in it, and their relationships to each other. The "peeling of the onion" proceeds slowly, and most of the critical reveals occur in the epilogue, "One Hidden Truth", which is only available to play through once the main body of the novel has been completed. This is intentional; the story takes great pains to emphasize that for every truth that is core to our being, there are a thousand stories, explanations, justifications and deceptions that we weave around ourselves to protect ourselves and others from the thorny facets of our existence that we are reticent about or ashamed to confront.
At times the story grows burdensome under the weight of its own introspective and philosophical meanderings, but the emotional impact of the story is worth the frequently rambling journey.
The 6 main characters of the story are all very well developed. Diniz is perhaps the most opaque in terms of character development, but that is in a way simply intrinsic to his personality. Each character has their own quirks, and when they're not busy waxing philosophical, their interactions are hilarious and, at times, stirring.
My main objection to the heavy philosophical musings is that they are conveyed via high school students. It's rare to find young adults that age who analyze life, the universe and everything in such intricate detail. Consequently, the internal musings of the main character stretch the limit of plausibility, and when deep analysis of humanity starts to spill out into the dialogue between characters, it downright undermines the immersion. Yes, the story is trying to weave a set of concepts in preparation for the big reveal at the end; but in the absence of other, older characters who can serve as a platform for such observations, there remains little choice but to deliver the concepts through the most unlikely of demographics.
Interestingly, one of my favorite characters — for situational comedy — isn't a leading characters and doesn't even have a visual representation: the substitute teacher. I laughed every time the substitute teacher became haplessly involved in yet another prank, and of course the twist toward the end had me in stitches. (No spoilers.)
The backdrops to this visual novel are very impressionist, which serves well to keep attention focused on the characters themselves. Each character is beautifully portrayed, with many different poses to convey the right mood at each point in the conversations. A few select scenes feature full in-scene character placement to further bring the characters to life during key moments in the story, and these are beautifully done as well.
The main character is not represented graphically; use your imagination. Most side characters (of which there are few) also do not have a graphical representation.
Sound and Music
The music appears to be largely composed of free-to-use or public domain content. The songs are diverse and well selected to support the storytelling; some reinforce the quirky relationships of the characters, and others do a good job of underscoring the more poignant moments of the story. A music player available from the main menu lets the reader play any of the tracks they have heard so far in the story and also doubles as a place to give attribution.
Sound effects are used judiciously but are well done and do help bring parts of the story to life more.
Gameplay and Controls
This is a kinetic visual novel. There are no choices to be made; you are simply reading a story with visuals. Interface is standard Ren'Py. The on-screen interface is intuitive enough for mouse usage, but the game does not have any sort of help screen for the keyboard interface (always appreciated since the game engine doesn't come with an out-of-the-box help screen).
Interestingly, the "Skip" function is enabled, which for a visual novel without any interactive elements, causes it to speed forward all the way to the end of the novel. Also, a recurring gripe I have with Ren'Py is that "Skip" is mapped to the Tab key, and it also reacts on key-up when using Alt+Tab to switch back into Ren'Py from another application — thereby triggering a Skip when it wasn't desired.
This is a beautifully portrayed story with fun, engaging characters. It suffers only from a top-heavy encumbrance of introspective ruminations and philosophical dialogue, which probably could have been more smartly presented by relying on the reader's ability to discern the author's perspective through more subtle conveyances. The result is a number of awkward speed bumps in the storytelling; but otherwise the shenanigans are fun and entertaining, the emotional moments are appropriately poignant, and the final reveals are especially impactful.
Definitely worth a read!