True Colours (British English spelling of Colors) is a romance visual novel with psychological-horror elements released by indie developer Borealis, who previously released Venus: Improbable Dream in 2021. It features three love interests, with multiple endings for each route and a total of 12 endings in total.
WARNING: THIS GAME CONTAINS DEPICTIONS OF HORROR, THREATS, VIOLENCE, GORE, DEATH AND MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES/ILLNESS. PLAYERS WITH SENSITIVE DISPOSITIONS MAY FIND CERTAIN SCENES DISTURBING.-Official Description
I thought it would be a good idea to start with the VN’s content warning. While there are certainly VNs with more gory imagery or uncomfortable topics, True Colours still delivers in the horror department. Whilst the scenes are less shocking than say, Doki Doki Literature Club, it’s worth diving into the experience with this warning in mind. Your mileage may vary.
The protagonist is androgynous, and you can customize their name to optimize self-insertion. I’ll cover more about the protagonist later on when I dive into spoilers.
True Colours sports three romanceable characters. (Left to right) Malik, the chill, laid-back athlete. Brianna, (My personal favorite) who’s not only professional, but also very kind, and bubbly. And last but not least, Ash, the bashful, shy newbie who happens to be non-binary.
All three of them have a dark secret of sorts, that you will get to uncover as you read through their routes…
Art & Music
Overall, the presentation of True Colours is pretty solid, UI included.
The music is a combination of original music and pre-made tracks. (The latter of which fits the VN quite well; I had no idea some free music was made until I read the credits) The original music is quite nice, which is no surprise given Borealis is an established composer.
The artwork sports an improvement from Borealis’ previous project.
I really liked the mental health theme of the story. It’s not just a horror-romance VN. The horror elements tie into the mental health elements of the story. Some may say it feels like an over-used indie game trope, but it fits this narrative nicely.
One interesting thing about this VN is that it is partially voiced, which is to say rather than every single line of dialogue being recorded by the voice actors, there are dozens of pre-written dialogue lines for each character which are used whenever said audio fits a character’s emotion or expression. It’s a really neat way of giving your characters more… character, and a good alternative if you want to have some level of voice acting in your VN project, but can’t carry the full cost.
The order in which I read the routes was Brianna first, then Malik, and then Ash. Without diving into spoilers, I do feel like all three of the routes follow the same formula this became apparent after finishing Malik’s route.
On the topic of the routes, all three are rather short, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s important that a story doesn’t overstay its welcome nor undershoots it. However, the length of True Colours may turn some people off if you prefer longer VNs.
I personally tend to be a fast reader, and you can pad things out by restarting from the beginning after each ending. All in all, you’re looking at about a 7 to 10 hour experience when all clearing all the routes.
The VN also sports a few side characters, who are overall quite likable, and make the dynamic with the romanceable characters more interesting.
This is where I talk about my thoughts on each route and overall story in detail, so please go read the VN first if you don’t care about spoilers. Otherwise, feel free to skip to the Final Thoughts section.
I first read Brianna’s route, as she was the most appealing out of the three to me. It starts out pretty normal; you go on a date with her and play with puppies, get to know each other better, the normal things you would expect in a dating sim. Due to the VN’s marketing, I was expecting her (and the other two) to harbor some kind of dark secret. But as it turns out, it’s sort of the opposite. The protagonist is in fact the one with a very dark secret.
In Brianna’s route, the protagonist ends up trying to keep her captive as a slave to them, which could end up with the protagonist accidentally getting themself killed, Brianna killed, or neither. (Which allows for good and neutral endings later on.) You find out that the MC stalked their ex in the past, and didn’t want to lose another lover again.
If neither of them die, she talks about how the MC needs help, as well as her own past mental health struggles, and convinces them to let her safely go in exchange for letting her help. I really liked this twist, as you actually aren’t uncovering the true colors of the romance-able characters, but more so the protagonist than anything.
In Brianna’s route, the MC goes on a mental health journey and ends up recovering in the good ending with Brianna’s help, but you can still screw it up and get a neutral (or bad?) ending of sorts. She agrees to open up to the protagonist and starts dating them again.
