The start is a story many of us probably know intimately. At the near end of high school, a group of teenage friends go on a camping trip, taking advantage of the fact they’ll never be as young as they are now. Also looming is the fact that they may never see each other ever again. This is but the opening of the Melbourne-developed visual novel The Many Deaths of Lily Kosen, but more is under the hood. No longer just a coming-of-age story, a supernatural entity is hunting the friend group not just on this eventful night but the following days, hoping to take them all down. Can you ensure everyone escapes alive? The clock is ever ticking.
Players control a player character with a name of their choosing. Accompanying them are longtime friends Hannah, a shy but sweet girl who loves to spend her spare time gaming and reading. There’s Gabriel, a charming guy sporting a somewhat plain anime art-style look. Rounding the cast out is my favourite of the bunch, Victoria, a fiery redhead that swears like a sailor while incidentally wearing those classic Japanese sailor schoolgirl uniforms you’ve seen in anime like Sailor Moon. Each member of the cast is well distinguished from one another, and though it is somewhat jarring seeing anime characters that otherwise talk in vernacular similar to that of Australians it works for the visual novel genre.
The more you play The Many Deaths of Lily Kosen, the more its intriguing and eerie plot becomes untangled. Players learn what brought about the appearance of this demon and why it is strictly hunting them. Some events transpired about a year ago that everyone is eager to avoid discussing entirely or only talk about in hushes. Across many trying days, the group must use their strengths and friendship to survive the potentially ill-fated encounters with the demon. Seeing an end to the threat is only possible upon the survival of you and your friends, passing many skill checks to get you where you need to go.
Mechanically, The Many Deaths of Lily Kosen is a strong visual novel. Bonding events that pop up from time to time get you to learn more about your friends’ backstories. You’ll learn about Gabriel’s woes in his love life or maybe even help Hannah break out of her shell just that little bit more. Hell, you can even find out why Victoria is just like that. Better yet these interactions serve as a key to your survival. Spending these bonding events either by yourself or with one of the crew also lowers the party members’ stress level, making them that much more equipped when these skill checks rear their head again mid-demon encounter.
I really like this multi-purpose use of getting to know the cast and feeling like you’re earning something in a visual novel outside of the story. Too often titles in the genre drag themselves out with these distractions. Here, it feels like you’re getting all the nitty gritty good stuff while also in service of progressing the plot. Yes, there might be some save-scumming going on prior to making an important choice that won’t be for all. Though I took these as lessons to better prepare myself for next time I came toe to toe with the fierce foe.
I’m obviously not going to pretend it’s perfect, but this is a good debut from developer Too Many Teeth Studios. As far as visual novels go, the story kept me along for the ride, vested in saving each party member and wanting to see the demon get banished. There are distracting elements such as looping music that sounds ill-fitting for some of the scenes the characters find themselves in. However, the story is key in The Many Deaths of Lily Kosen and it more than delivers on that front whilst not overstaying its welcome.
By the end of my run with the game, I managed to eliminate the threat having only lost one of my party members. I’m curious to go back at some point and see how I can save all my friends in one run and get the best possible end. Also unlocked upon completion is a new, short personal short story for each character that survived. This wasn’t necessarily needed as you sufficiently get to learn about each cast member through the main narrative but it is a welcome addition. Seeing Gabriel and Victoria’s unlocked but not Hannah’s is teasing me, begging me to go back and absorb every facet of the story.
The Many Deaths of Lily Kosen is available on PC via Steam and itch.io on July 21st. If you’re after a charming and at times bone-chilling visual novel that’s locally made, it’s well worth picking up.