A powerful nightmare lovingly packed with nostalgia
Devotion is Red Candle Games’ heartbreaking yet meticulously detailed story of an imploding Taiwanese family set in the topsy-turvy years of 1980 to 1987. However, the game is more than just another “horror” title, it’s a beautiful 1:1 facsimile of a burgeoning Taiwan at the height of a booming economy and fashionable glitz of the 80s, resonating heavily for those who were there, and enticing those who weren’t. Regardless of who you are, a journey through the world of Devotion is worth the trip and best experienced with a pair of open—albeit watery—eyes.
If the mention of Devotion doesn’t spark memories of backlash, controversy or disaster, then consider yourself lucky. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. 2019 wasn’t a pretty year for Red Candle Games. We don’t have to get too into it, but the takeaway is that Chinese government wasn’t happy with how it was depicted in the game and pulled it from digital shelves. It was enough to completely derail any chance of Devotion’s monetary success through popular gaming channels like Steam and the Polish digital distribution platform, GoG.
But you can’t keep a good dev down, it seems. The plucky RCG team decided to release Devotion on their own terms and through their own Red Candle Games website in 2021. As of this writing, their site is the only place on the planet Earth to purchase the game.
So now, let’s say a prayer, and enter the tragic world of the Du family: Feng Yu Du (dad), Gong Li Fang (mom) and Mei Shin Du (daughter), and point-and-click through the breadcrumbs scattered throughout their cramped Taipei apartment. Screenwriter Feng Yu spends his days struggling to write another successful play, while his retired singer/turned housewife, Li Fang, continually worries about money—but more importantly, about their daughter. Mei Shin has been gifted with her mother’s singing abilities, but something seems to be ailing her. To find the cure, Feng Yu puts his faith in a cult leader and a Buddhist deity. But at what cost will his prayers be answered?
The game’s powerful non-linear story is cobbled together from the first-person POV of father/child murderer Feng Yu, as his flawed memories shuttle us back and forth through the 80s. It’s a heavy ride best finished in one sitting, but a second sitting is an opportunity to explore the game’s historical easter eggs.
Domestically, the 1980s in Taiwan signalled the official end of the 1947 Martial Law edict, which quickly paved the way for sweeping democratic reforms. Due to rising labor productivity, a new era of entertainment, excess and growth was soon born, as well as a general rise in the quality of life. (See also: the Taiwan Miracle). Internationally, Taiwan began trade with the U.S. and subsequently found itself on the world stage. In a mind-bogglingly short time, life went from below-average to amazing. So let’s turn our focus to the game’s meaningful nods to 80s Taiwanese culture.
In the opening scene, the first thing we see is the TV. It’s appropriate, of course. In the mid-80s, commercials, historical dramas and talent shows abounded and television was the most ubiquitous medium. The first few seconds of the game show us a news program warning of inclement weather that is actually accurate to the time, as 1985 was the year of an extended Pacific typhoon season, bringing with it a flurry of tropical low pressure systems that play a part in the story.
Throughout the game, the TV acts as Feng Yu’s window to the outside world. His daughter’s performance and judgement play on loop. There are even moments in the game when the TV simply projects scrambled hiss. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the mental state of Feng Yu, or the result of the storm’s damage. Either way, it is impossible to turn off—or escape—the ubiquitous grey square. The nostalgic teaser trailer makes that abundantly clear.
There is no greater indicator of where you are in time than the music pumping through your output of choice. The minds behind Devotion were obviously aware of this as Li Fang, “heroine” of the game, happens to be a renowned pop star. Li Fang’s entire aesthetic is inspired by famous singers of the 1980s, especially Teresa Teng: the trailblazing Taiwanese “queen of pop.”
“Lady of the Pier” was Li Fang’s biggest hit during the days before Mei Shin died, and she’s kept it alive in the Du household. During Mei Shin’s singing competition, her version of “Lady of Pier” is broadcasted on the Rainbow Stage show, a program that not only captures the tone and style of the time, but would probably count as quality programming 35 years ago. In an interview with Red Candle Games, the team goes into further detail. “The children’s talent-show Rainbow Stage in the game drew great inspiration from the famous Taiwanese TV show Five Lights Award, which was broadcast from 1965 to 1998. For many Taiwanese of our generation, it’s part of our childhood memories.”
This same song can also be heard at the end of the game, now sung in full by Mei Shin in the afterlife.
Red Candle Games’ basis for Devotion’s apartment complex comes from a popular spot in old Taipei known as the Nanjichang Apartments. Constructed in 1963, it has since become something of a derelict housing area inhabited mostly by senior citizens. Actually, because of its connection to latter days, it’s the number one location to shoot 80s-themed TV shows.
The Du’s building reflects this same neglected look to a “T”: from mildewed and contaminated hallways, to the faded paper ads covering the bulletin boards and even the Chinese zodiac symbols decorating the red iron bars. Some Taiwanese gamers have gone so far as to relate the gaming experience to a visit to their grandparents’ house when they were kids.
Red Candle Games’ completely original offering allows us a peek into a world unknown. The experience is almost tangible: the filth of the hall, the smell of snake-wine brewing in the kitchen, even the whirr of the record player needle. Everyone loves the 80s, but this piece of gold came from a specific time and place that we never knew we needed.
Joshua Furr is a DualShockers features writer from North Carolina (home of Epic games and Pepsi) with a passion for pop culture. Since Sonic’s debut on Sega Genesis, he’s been completely smitten with video games and Asian content. Currently, you can find him in the middle of Europe either writing for a Japanese tourist site, playing Ocarina of Time with his kids or making music with his hot wife.