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Home > Devotion (2019): A Review

Devotion (2019): A Review

Devotion

Cult Obsession

Devotion is a first-person psychological horror video game developed by Red Candle Games. It is set in 1980s Taiwan, with the majority of the plot happening in an apartment complex. Diving straight into this game, the player follows the main character Du Feng-yu throughout various years of his life. Du Feng-yu is a troubled screenwriter with an escalating obsession with a cult leader he depends on to cure his daughter’s mysterious illness. Following the rest of the family throughout this Taipei apartment, we are introduced to Gong Li-fang and Du Mei-shin. Gong Li-fang is Du Feng-yu’s wife and a retired successful singer. Their daughter, Du Mei-shin, is attempting to follow in her mother’s footsteps to impress her parents.

Amid her parents’ domestic disputes about Gong Li-fang coming out of retirement, Du Mei-shin enters a popular singing contest to impress the struggling lot. With high hopes and even higher dreams, Du Me-shin performs “Lady of the Pier”, which is her mother’s signature song. However, the aspiring child singer comes one point shy of advancing to the next round. With this setback, her illness worsens to the point where she is unable to sing. Although a doctor suggests that the family seeks psychiatric care for their daughter, Du Feng-yu instead relies on the teachings of a cult leader, Mentor Heuh. As he becomes consumed by Mentor Heuh, his wife attempts to convince her husband to snap out of the trance he’s been placed in. This only causes Du Feng-yu to claim she is possessed by evil spirits. 

Du Feng-yu is a mistakenly unhinged character. Though his intentions are pure, his actions and thoughts can position him as an impostor. He means well and seeks practices to ensure his daughter’s healing but delves into a path that only leads to dangerous and lethal outcomes. The further he indulges himself in this misplaced spiritualism, the more paranoid and irrational he becomes. Devotion does well to depict the distressed headspace of a man exploring his religious beliefs. We not only witness the deterioration of Du Feng Yu’s mind but also the family’s descending financial situation. While there are artful and simultaneously terrifying sequences that serve to spook the player, these elements also evoke how desperate the father is and how he eventually succumbs to his insidious beliefs.

Devotion

 What I came to enjoy about Devotion is that the storyline isn’t defined by the typical ghosts and eerie creatures. I am also delighted to point out that it doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares, which immediately turns me off to similar games. It’s the flashbacks, unsettling children’s tales, old notes, voice-overs, faded photographs, and folklore that provide us with that harrowing feeling. Through these methods, a troubled family portrait starts to establish. Although visiting the same apartment for five years with five different rooms, we begin to witness how this family’s fear has crept into their home over time, transforming the apartment into something ominous. Another aspect one can appreciate is the Taiwanese soundtrack that is bundled as a DLC through the purchase of the game. Devotion proves that a petrifying tale of ghosts, time travel, and deep emotion can transpire in a purportedly mundane home.

Despite the wonderful environmental storytelling, something that I disliked about this game was the disappointing epilogue. One would assume after such a captivating build-up that the ending would be heavily impactful. I felt as though the developers were lacking in that area. Personally, it was also odd that there was a late chase sequence in Devotion as it didn’t appear to tie into the rest of the story. While it was relatively easy to find and purchase, I was dissatisfied in the sense that the game had been removed from Steam, where I tend to play most of my PC games. However, surrounding the controversy that arose whenever the game was released, I do understand the decision.

Although critically lauded for its atmosphere and originality, one could compare Devotion to the likes of P.T. or Gone Home. Both of these games contain similar first-person exploration that subverts the safe and secure feeling of home. Drawing inspiration from these games, Red Candle Games explained that its purpose was to introduce players to Taiwanese culture. What is deficient about this game is that the adventure atmosphere has been mimicked. Similar to even Layers of Fear, the player interacts with different objects that are used to solve puzzles from different time periods.

Even if this review can be seen as slightly negative, I would still recommend this game to faithful horror fans. Though you experience repetitious hallways, each one is its own little hell. Lights flicker, sprinting isn’t an option, mysterious blood stains appear, and chilling vines cover different levels. The player is less terrified of a surprise waiting on the other side of the door or in a corner as the true fear lies in what might happen should they walk further and further down a bleeding hall. A bed that the husband-and-wife share disappears and a lock on Du Mei-shin’s closet makes a sinister appearance. As later pictures are developed, the player notices the joyful light is no longer in the family’s eyes. Overall, Devotion is a subtle but unnerving horror game that tempts the player to unravel the family’s depression and subsequent destruction.

Devotion

Devotion (2019) Official Trailer

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