“Be careful what you pray for”, Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games releases Devotion. Set in 1980’s Taiwan, the story revolves around a religious Taiwanese family of three that used to live in an old apartment complex. Delve into the vows each member of the family has made and witness their Devotion as this apartment gradually shifts into a hellish nightmare.
From the creators of the IndieCade Journey Award winner Detention, Red Candle Games brings you a story inspired by East Asian folk culture.
The game is deeply unsettling and if you grew up in a traditional Chinese house some of the game may feel eerily familiar. It’s not a scare your skin off kind of game (although there are a couple of scares that did make me jump). But instead is rooted more in a story-driven psychological horror, with some light puzzles to boot.
Playing almost entirely as the family’s father, we experience how the atmosphere changes over time. Unpacked boxes, layout shifts, clutter piling up over the years. There are unwashed dishes, leftover birthday balloons, photo albums, stacked books. The apartment is unmistakably a home. Familiar even in its peculiarities, Devotion uses its nostalgic setting to create unsettling tension in the first-person atmospheric horror game. Devotion is, ultimately, a family story that uses Taiwanese folklore and religion to build out a full, rich world. It’s an especially stunning accomplishment in a game that’s set almost entirely in one apartment over a span of three or so hours.
In terms of gameplay, Devotion seems to follow suit with that of Detention. Solving puzzles to unravel mysteries and dive deeper into memories. The latter took place in 1960s Taiwan, during the White Terror period, and intertwined heavy political strife with domestic stress in its storytelling. Red Candle leans away from traditional horror elements like pop-up scares or excessive gore. Rather, it specializes in translating horror through a journey. Like Detention, the anxiety and dread of Devotion seem to be thickly nestled in the absence of people in the space.
Action in Devotion is subtle. Instead of monsters, the horror is embedded into the empty spaces. Within the gameplay loop, Red Candle builds up expectations for the apartment and then bucks them. Photos nailed to the wall feel familiar, then they’re changed. A door remains locked until it’s suddenly opened. As the game moves forward and its mysteries unravel, the atmospheric elements of Devotion, heavy on Taiwanese influence, shift as reality steadily blurs — whether it’s an ‘80s variety show playing on TV, specific brands of sauce in the cupboard, or a traditional fish dish laid out on the table. Red Candle plays with cultural and spiritual symbols, like the lucky red Arowana fish, to build out an atmosphere that’s supported by devotion and beliefs.