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Death Crimson (デスクリムゾン) was made in 1996 by Ecole Software for the Sega Saturn. This game gathered lots of attention and is considered a cult classic in Japan. I will try to summarize the fandom the game has spawned towards the end of the review and now first focus on the game itself.
Luckily translations of the intro video and of several paragraphs of the manual exist, such as the splendid text written by Kastel which I link in the video description box. Without these I wouldn't have been able to understand the narrative. In the game's story a war is taking place. A man named Combat Echizen and his two friends coincidentally find old ruins while fleeing from a helicopter. There Echizen finds a mysterious pistol called Crimson and takes it with him. Ten years later Echizen works as a doctor and goes to Europe because the continent was infected by a disease called KOT syndrome. This disease turns people into monsters. Echizen finds out that Crimson is very effective against the monsters and that it has to be in some kind of relationship with the KOT syndrome. He decides to fight the monsters to find out what happened.
The game consists of nine levels which are grouped to three so called stages. The last level of each stage concludes in a boss fight which the game doesn't count as proper level. The first stage starts off in the town Saronika and then takes Echizen to Limburg University. The third level takes place at a bridge called Coneraato. The stage concludes in a boss fight against the dragon who is prominently featured on several menu screens such as the calibration dialogue. The story then seems to leave Europe as stage 2 opens on a river in a rain forest and then continues in Egypt. The boss of this stage is a large bug which is fought in a pyramid. The third stage opens in front of a temple and then takes the player to Greece. In the next level the player fights in a futuristic environment. The final boss of the game is a flying robot.
The Crimson has a six shots capacity and is reloaded by shooting off the screen. Similarly as in Virtua Cop enemies which are about to hit the player are marked by a shrinking label. If the player succeeds hitting targets in consecutive fashion without missing the Crimson will charge itself. After filling the Crimson's energy bar for the first time a radar will appear. Filling the bar again will unlock an alternative fire mode. The alternative shot is accessed by keeping the trigger pressed. Available are a machine gun, which keeps firing rapidly for a while after being triggered, a grenade and rocket launcher. The grenade and rocket launcher behave similarly. They fire an item onto the battlefield which acts as screen clearing weapon upon being shot. Continuing to fill up the Crimson's energy bar after the alternative shot is unlocked will grant continues.
From time to time civilians and flying squirrels appear on the screen. The player looses health upon shooting these. Yellow cards are spread throughout the game which grant a continue when they are shot. Certain secret objects in the game can be shot for health or act as screen clearing weapon. There is no brief phase of invincibility after taking damage and therefore the player's live stock can diminish very quickly in a hostile situation. Upon dying the player is treated with a non skipable logo screen. Ecole made this logo especially for their dive into the video game marked. It consists of a twice pasted photograph of a sculpture which is located in the Toya Park in Hokkaido. The three stages are individually selectable from the menu screen. The third stage has to be unlocked by beating the two previous ones. The progress of the game is saved.
The music is very primitive, but I enjoyed it a lot. The polygon based enemies are often very crude looking and they don't mix well with the 2D sprite based enemies. The animation and posture of most enemies is strange looking. The relative size of objects and enemies is sometimes questionable. The game is plagued by bugs: the scoreboard can't display dates after 1999 correctly, from time to time the music randomly stops, sometimes the game crashes and often the menu screens are covered in jail bars. Ironically for all its shortcomings I love this game. In my opinion the worst light gun games are not the bad ones, but the mediocre ones, because these are boring. Flaws can contribute to the difficulty of a game and to its allure. Beating this game was a very rewarding experience to me.
The cover shows an early design version of the final boss. This drawing doesn't represent the game well, but I find it pleasant to look at.
As told in the beginning of the review this game became a cult classic in Japan. It was the second ever light gun game to be released on the Sega Saturn. The game which came before was Virtua Cop and therefore the expectations of customers were very high. Ecole Software was a computer-aided design company and Death Crimson was amongst their very first attempts creating video games. I think I can feel their passion for gaming playing Death Crimson, but Ecole simply didn't have the knowhow yet to make anything but simple games. The audience was stunned by how crude this game is. The simplistic manual and the raw looking title screen were already somewhat of a glimpse of what was about to come. Furthermore the unforgiving difficulty of the game was off-putting to many players.
In Japanese the word "kusoge" describes subpar video games. There are groups of enthusiasts who are strongly interested in bad games, similarly as the AVGN fandom in the United States. After a first wave of terrible review scores, people realized that Death Crimson was the "king of kusoge". The game became very sought after and desirable. A certain citation from Death Crimson became viral and could be considered the equivalent to our "all your base are belong to us" meme which spawned from Zero Wing. In the opening FMV intro Echizen says "I'm going to choose this red door!" upon opening a green door.
The community was extremely inspired by Death Crimson. People went to Fort Yura on Tomogashima where the intro was shot in order to reenact it. Another enthusiast made a "Typing of the Dead" like fan game of Death Crimson. In 2005 artist Sumi Takamasa has built the so called "Giant Crimson". In conjunction with Ecole themselves he made a huge gun turret, which has a built in Sega Saturn & Stunner circuitry. This could possibly be the biggest light gun in existence. It is displayed in the Wonder Museum in Nishihata district in Fukuoka.
I don't understand why I like this crude video game so much and I don't think the other enthusiasts do. Nevertheless I hope you enjoyed the story of a bad game that charmed the world.