Crimson Gray: Dusk and Dawn Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Sierra Lee
Crimson Gray was a promising little yandere love story that aimed to create a branching narrative that was not afraid to delve into more twisted subject matter, but was one that I felt was ultimately overly restricted by the quality of its often very plain script, a deluge of pseudo-science, and a presentation that could and probably should have aspired to do much more. But it still left a positive impression on me, enough that I positively flipped when I heard that it would be receiving a sequel. That and, well, random little games like Crimson Gray typically are not really sequel material.
Set two years after the initial installment, Crimson Gray: Dusk and Dawn follows the series protagonists and lovebirds John and Lizzie as they have moved past their troublesome high school days, start college, and form a (mostly) functional relationship. Despite John’s lingering chronic depression and Lizzie’s habit of behaving like a textbook yandere. With the events of the first title behind them, and their relationship secure, Dusk and Dawn does not really have much of a central conflict beyond the two trying to maintain a loving relationship. Supporting each other’s fragile mental health, making time for each other, talking their feelings through, and having sex in public, like a bunch of exhibitionists.
This choice of structure results in the story being less of a branching narrative with major build ups, and more akin to a “day in the life of” story following a yandere as they are consistently triggered by anything that could be seen as a threat to her relationship, and trying to be a functional human being. It is certainly a novel concept that the writer does a good job at portraying, with the characters coming off as more defined, Lizzie deifying John by referring to him using capitalized pronouns, and by including regular opportunities for Lizzie to go full yandere. Either by choosing to murder those who she sees as potential threats, or plot on how to best acquire napalm to destroy them and all other attractive woman who may cause her beloved’s eyes to gravitate away from her.
The actual scenario this is attached to is a series of almost episodic events that by in large, are not especially interesting, and offer little in terms of build up beyond a gradually growing subplot that drudges up the whole evil pharmaceutical company plot point from the prior game. A plot point that is thankfully less detailed, allowing the story to distance itself from the more… outlandish aspects seen in the first game. While also leaving hints and references that I can only presume are meant to be seeds for a potential third installment. Which would actually be Crimson Gray 2, since Dusk and Dawn is actually Crimson Gray 1.5… at least according to the .exe file.
I want to say that this story significantly changes based on player decisions, but it really doesn’t, with much of the game being built around a path to the true ending. Most deviations from this core route results in little more than impromptu bad endings that drop the player back to the starting screen. And seeing as how the true ending involves Lizzie repressing her urges, this goes quite a while to discourage experimentation down some of the less conventional routes. Which is a shame given how enticing a lot of the more psychotic and violent options are. Don’t give me the option to feed someone their own fingers, and then tell that it was just a cosmetic choice! Choice, creativity, and impact is what being a yandere is all about, goldarn it!
As for the presentation, despite featuring the same main artist from the original Crimson Gray, Dusk and Dawn opts for a different art style that moves away from the more sketchy style seen in Crimson Gray in favor of something more structured, lighter, and featuring softer coloring. A change that applies to both the sprites and CGs, and I believe is meant to be an attempt at showing how the protagonists of each game see the world and other people differently. Something that is further supported by how the world shifts into a deific white when Lizzie is infatuated with John, and a blood red when she is confronted with opposition or threats.
Meanwhile, the backgrounds are vastly more detailed than those seen in the first entry, with a lavish amount of minor touches added to each of the 10 or so backdrops seen throughout the game, creating a very idyllic world that sharply contrasts the grey hazy backdrops seen before. On its own, these elements all look quite nice, but mirroring the first entry, there presentation feels quite limited. With John only having one pose despite being the most seen character, the CG count going down to a mere six, backgrounds often being used to represent several different locations, and the game opting to only grant sprites to two other characters. Well, that last one is a bit of a misnomer.
You see, there are two character sprites other than John’s, one for a man and one for a woman, that are used generally and also for specific characters. In theory, I really respect this idea. It would imply that Lizzie has something akin to prosopagnosia, where she sees every person aside from herself, John, and people close to her as a generalized other being, only made distinctive by their sex, and possibly age. However, the game does not really use these sprites in such a way to strongly imply that, and their designs feel too specific to be vague every-persons. Because of this, it begs the question of why recolors were not simply introduced to alleviate this issue, or why the characters were not obscured to look less distinctive. Oh, and the soundtrack is still mostly unremarkable Kevin MacLeod tracks.
Quite simply, Dusk and Dawn expands upon the story and builds off of the foundation set in the original Crimson Gray, ultimately leading to what I found to be a more rounded story that took the vague premise of a yandere love story and does just enough with it to make a title that feels worthwhile. With many of the negatives from the first entry shed away, the game is able to shine brighter than before, even if the final product still feels a bit limited, likely due to budgetary reasons. While I am indeed satisfied with what was delivered here, I must admit that I am more interested in where this series is going and what it could be through extended refinement and exploration, but that will (hopefully) be a story for another time.