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Visual Novel / Crimson Gray

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A Visual Novel by Sierra Lee, about the relationship between John, a clinically depressed boy, and Lizzie, a girl with some issues of her own.

Notable for playing most tropes dead straight. As such, the game is as much about romance and knives as it is about psychiatry, medicines, their side effects, and how our mental state shapes our vision of the world.

Despite its shortness, the game also provides a huge number of choices with actual story consequences.

Made with Ren'Py.

Available on Steam and similar platforms.

A short sequel was released later, titled Crimson Gray: Dusk and Dawn. Its story is told from Lizzie's perspective, and deals with her attempting (and possibly failing) to adjust to a normal life. Tropes from this sequel will also be listed below.

Crimson Gray contains examples of:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: As Lizzie was exposed to KoiTech's drugs from birth, she's immune to their drugs and they in fact seem to just make her stronger.
  • Adults Are Useless: John's parents are never there, Lizzie's are worse, and Mrs. Smythe is the villain.
  • Asshole Victim: That guy who taunts the protagonists while Lizzie is enjoying a rare peaceful moment. Ironically, he ends up being killed by another yandere.
  • Ax-Crazy: Lizzie. She starts the game by burning a tree upon a single remark. It gets worse.
    • Also, pharmaceutical companies may not have your best interests at the forefront of their interests.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason why Lizzie is so devoted to John is because he stood up for her when some of his classmates called her creepy. It's implied that he's the only person to show her some kindness.
  • Colour-Coded Emotions: The color palette of the game varies depending of the characters' emotions. Violence is crimson, gray is depression.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Injecting Lizzie with even more serum so she becomes strong enough to dispose of the guards.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Whenever the story is focused on John, the background is grayed out. Only Lizzie and Mrs. Smythe provide the slightest bit of color to him.
  • Developer's Foresight: A lot of text slightly changes depending on the narrator's mental state, on which medicine he is currently taking or not taking, and on his general mood.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: At the beginning, Lizzie overhears John talk disparagingly about a school myth that romantic confessions under a certain tree will always go well. So Lizzie then proceeds to burn down the tree, just because John said he thought the tree myth was stupid. This serves to introduce the player to Lizzie's mental state.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Lizzie's eyes go dull when she starts to become angry or unhappy.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Lizzie leaves notes and a piece of chocolate in John's locker, and then burns down a tree because John didn't like a romantic myth associated with it. This establishes Lizzie's character as very interested in John, and also as someone who is willing to take extreme actions due to said interest.
  • Evil, Inc.: KoiTec experiments on unwilling test subjects while covering their tracks through coercion and violence, just so they can grab more money from the military.
  • Foreshadowing: On certain paths, Mrs. Smythe will tell John about Lizzie's past history. However, trained therapists like Mrs. Smythe are not normally supposed to share private details about their patients. This foreshadows that Mrs. Smythe isn't exactly on the up-and-up.
  • Jump Scare: A minor one in the route where Lizzie kidnaps John and holds him in her basement, shortly before she knocks him out. She first appears very suddenly, holding an axe, as part of the background rather than appearing by sliding behind the dialogue box like normal.
  • Locker Mail: Lizzie leaves notes and a chocolate in John's locker.
  • Meaningful Name: Lizzie says she is most comfortable with an axe and owns a tactical one she uses during important scenes. This is likely because her name is a reference to the real life Lizzie Borden.
  • Mercy Kill: In one of the endings Lizzie does this to John after Mrs.Smythe injects him with a drug that causes him constant, excruciating pain. They get to share a brief moment before John dies, too..
  • Multiple Endings: Which one you will obtain depends of pretty much all your choices. Getting a good ending is not as difficult as one would think with such a premise. Getting the canon one is another deal.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: One route of the game is mostly about preventing Lizzie from murdering John's lab partner, who is not interested in dating him but is too nice for Lizzie's comfort.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In the route where John is kidnapped by Lizzie and held in her basement, if John breaks free of his shackle but refuses to escape, Lizzie realizes that John really does love the real her and that she almost ruined a genuine relationship by kidnapping him. She subsequently breaks down apologizing to him.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Zig-zagged. Lizzie takes some rejections poorly, but can be surprisingly open-minded. For example, she's actually happy when John disagrees with her because it means he isn't just telling her what she wants to hear.