On one hand, Brianna’s route is pretty good. However, on the other hand, the issue with having a protagonist that can be named, let alone one that is supposed to be a self-insert becomes an issue in this kind of story. In my opinion, you generally shouldn’t try to do both; an MC with backstory, and important baggage to the story doesn’t mix well with also being a self-insert. They’re almost like opposites. Perhaps the developer was trying to make you specifically feel like the bad guy.
I read Malik’s route second. Even though I’m only into women (hence Bri being my favorite) Malik is definitely my favorite character overall. His personality is very likable, he’s incredibly chill and fun to hang with.
Once I cleared about a third of his route, I realized it was the same as Brianna’s in terms of structure – suggesting that Ash’s would likely be the same. It starts with the MC and love interest getting to know each other, then the MC tries to capture, or do some horrific act to said love interest. MC then gets a second chance and goes on a journey to improve themselves, and is given opportunity to mess it up.
All three routes are structured this way and even lead to the same amount of endings in each (e.g., the protagonist, as well as the love interest can die early on). It was well-established in Brianna’s route that the protagonist has serious mental health issues that he discovers through therapy. Yet, in Malik’s route Brianna has no involvement nor does the MC become more aware of their mental state.
As a result, this gives the route a feeling of something missing since the MC never tries to improve their mental health. Rather, instead of going to therapy, or joining a mental health community like in Bri’s route, the MC joins a volunteer theatre group as a way to gain confidence or improve themselves. It doesn’t really make sense as a supplement from a mental health perspective, since that’s a major theme of the VN.
Otherwise, I do like Malik’s route. And just like Bri’s route, Malik tries to help the MC grow. I like the dynamic they share. (Spoilers, Malik agrees to date the MC again in the good ending. Just like in Bri’s route)
Lastly, I read Ash’s route. As mentioned before, Ash is the non-binary love interest of the VN, which does factor into the story. I felt it was handled with respect, and I do like Ash as a character.
As mentioned before, the structure of all three routes is more or less the same. That said, Ash’s route has the same issues Malik’s did, more or less.
For Malik and Bri, the deaths that occur in their routes are rather well conceptualized, and make sense given the protagonist’s mental state, but in Ash’s route, they seem more off-the-rails, and less conceptualized. Rather than capturing and keeping Ash as a slave like the MC does to Bri, they try to knock Ash out with chloroform.
Then, the way the protagonist dies in one of the bad endings is honestly straight-up hilarious; They die by falling down the stairs during a chase with Ash after they escape. In the ending where Ash dies, they accidentally get locked up in the MC’s apartment, and a fire breaks out causing Ash to… turn to ash.
During Ash’s route, when the protagonist is given a second chance to grow, rather than going to therapy or partaking in a volunteer theatre, they just brute-force it and try to not stalk Ash like the MC did to their Ex. It does make sense for them to learn about boundaries, but it’s not as well executed as the other routes are, in my opinion.
Perhaps Brianna could have been featured as a small, supporting character in Malik and Ash’s routes, allowing for the protagonist to understand they have mental issues, and do productive things like theater or respect boundaries respectively to further nurture their growth.
One last thing in regards to Ash’s route. All three love interests are supposed to have some kind of personal baggage or dark secret which allows them to empathize with the MC. Brianna dealt with her own mental issues and joined a mental health community. Malik nearly raped someone and decided to step away to focus on doing productive things instead of relationships. (Like the MC in his route)
But on the other hand, Ash doesn’t really have anything to that extent. The closest thing to this is an ex who broke up with them after Ash came out as non-binary because said guy preferred something else. It’s hard to empathize with Ash, as they didn’t do anything wrong to grow from. In other words, there’s no dark secret or “True Color” of Ash to discover.
Overall, I enjoyed True Colours. I’d be lying if I said I hated Ash’s or Malik’s routes, but they aren’t as well-executed as Brianna’s route in my opinion. Her route is the best from a story perspective because it makes the most sense. I almost feel like it was written first, and the other two were shoehorned in later on.
The protagonist is decently written but is held back by trying to be both a self-insert and a character with baggage.
I would actually recommend only playing the route you’re most interested in reading, the shock value of the VN only works once in my opinion. Otherwise, if you read all three, it feels like going through a very similar experience three times.
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