Devotion is a Taiwanese first-person psychological horror game. Created and developed by Red Candle Games back in 2019. Devotion was the second game to be developed by Red Candle Games after the success of their first game ‘Detention’. Just like the first game, the second game also bases itself on Taiwanese culture and folk religion. The game was released on February 19th of 2019 on steam. It was given rave reviews in the beginning but due to controversy had been trashed later on. Due to this Steam had decided to remove the game from their store. The reviews of the game went from being positive to overwhelmingly negative. The review bombing was generally done by Chinese reviewers due to controversy inside the game.
The controversy is something that we will discuss later on. But first, let’s talk about what makes Devotion such an interesting horror game. Unlike ‘Detention’ which took place in a 2D side-scrolling world. Devotion gives the players a first-person perspective. This allows the game to create a different type of horror that couldn’t be done in other types of games. Especially not in Red Candle’s previous 2D game detention. The first-person perspective puts you in the shoes of the main character and lets you see what he sees. This also creates the feeling of the main character being unable to tell the difference between dreams and reality.
The Story of Devotion And Why Its So Horrifying
The story of Devotion follows Du Feng Yu inside a Taipei apartment. We see things from his eyes as we look at the apartment he lives in. This is the beginning of the game and as you start you are allowed to explore the apartment. Which in the beginning looked warm and comfortable and has since turned into something more dark and abandoned. This leaves the player wondering what exactly happened in this apartment? As we explore the apartment we understand more about the character. Du Feng Yu is a troubled screenwriter and a father and husband. We explore his life throughout the 1980s and the troubles that he faced during this time. And how he copes with all his issues.
The story focuses on domestic horror and leaves an impression on players. As its not something otherworldly but very common. The feeling of helplessness as your family falls apart is a type of feeling most people would fear. And Devotion plays on that fear and drives you into a place of unease and helplessness. You are not able to change anything in the game and therefore are only a viewer of the horrors. An onlooker who does not have the ability to change what he sees in the game. The player is then forced to bear witness to the world of Du Feng Yu and watch it crumble.
The Full Story (Spoilers Ahead)
The first part of the story takes place in 1980. Showing a couple moving into their new apartment. With things changing in the apartment, we can see the calendar’s date change as well. This gives a gradual look into the couple showing us who they were at this point in time. Du Feng Yu (the main character) is an accomplished screenwriter. And is married to Li Fang who is a former singer-actress turned housewife. Giving up her career to become a full-time housewife and mother to their daughter Mei Shin.
This first part gives us a glimpse into the life of the Du family. As they were during this time when first entering the apartment. Feng Yu looking forward to being the patriarchal figure of a traditional household. And Li Fang giving up her cherished profession to become the housewife to her husband. As well as Mei Shin the daughter who aspires to be a child singer. This part paints a family hopeful for the future. Giving players the feel of a family they would know in their own lives.
The second time we see the Du family is in 1985. This is five years later and things are not as hopeful anymore. Feng Yu has been stuck in a rut and has been unable to sell any of his screenplays. This has caused the family to come under financial strain. This is when Li Fang suggests that she go back to her old job to help her husband financially. This suggestion is shot down by Feng Yu as he believes that a traditional household shouldn’t need the wife to work. Going as far as to rip his wife’s acting dress in order to get the message across. This creates a rift between the couple.
At the same time, Mei Shin enters a singing competition. Singing her mother’s signature song “Lady of the Pier”. She sings a beautiful rendition of the song. But we later find out that she loses the competition by one point. This is around the same time that Mei Shin develops a mysterious illness as well. This leads to Mei Shin seeing more doctors as well as the presence of a religious leader named Mentor Heuh. She worships the folk deity Cigu Guanyin and tells Feng Yu that Cigu Guanyin can help his daughter. This leads Feng Yu to start wasting money on the cult led by Mentor and performing rituals in the name of curing his daughter.
This part shows the beginning of the deterioration of the Du family. With financial troubles plaguing them and the daughter experiencing a mysterious illness which is most likely psychosomatic in nature. This part also shows the emergence of a cult leader who seeks to prey on such people. Using Feng Yu’s tragedy to her advantage in order to extort money for her cult.
The last part of the timeline leads us to see a more troubled family. With Feng Yu becoming more and more obsessed with the practices of Mentor Heuh’s cult. Believing that by showing enough Devotion to the deity Cigu Guanyin he will be able to help his daughter. Li Fang fights with her husband in order to snap him out of this obsession. Only to have Feng Yu respond by saying that she is the one possessed by evil spirits. This leads to Li Fang leaving her husband as she sees that there is nothing else she can do to help him. Of course, doing this meant that she has also left behind her daughter Mei Shin as well. Leaving her behind with her already unstable and obsessed father.
