Sometimes terror can manifest itself in the most mundane things. It can be hiding behind closed doors, in the TV, or even in your own beliefs. Taiwanese indie game developer Red Candle Games knows this better than anyone. Their second match Dedicationis an emotionally charged first-person psychological horror game that taps into the everyday fears that haunt our lives.
Despite a largely positive reception upon release, the game was banned from Steam soon after due to an influx of angry reviews from mainland China. These critics chastised the game for including an easter egg that depicts Xi Jin Ping as Winnie the Pooh, alongside other accusations of the game painting China and its leader in a negative light. Red Candle Games issued a public apology and corrected the game, removing its allegedly offensive content. Despite their efforts, the game remains unavailable on Steam to this day. However, if your interest is piqued and you wish to play Dedicationyou can still download it from the official Red Candle Game website.
Dedication follows the story of a family of three – a mother, father and daughter. For the majority of the game, you play in first-person as the family patriarch, Du Feng Yu. The game takes place primarily in the Du family’s small two-bedroom apartment. As Feng Yu, you explore your surroundings, solving your family’s dysfunctional history piece by piece. The location remains the same for most of the game, but as you move through the different rooms and hallways of the apartment, you also move between three different years: 1980, 1985, and 1986. Rather than being confusing, the fragmented, mosaic-like nature of the storyline adds another layer of intrigue and suspense. The timeline itself becomes something of a puzzle as you string events together in your mind.
Over time, the story becomes clearer. You learn that Feng Yu is an unsuccessful screenwriter, while his wife, Li Fang, is a retired celebrity. Once a popular singer and actress, she left the spotlight to take care of the house and her daughter, Mei Shin. As you play, you learn that Mei Shin is suffering from a mysterious, debilitating disease. A rift between Feng Yu and Li Fang develops. In response to his increasingly chaotic life, Feng Yu turns to the esoteric teachings of the cult leader, Professor Hueh, who worships the (fictional) folk deity, Cigu Guanyin. From there, events unfold even further.
Dedication skillfully weaves together traditional Taiwanese period iconography, memories and cultures, while remaining relevant to a wider audience through its timeless themes and fresh stories. Reasons of illness, financial difficulties, family problems and religion are omnipresent. It’s clear from the start the painstaking care the developers have taken to get the details right. Every object, whether used by the player or not, has a purpose. From decorations on the walls to a random piece of paper on the floor. The furniture even changes depending on the year. For example, over the years, the TV is replaced by newer models.
Also, the pacing of the game is extremely well done. Jump alerts are rare, but implemented at the right time. Instead, Dedication relies much more on the claustrophobic apartment anxiety and Feng Yu’s unraveling mind. The hallways and rooms are stuffy. The dread mounts at every turn and in every changing scene. Each element combines to form the complex story of the Du family, which is at once relatable, gruesome and heartbreaking. Still, the game never lets you become too numb to fear. There are scenes scattered throughout that are more lighthearted, giving the player a moment to breathe and process the story. Clever changes in mood, art style, and lighting all help create dramatic changes, further propelling the game to its devastating end.
One of my favorite aspects of Dedication is its emotional depth. It’s rare for a horror game to be able to balance its fear with such a strong and emotionally resonant storyline, while never getting too sentimental or cheesy. Dedication strikes this balance well. It’s an innovative game in every way: storyline, mechanics, art style. Even the soundtrack is perfectly selected. As the ending theme song plays, there is a deep sense of release and heartache as it all comes to a head. There’s so much going on in the final moments of the game that it’s all finally pieced together. The song is an original track specially created for the game, performed by Taiwanese indie band No Party for Cao Dong.
Dedication is a game that begs to be played again. With a short but sweet playtime of around three to five hours in total, it’s a game jam packed with detail that can easily be overlooked on the first playthrough.
Charlotte Zhang is a paralegal by day, a writer by night. As a little adrenaline junkie, she loves anything that makes her heart skip a beat: horror movies, roller coasters, public speaking. You can find more of his writings and book reviews on his Instagram.