We Know the Devil (2016)
Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Developer: Pillow Fight and Worst Girls Games
It's been a busy few weeks for me, and while traveling I've mostly been playing the new Super Mario 3D World rather than any new indies. This gave me a good opportunity to come back home and pick up something pretty different - one of the shorter games in my backlog. It's been a while since I've played through a visual novel and I had heard particularly good things about this one. We Know the Devil is a short horror visual novel about three teenagers in at a summer camp who have to fight the devil and make it through the night. We Know the Devil is both terrifying and liberating as a story, but can sort of lose the player in its unusual writing style and limited descriptions.
We Know the Devil is specifically set in a Christian summer camp for "bad kids", whatever that means. The three protagonists, Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune, are teens who have been assigned to be on the same team and seem to bond over how awful the camp is. Now, I don't know what it is about all these characters being named after planets, but during my first playthrough I kept mixing them up with one another. I wish they'd assigned them a color or something instead of a symbol after their name. Jupiter is an overachiever tomboy who seems to always know what to do or say to be likeable and fit in. Venus is a shy, quiet teen who will do anything to avoid conflict. Neptune is a rebellious and angsty girl who tells everyone off. We Know the Devil has four different endings, all depending on who you choose to exclude when given the opportunity to split up the gang of 3. The first time I played, I ended up with the path where Jupiter and Neptune grow closer, leaving Venus out. When I got to the end, although I really liked the two girls' relationship, I was really confused about what had just happened with Venus. Despite the fact that I wasn't blown away by the game, I wanted to understand so I played it again making different choices. Each additional ending gave me a little more clarity, and I decided to just go for it all try to get all of them (one is definitely a little more tricky than the others). I genuinely think this is one of those games that are essentially not complete until you play all the endings. You also have to come to accept that the things that happen at this camp, including "fighting the devil", aren't just grandiose church-talk and are actually literal in this game.
I expected We Know the Devil to be a little more relatable to me. I grew up Catholic, and when I was 17 I went on a retreat with a lot of other teens to prepare for my Confirmation sacrament. At this point in my life I was pretty involved in and influenced by the church, which in turn had built up a lot of guilt in me. It took me years of distancing myself and surrounding myself with really good (women) friends to stop feeling that guilt. Out of all the characters I probably related most to Jupiter because at that point in my life, I really wanted to go along with it all and be one of the people who really "connects" and "feels" the spirit or whatever. I was never an overachiever in school or sports by any means, but in terms of religion, I genuinely thought it was me who was doing everything wrong and I had to cover up the fact that I really wasn't actually pure. However, the way these teenagers talk to each other makes it feel like the game started in random point of an already-begun story. I feel like I missed something to set up the context of the camp, or their relationship to each other. A lot of the dialogue is confusing and non-direct, but after I finished I realized maybe that's all on purpose since it's a bunch of messy teenagers. When I look back on conversations I had with friends as a teenager, it was sort of nonsense and always saying things to land a joke or to make an impression rather than to communicate. I wish I knew more about the reasons they're here in the camp and how long they've known each other so that I could relate better to these characters. It may just be a shortcoming of the medium of a visual novel, but without much detail in the images, I had a hard time understand visualizing what exactly they were doing with the sirens and the radios the whole time they're preparing for the devil.
The art style in this game is an interesting mix of hand-drawn black and white sketches for the characters and overexposed photos of nature as backgrounds. It works surprisingly well together and makes certain scenes more intense and real. However, I do wish there'd been a few more drawings done just to further express certain specific moments in the story and character emotions, not just the endings. I enjoyed the drawings of the other camp characters, as they were more like caricatures of how ridiculous they were and reminded me of my own camp experiences (of course the Bonfire Captain has puka shells on). The soundtrack consists mostly of intense, horror synth that is most relevant to the end of the game. It's not so much the soundtrack that feels impactful as the sound design: it's unnerving at times and the sounds make you feel afraid for what's to come.
We Know the Devil is perhaps most powerful for anyone who grew up in a very religious environment and had to hide their queerness from that world. This wasn't the case for me, although the first one was relevant to me for a time in my life. It took me only 50 minutes to beat it the first time, and on the consecutive runs I used the fast-forward functions to get to the ending a little quicker. I recommend it for fans of visual novels and anyone who may have had a childhood that was influenced by this sort of experience. I don't want to spoil anything, but the best part of this game definitely was getting to see paths where the characters can finally express themselves openly and we get to see who they really are. Overall though, this game just didn't land with me as impactfully as I thought it might. I'll leave you with this quote from a short review I saw on Backloggd that made me a take second and understand this game a little better.
We Know the Devil is available on PC.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 2 hrs