Before we begin this review, I felt the need to have a little fireside chat with you guys. We Know the Devil deals with issues concerning religion, sexuality and gender. Because of this, many people have had a very intimate, personal response to the game. And I have done this thing long enough to know when personal feelings (especially when it comes to sexuality and gender) and critical thought collide, the results can be bloody to say the very least.
So, instead of going full bore into the review, I feel that it’s in all of our best interest for those who might have a visceral reaction to my opinion to get a little preview of my thoughts before we get started. And while I’m not your Mother and I cannot tell you what to do, if you read my review and get angry with me after reading this opening, I can safely say you brought whatever you are feeling on yourself!
The short version of this review is that I didn’t like it. We Know the Devil has some good ideas and strong prose behind those ideas, however these ideas never get enough footing to form a decent plot. THEN the True Ending drops in with all of the subtlety of an anvil landing on your head: leaving whatever potential it had at the bottom of a city-size crater.
I’ll expound on all of this this and make my case in the review proper, but if you read that and blood rushed straight to your head: the exit is to your left. We’ll be discussing World End Economica in the immediate future so I do hope you’ll come back around for that. For everyone else, let’s dig into this game shall we?
- Genre: Supernatural, Horror
- Release Date: September 12, 2015
- Developer: Aevee Bee & Crew
- Language: English
- Platform: PC
- Website: Date Nighto
At a supernatural Christian Summer Camp where apparently God is a radio DJ, Juniper, Venus and Neptune are trying to survive the boring lectures, constant bugs and continued threat of the Devil. Although they think they may finish the camp without running into old Hob, they are assigned to stay in a particular cabin for the final night and face him directly if he comes. It’s a challenge but, surely, there is no reason for the Devil to visit them. So there’s nothing to worry about, right?
Ninety percent of this game is a mixture of positives and negatives and mostly leans positive thanks to the concept of the Devil himself. While God and religion is portrayed as a constantly shifting variable designed to enforce an inconsistent ideal of ‘Good’, the Devil is portrayed as a being who manifests himself in the character’s doubts and fears: specifically when it comes to the nature of their own ‘goodness’. Even without the supernatural turn, it’s a psychological conflict that is as old as human history and something that most people, especially when their teenagers, have to grapple with.
And to the game’s credit, the scene where our trio talk about their doubts on their own goodness as well as their own personal fears and faults have a universal reach. I’ve made no secret of my faith and personal philosophy, but even I have questioned the nature of good and evil and the overall divine order of things. Framing these issues in this particular claustrophobic environment was the right move and turning those fears into a tangible threat keeps you invested even as the game starts dragging around the midnight hour.
Hm, a game where personal doubts, faults and fears are manifested into literal demons. Someone should really do something with that idea. Maybe lean it more towards survival horror and give it a solid AAA polish…oh wait.
To be frank with you guys, I actual kind of enjoyed the cast despite being archetypal: especially Neptune. Jupiter’s the familiar tomboy every girl, Venus is a shy male waif and Neptune is the devil…or at least an agent of darkness. Neptune in particular is selfish, manipulative, cunning and driven to knock both Jupiter and Venus off the narrow road. Interestingly enough, if you follow the choices carefully, you realize that they bend around who spends the most time with her: leaving whoever gets left out the most to become the vessel of Lucifer. In her character specific ending, she admits what she wants is to make them less good, because in her opinion they’re already good enough. Once we get to it, you’ll find that the Devil makes the exact same argument. Whether it’s to alieve her own insecurities or not is left to audience interpretation, but it doesn’t change the fact that Neptune’s inner darkness drives most of the story, including the character revelations, and it works out for the better because of it.
It’s an overall decent character type and one that feels inspired by a recently cancelled series. The Hannibal inspiration really steps up a gear when you consider Jupiter. Our resident tomboy is where most of the conflict on the nature of goodness comes from and is trying to be as good as she can despite not knowing if she really means to be good, or is just acting under orders. There is also a subtle attraction between her and Neptune: one that Neptune attempts to exploit in her own desire to see Jupiter fall. If she would’ve said ‘This is my design’ or talked about her dogs at least I would’ve gotten a decent laugh. But as it is, it gives their relationship an interest twist but unfortunately not a lot of weight to deliver on some of the emotional haymakers Aevee Bee attempts to throw later on.
Venus is the weakest link honestly and just isn’t a good character. The only boy of the group, Venus isn’t just shy, he’s something of a coward; doing what others say and not standing up for himself just to get through the day. He’s the atypical character in a horror movie that’s too dumb to live, yet through a mixture of luck and divine providence, manages to keep his head above water. Even his particular ending isn’t framed as particularly tragic as the focus is more on Jupiter and Neptune than the fallen seraph he turned into. So either you sympathize and connect with him right off the bat, or you’re not going to.
With these three characters and their innermost fears driving the plot, the dialogue was going to play a major role. While it can become indulgent from time to time, especially when the Devil makes his move, for the most part it is very good and has a weight to it that deserves more time to sink in and really get under the audience’s skin. However, the direction behind the writing keeps it from being fully effective as the game is broken more into vignettes than structured to build tension and atmosphere and that is what Bee’s style of writing, at least for this type of game, is tailored for.
This is best seen when it comes to the revelations about the cast’s inner fears. While it is elegantly written, it only really fits into the scene it’s presented in and could even be considered taken to a resolution point. Not resolved per se, but taken as far as these particular archetypes can go. This happens around the midway point, around the time they are all getting drunk (Neptune’s fault) and even the inherent beauty of the writing cannot save the final few vignettes leading to the character ending from becoming a frustrating sit. It does not help that many scenes are purposely left vague and the full nature of this world is left up to audience interpretation. The reason for this becomes clear by the end, but it really doesn’t help the overall narrative.
