Crimson Gray Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Sierra Lee
Grimson Gray is a visual novel centering around John, a high schooler who recently developed a case of severe depression, so extreme that he literally struggles to see the world in anything but gray tones, but not extreme enough for him to be unable to function satisfactorily throughout his school life. It is an unenviable position, where he struggles to care about those around him and himself, but things start to chance once he meets a quiet enigmatic girl by the name of Lizzie who, for reasons never fully explained, is infatuated with John in a very unhealthy way.
Lizzie is a textbook yandere who struggles to feel any sense of emotion when around someone other than her beloved John-senpai, and expresses a number of alarming tendencies throughout the story. It’s the usual stuff like chaining him up in her basement, getting murderously jealous whenever he talks to another girl, and of course, killing him out of romantic passion because he cannot be trusted. All of which are possible outcomes that can be reached by making a rather plentiful number of choices throughout the story that do shift it in notably different directions, showing different sides of John and Lizzie, as well as delving into Lizzie’s origins.
As it stands, the story itself is fine, functional, even interesting at times, and while it does firmly base itself in the ever growing genre of yandere fiction, there are conceited efforts by the writer to make things a bit more complicated and tie things into a greater overarching storyline. However, the actual writing on display here is often very underwhelming, sticking to predictable writing patterns that seem devoid of a distinct distinct voice or personality, making a lot of the dialog come off as flat.
Because of this, the story can feel very middling, or even gray I suppose, with many details being left out and the main characters of John, Lizzie, and John’s school counselor, Mrs. Smythe, feel all the lesser because of that, even though I could see something in each and every one of them. There is certainly a lot of potential here, but this brazzen lack of detail and attention from the writer left the story feeling like less than it had any reason to be. Though, that is unfortunately far from its only problem.
The ultimate conclusion to Crimson Gray is a rather wild and difficult to believe one that centers around the local pharmaceutical giant in this unnamed city having a dark past that involves experimental drugs that can alter the human genome, massive cover-ups, and, of course, mind control via ineffectual drugs in an attempt to establish continuous revenue streams. It is outlandish and has an undercurrent of pseudo-science that makes the rest of the story difficult to believe rather than making sense of things, and inadvertnly paints both pharmaceutical companies and therapy in an unsettlingly negative light. Even though mental health is a lot more important than many people realize, and by presenting those two things as ineffectual, the story communicates a largely negative message.
The pseudo-science is made worse by the general disregard for actual science made throughout the story. From the somewhat disingenuous way in which John’s depression is conveyed, which seems far too literal and textbook to be especially convincing. The fact that Lizzie has enhanced strength as a result of the abnormal circumstances of her birth. To, my favorite, the scene where Lizzie gets a blood test that, after being processed in no more than three hours, on a Saturday, allows a pharmacist to assess and determine her mental health and discovers that Lizzie is alarmingly chemically imbalanced. But more than that, after reading these results, the pharmacist says to John that Lizzie is “completely incurable. Insane, probably, and definitely a threat to society.”
Firstly, that is not how science works. While there is some potential merit to determining things like depression via a blood test, those are very recent, limited, and experimental discoveries, while this story takes place in 1989 or 1990. Secondly, what goldarn pharmacist would ever, ever, say that to anyone, let alone a high schooler? That is such an outlandish, exaggerated, and downright stupid thing to say that I was left genuinely stunned after reading that line, and had to come back to the game another day, while I went on a mental rant trying to decipher what the writer was thinking.
As for the presentation, Crimson Gray features detailed sprites for Lizzie and Mrs. Smythe that both have a surprising wide range of expressions and multiple poses, along with a decent amount of CGs that, while sparking a few continuity errors due to inconsistent outfits, are well drawn and serve as a nice reward for finding new scenes. Meanwhile, the backgrounds are blurry grayscale illustrations that are a mix of original assets and modified public domain backgrounds that I previously saw in games like Angels With Scaly Wings and Lily’s Day Off.
The backdrops ultimately look fine, do their job, and serve a thematic purpose, but manage to come off as inconsistent due to how some assets are in grayscale and others are not. When combining this with the often underwhelming script and the Kevin Macleod soundtrack that can be ill fitting and tonally inconsistent at times, the game looks more and more… amateurish. Not in the typical sense that the developer had limited resources, but in the sense that the developer simply lacked the skill, time, or drive to make this game the best it could be.
Crimson Gray has a lot of promise as a visual novel, and managed to do more than enough to captivate my curiosity to see everything the game had to offer, but with a script and presentation that often left me underwhelmed, I could not help but feel a little left down by the game once everything was said and done. It is a title that I genuinely enjoyed going through despite its flaws, with its story having enough intrigue and versatility to have me eagerly investigating all of the available routes, but the lesser aspects of the script, primarily the pseudo-science, leave me cautious to recommend this game. Unless you’re big on yanderes. In which case, you’ll probably still have a good time with it.