  • Not Me This Time: When John and Lizzie go on a date at the county fair, it ends with a male classmate of John's being killed, though Lizzie clarifies that it wasn't her. Despite Lizzie being a Yandere, she's telling the truth; she's not responsible for this particular murder. The culprit is another girl who is also a Yandere.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • At the beginning of the game, John stands up for Lizzie when his classmates call her creepy because as John muses, people have called him creepy or crazy before, and he hated it. He continues to compare her to himself in terms of their mental illnesses, such as wondering if he was just trying to "cure" her so he'd have a better girlfriend, the way that people tell him he's "no fun" with his depression.
    • On Lizzie's end, in one route she determines that, like her, John is not a normal person because he's able to have a decent time with her even when she's keeping him captive in her basement. In the true end, Mrs. Smythe also supposes that John isn't "normal" and so wasn't effected by the drugs in a way she expected, just as Lizzie isn't.
  • One-Man Army: In the canon ending, Lizzie kills multiple armed men without even flinching.
  • Prejudice Aesop: Crazy people are in fact people, even if it takes more effort to know them and figure out why they are the way they are.
  • Properly Paranoid: In the true ending path, Lizzie destroys John's Paxetine medicine and tells him not to trust Mrs. Smythe or KoiTec, as Lizzie thinks Mrs. Smythe is trying to steal John away. This seems like Lizzie is being paranoid since obviously Mrs. Smythe has no romantic designs on John, but it turns out that Mrs. Smythe is in fact corrupt and has ulterior motives, though not for the romantic reasons Lizzie assumed.
  • Psycho Serum: When KoiTech was founded, it exposed four pregnant women to an experimental drug, and each of the unborn children ended up with serious mental problems. This includes Lizzie, and another nameless girl who turned out to also be a vicious murderer. Lizzie also developed super strength and speed from it.
  • Super-Strength: Lizzie is much, much stronger than the average person; when she initially pulls John back up the roof singlehandedly, he wonders if it's just because of her passion, but some of the routes show, for example, that she can lift extremely heavy objects without breaking a sweat.
  • The Reveal: On the true ending path, it's revealed that Mrs. Smythe has been controlling John through her "therapy" in order to get to Lizzie, not treating him. It's also revealed that years ago, KoiTech accidentally exposed four pregnant women to an experimental mood drug that had dangerous effects on the unborn babies—one of them being Lizzie—and now they're trying to recapture her to "study" her for it.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Lizzie repeatedly makes it clear that John is the only person for her; she insists several times that he is "the only person" and "the only one". The reason for this is because John was the only person who ever stood up for her (he told off his classmates when they called her "creepy").
  • Wall of Weapons: Lizzie keeps a wide collection of knives on the basement wall.
  • Wham Line: A variation, in that the Wham part isn't what is said but how it's said: "Ready? I need you to remain calm and come with me." It's not the line itself that's shocking, it's that during a seemingly normal therapy session, Mrs. Smythe gives this command out of nowhere as if expecting to be obeyed without question. This, in combination with John realizing that he could barely remember any of his previous therapy sessions, reveals that Mrs. Smythe hasn't been treating John, she's been using the Paxetine to control him.
  • Yandere: Lizzie; she watches John sleep, John later discovers a closet full of pictures of him in her house, she's willing to kill anyone that might even look at him wrong (and is especially violently inclined towards other girls who might take him away from her,) and she kidnaps him and holds him in her basement to try and make sure he loves her, depending on the route you're on. The game spends a lot of time analyzing what exactly has caused Lizzie to become a Yandere, from her abusive childhood to the experimental drugs she's been exposed to, as well as using John himself to analyze what kind of person would willingly enter a relationship with such a girl. And then, what nightmarish hoops one would have to go to in order to make that relationship stable and remotely normal.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Lizzie is insistent on this to John, and will do anything to ensure that he doesn't harm or kill himself in his depression.

Crimson Gray: Dusk and Dawn contains examples of:

  • Blatant Lies: After Lizzie poisons a girl to death for being concerned about her level of obsession with John, John understandably is concerned that she was the one responsible and asks her if she still gets the urge to kill people. Lizzie assures him that she doesn't, since there's no one to threaten their relationship anymore.
  • But Thou Must!: Subverted during one point where Lizzie gets enraged at another girl for seriously questioning her relationship with John; every dialogue option says "Kill her." However, carefully lingering over each option reveals one that becomes "don't kill her yet" instead. Then Double Subverted when Lizzie later has various options on how to deal with the girl, including nonviolent ones. She ends up stalking and then poisoning her, which wasn't any of them.
  • Morality Chain: "John would want you to let it go." Or at least, options like that are choosable. John is clearly a good influence, but it's up to the player whether to let it redeem her or not.
  • Painting the Medium: Everything becomes tinted white when Lizzie's spending time with John, and tinted blood red when another woman is merely close to John.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The story is told from Lizzie's perspective, who sees every other woman as a threat to her relationship with John; therefore, the girls in college go from looking normal to Lizzie, to suddenly being depicted with a suggestive outfit and pose after she detects a "glint" in one's eye.