This is also the time when Mei Shin’s condition has become much more severe. Leading doctors to recommend that she be sent to a psychiatrist. This enrages Feng Yu and instead of taking her to any other doctor decides to put all his faith in Mentor Heuh and her deity Cigu Guanyin. And so out of love for his daughter decides to perform a dangerous ritual that Mentor has stated will definitely cure his daughter. This, of course, fails and leads to the death of Mei Shin. Leaving us alone with Feng Yu in an empty apartment staring blankly at a TV showing nothing but white noise.
Review Of The Game:
In the first 5 minutes of the game, there is a jump scare that left me shocked. After which, I became very cautious when exploring the apartment through different time periods. While the gameplay is nothing to write home about, it does however get the job done. The game is a small one lasting no more than 3 hours. But make no mistake, these 3 hours are some of the most gut-wrenching and horrifying hours you will feel while playing the game. The atmosphere that the game creates as you explore the apartment is haunting. The story is one that will stay with you long after you finish the game. As it not only leans on jump scares to scare the player but also its ominous tone. And its disturbing domestic horror themes as well.
Domestic horror is a type of horror that focuses on the fear of the familiar. A Fear of some type of madness or horror of the people you live with. The people who you know and love. Fearing that they are hiding something insidious underneath which will one day come out. And bring with them something much more horrible. Something that will destroy the people around them as well as themselves.
Underlying Theme Of Devotion
Devotion is a story of ‘religious fanaticism’. The same type of fanaticism is so prevalent in Taiwan in this day and age. Feng Yu is a prime example of this type of blind devotion which is prevalent in Taiwan. Cults like the ‘Rulaizong’ and ‘Foguangshan’ have thrived on in Taiwan. With Taiwan’s loose policies towards religion. Which allowed these types of cults to easily prey on people’s beliefs. And fill their pockets with the money they receive from their loyal followers. It has come to this point that Taiwan has even been called ‘An Island of Cults‘.
The developers at Red Candle aimed to show the dangers of such ideologies which thrive in their own country. This is also one of the reasons that Devotion is such a horrifying game. Because it feels real and it is something that is very real around the world, not just in Taiwan. The message of Devotion is one of caution. Caution from cults like the one of the deity Cigu Guanyin led by Mentor Heuh. Who prey on people’s faith and desperation and leave them broken and alone with nothing to their names.
While this could have been a reason for people and cults to go after Red Candle and the game. It is not the reason for its ban from steam. The reason for the ban of the game on steam was something much simpler. It was due to the discovery of a fulu talisman in the game. The talisman had the words “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh” written on it. Due to Chinese gamers finding this insult of their leader. The game which had received overwhelmingly positive reviews by fans and critics alike. Had begun to receive a bombardment of negative reviews from countless players. Red Candle immediately fixed this with their patch update changing the words to simply “Happy New Year”. It was removed forcibly from Steam in China. And on the 25th of February was pulled from Steam by the developers worldwide.
The consequences for this were heavily placed on Red Candle Games. And have since faced problems with getting the game back on any website. On the 16th of December last year Gog.com announced that they would be releasing the game on their store. However, after receiving many messages from gamers they decided not to go forward with their plans. As of March 2021, Red Candle has put up its own website, from which you can download its games. This will include both Detention and Devotion both.
What Does This Mean For Red Candle Games?
The backlash that Red Candle faced due to this controversy is saddening to see. Red Candle Games is a unique Taiwanese development company. One of the only ones using the rich history and mythology of their own country to tell a compelling horror story. And due to the negative publicity that it has received, it will be unlikely that they will be developing new games for some time. This means that players around the world have been deprived of one of the most unique and interesting development teams to come out in the past few years. This also shows us the power that China holds. Not only in publicity and economically but in the game world as well. The ability to hide any hint of the game behind Chinese censors. And removing the game from their platform for such a slight.
I do hope to see what kind of game Red Candle Games develops next. As they have shown to evolve from their first game to their second one. And seeing this evolution has me curious as to what subject they will tackle next. And how they will create a sense of dread and horror in players in their upcoming game. They have hinted at a new non-horror game as their newest project. Which will be a 2D action-style game. While fans might be disappointed knowing that their newest project will not be horror. They will still be waiting to see what unique style they bring to their newest game and if it will live up to the reputation of their two previous smash hits.