Have you ever thought about your place in society? What’s expected of you, what you’re supposed to be or do? I believe it’s something we all wrestle with at some point in our lives. And now that I have your attention, let me bring you into the world of Dull Grey for a minute.
In a grey, dystopian world, a boy and his mother are making themselves ready to make a journey. What kind of journey? A magical quest for a MacGuffin? A journey to save the world? Nah—a journey to find out what the boy should do with his life, what job he’s meant to do, find out who he is as a person.
Dull Grey is a visual novel, which for the uninitiated means that the story is presented to the player in increments, as if it’s a page in a, well… novel. Dialogue, monologue—it’s all presented before you as text, with you only really needing to press a single button to move ahead to the next block of text. Occasionally you do also need to make a choice, which does affect what piece of dialogue other characters will spew out at you. And I think the story here is a decently interesting one, even if we’ve seen similar dystopian finding-your-place premises in films, books, and TV before. The setup of finding your place in the world, or finding happiness, that kind of stuff has been done before. But Dull Grey finds ways of making it feel somewhat fresh by giving you, the player, some choice in the matter.
And let’s talk about those choices for a few seconds, because they might not seem like much at first glance. “What do you wanna be?” is the main question we get asked many times, with the options of “Lamplighter” and “Tallyman” being available there every time. And depending on what you choose, the vaguely defined characters will respond differently to the choice of occupation. Having these two available around every turn may seem like a stale and overly binary choice. It may almost seem like the game has a set path for your character. But I can promise you that there’s more than meets the eye on this one. As you engage with these little moments in the story and make the choices, you’ll soon notice how these can affect the people you meet. And while you can technically rush through the game in a few minutes, I highly recommend actually taking your time and thinking your decisions through, as patient thinking can yield some varying results.
That’s what I like about the storytelling here. While its themes aren’t necessarily subtle, it’s the manner in which you interact with them through your thinking and choices that has a surprising amount of subtlety and cleverness. It’s a way of storytelling that I found surprisingly enjoyable. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I found it super gripping; I would’ve enjoyed more detailed descriptions of scenes or maybe inclusion of more dialogue. Minimalism can be fine, but a bit more detail would’ve gone a long way in hooking me into the narative even more. But despite the flaws, I did certainly enjoy the story, and I did also enjoy the ways it subtly could branch out through discovering new pieces of dialogue and potentially some alternate endings.
Since Dull Grey is a visual novel, its presentation is more on the minimalist side. What I appreciate the most about that is just how far into minimalism it goes. The way that Dull Grey differs from other visual novels is in the images it presents; instead of being hyper-detailed like a lot are, the visuals are a bit more simplistic, choosing to be more about easily recognizable silhouettes and simple backgrounds. This gives the game a very unique visual appeal that fits the storytelling pretty well.
Helping these images come to life is some very nice sound design. Wind blowing, flies buzzing, ground shaking… the sounds are all implemented very well into the presentation. Adding to that is the score, which is pretty well composed. It’s very moody and kind of eerie, almost like a mix of Vangelis’ music for Blade Runner and something from a slow burn horror movie, and it fits the generally serious tone of the story. The only real complaint I have is that maybe they would’ve benefitted from one or two more tracks. Don’t get me wrong, the music we do get here is good, but it also feels like it repeats a little too much. At least one more track being in here could’ve gone a long way in helping the music feel less repetitive.
While Dull Grey has its share of flaws, it’s still a really enjoyable visual novel whose storytelling and minimalist presentation makes for an interesting experience.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review]