Developer: Red Candle Games
It's been over a year since I released my review for Detention and ever since then I've been looking forward to playing Red Candle Games' following title, Devotion. As many of you probably know, Devotion was originally released in 2019 but was quickly pulled off Steam due to an easter egg in the game comparing the Chinese president to Winnie the Pooh (this obviously led to review-bombing from Chinese players and likely pressure from the CCP). Since then, Devotion has been pretty much been impossible to purchase outside of Taiwan. In December of last year, fans were excited to see that GOG was actually going to release it soon on their storefront - only to quickly backtrack shortly after and say it actually wouldn't be releasing after all. A huge letdown and incredibly cowardly, of course. However, only 3 months later, Red Candle Games released Devotion themselves on their own website in DRM-free format, finally making the game accessible internationally. Obviously I picked it up immediately (even having to call my credit card company to assure them this charge to Taiwan was indeed not fraudulent), and finally, here we are! I apologize for the long lead-up, but it's been a journey for the fans I'm happy for Red Candle Games finally being able to release their game. Devotion is a first-person atmospheric horror game where you play through the haunted memories of a man who's family was deeply affected by religious belief. Devotion is a terrifying but very real dive into a family's worst nightmare - despite its realism, it's perhaps less eerie and atmospheric in its style of horror.
Devotion starts with you, the player, sitting on a couch while watching TV in a small apartment. You can't move or get up, you can only look around the apartment from where you're sitting. It's not clear at first who you are, but as a woman's voice talks to you from the kitchen you become aware that you're likely that woman's husband. She's talking about their daughter, Mei Shin, and how she is content to stay indoors since otherwise "they'd be so busy worrying". As the conversation goes on, the camera starts to vibrate and the mood starts to feel very concerning. "Where's Mei Shin?" the voice says, right before everything fades to black and you're suddenly in a different version of this same room. From here on, you will wander through this apartment and the apartment building hallways, traveling through different time periods. You get to see the apartment in 1980, seven years before the first scene you saw play out. The man you're playing as, Feng Yu, seems to be traveling through his memories and seeing important moments with his wife Gong Li Fang and his daughter Mei Shin. Something is obviously wrong, as Feng Yu seems to be haunted by an angry spirit that appears where he goes. You'll solve puzzles and carry items through time to figure out what exactly is happening in this family's life.
Devotion definitely feels incredibly scary. Like with Detention, I played Devotion with my partner, switching off the controller throughout the game. I was only a few minutes in playing when I threw my controller and screamed due to a jump scare, after which my partner took over for a while. However, the horror of Devotion does feel a little different than that of Detention. Devotion's graphics are incredibly realistic - honestly beyond what I would expect from this indie studio. It feels incredibly real, down to the details of what an old, rusty apartment complex would look like. You get incredibly immersed in this world, which is why the jump scares hit harder. However, I kind of think the "atmospheric" horror or the hair-raising eeriness wasn't there quite as much as it was in Detention. It may be because there wasn't as many bizarre visuals, due to the more realistic style. However, the few times that the visual style gets switched up in Devotion, it's incredibly jarring and definitely really interesting. I also feel like Devotion doesn't use radio music in the same way that Detention did to seed discomfort. However, I will say Devotion has some incredible music in its soundtrack - really beautiful lyrical tracks that you can listen to on their own, but don't necessarily add to the horror of the game. I recommend checking out "Lady of the Pier" especially.
One of my favorite things about Red Candle Games is not only how well they use their culture and environment to tell stories, but how well they manage to translate those stories - not only the words, but the feelings and meanings - to international audiences. Of course, there are still things that I missed as someone who's not from Taiwan. I watched this excellent YouTube video and learned about the specific cultural references in Devotion that only Taiwanese players would likely know. For example, apparently many Taiwanese players joked about how this game could be called "grandma's house simulator" since this apartment has the exact layout that people associate with their grandma's place. I also learned a lot about the concept of mentors, or psychics, in Taiwanese culture and how that continues to be a part of peoples' lives today similarly to how they do in Devotion. I highly recommend watching this video after playing the game (she also has similar videos about Detention). Devotion not only makes Taiwanese culture specifically a big part of its plot, but also religion in general - a concept that most people can understand and perhaps have their own feelings on.
Devotion has a different type of heaviness than Detention does, so it's not quite fair to compare the two. Devotion is about family and how your best efforts to love and protect can backfire. Both games cleverly use the medium of games to tell a tragic story through an unlikely and "difficult to grapple with" perspective. I would still recommend playing Detention first as it's absolutely excellent horror and probably still my favorite of the two. The ending of Devotion hits you hard, it makes you feel sadness even though the ending music is perhaps more peaceful and resolute. The feelings are more complex to pick apart, but that's just realistic. I highly recommend this game if you're interested in a unique, scary, but very human experience. It's a short game and the puzzles are interesting, not too difficult, with the story being revealed to you bit by bit through a terrifying journey.
Devotion is available on PC
Played on: PC
Playtime: 3.5 hrs