It’s a case of winning the battle but losing the war and it also has the unfortunate side effect of putting a nail straight through the whole ‘group relationship’ angle the story was trying to exploit. One of the refrains threaded through this game is that not all friendships are equal and society (or ‘God’) pushes people to choose one over the other. As I said before, whoever becomes the third wheel becomes the Vessel of Lucifer save for the True Ending and while the game really wants to pin the issues on societal pressure and use it to back up the author’s opinions, the uncomfortable truth there is no real effort on anyone’s part to save one another. I’m sorry but regardless of what I am told, if me and two of my friends are locked in a cabin and we were told one of us would be possessed by the essence of pure evil, my first priority would be making sure that didn’t happen.
The most we get is that they search the woods for any demonic signs because walking into the woods at night works for every horror movie and tuning into Radio Jehovah with the clock about to run out but that’s it. There are no actions or conversations or tangible concern between the three and instead we stay focused on their angst for the majority of the game. I’m sorry but I cannot buy the whole ‘God only allows for two’ motif when the protagonists do not care enough for one another to put up even a token fight to keep each other from being possessed. This becomes more grating in the True Ending when all three are apparently ready to discard their humanity and offer themselves up to the Devil thanks to the Power of Friendship. I’m sorry but WHAT?! Do you really expect me to believe that these three are willing to become literal demons for one another when the Devil offers it, but won’t fight for each other when there is a chance to stop him from possessing them in the first damn place?
I am getting way out in front. We still have one more stop to make and then we will focus our full attention on the True Ending. And I promise you, for all of my detours, I haven’t even gotten started on it.
Before you get to the True Ending there are three separate endings where one of the three get possessed and the others have to fight them off. On a sheer technical level these scenes are anti-climactic as we get the reveal, a brief description of the remaining two battling their former ally and a quick resolution. Going a moderate pace, the battle and the final scene take up ten minutes at the absolute best which is nowhere near enough time for the audience to be fully invested in what the game is essentially buildings towards.
That’s a shame too because the beings they become warrant your interest. A la Silent Hill, each becomes a representation of their own insecurities. Of the three, the best is probably Jupiter’s since it plays on her role among the three and even has her friends acknowledge that she didn’t deserve her fate. If her character had been stronger, it would have actually been tragic and served as a proper closing chapter that neither Neptune’s nor Venus’ ending achieves. But that takes time that someone decided would be better invested in the True Ending of the game. So what should be a slow knife making us feel something for the fate of these characters whenever the Devil gets his way instead becomes meaningless in the shadow of what the creative team felt was a far superior ending for these three.
Strap on your safety goggles and plastic aprons folks because the time has come.
As I’ve already stated, the True Ending starts with all three deciding to shed their human forms due to the Power of Friendship and offer themselves up to Lucifer becomes he promises to allow them to stay together instead of just possessing one of them. So far that’s pretty much on par with the Devil: he’s lying to get what he wants. The problem is that the game presents the lie as a better alternative to their current situation. The line, as quoted by many of my fellow reviewers, goes like this, ‘There is room for three in my world, and only two in his’.
Um, hi: JP from VNs Now with a question. If that’s the case, then why was the Devil playing by God’s rules up to that point?
Again, he’s the Devil: he’s lying to win. Noted. But literally up until all three were vulnerable at the same time, he was more than happy to just take one and use them against the other two. And in the few instants that bring up previous demonic attacks, the Devil wouldn’t show up at all. Yet NONE OF THEM question this. Jupiter puts up a token resistance at least, but even then the obvious question of, ‘Well if that’s so, why were you happy to play this role in God’s world so far?’ never gets asked.
However, THAT would assume that no one before Jupiter, Venus and Neptune felt vulnerable or doubted their own morality or the nature of good and evil or had any insecurities at all. You know, all of that stuff I talked about earlier that everyone goes through when they are young? So, does this game exist in a world where these three particular dumbasses are the only ones to ever have any doubts and the Devil has never tried this before so he leaped at the opportunity? Or has it worked in the past, forcing similar magical warriors to beat back the Devil, which would mean these three would know about it and be on their guard? Or are these three just so super special that they get the nice version of the Devil who simply wants to liberate them from the cold shackles of a world that cannot handle the purity of their mutual love?
You know what? I’m just going to play the Batman Forever clip.
And you know what the real pain in the ass of all of this is? Despite being shot in both feet, if the game would have just ended right there it would have still been alright. Flawed yes; but only as flawed as its characters. It all would come down to if you find validity in the solution the creative team presents as positive resolution to their problem, which is and should be a matter for debate anyway. But then, the True Ending decides it wants to roll on as these three subjugate the entire camp. That’s right, the game ends with the remaining denizens at the camp turned into demons and the three protagonists turned antagonists waiting for the Calvary to arrive so that they can make them ‘less good’ as well and all of this is framed as not only a positive outcome, but a beautiful one.
There are, at the last count, 2.4 billion Christians living in the world. Of that number, you can safely argue that anywhere between sixty and seventy percent of them regularly practice their faith: go to church, pray, etc. Just considering the basic math on that one, are we really supposed to believe that everyone at this Christian magical warrior camp thought and felt the exact same way the protagonists did? That there where no true believers and everyone was just waiting for an opportunity to shed their skin and join up with the Devil? Or is age a factor here and the game really wants to make the argument that anyone under the age of eighteen doesn’t really count as a true believer of the Christian faith? Since the answer to that series of questions is ‘No’, then let’s talk about the only logical way the True Ending can happen.
It’s vague but you can argue that several of the counselors were killed after the demonic convergence. Beyond that, just following the rules of simple mathematics, there would have been a faction there that would have fought to the bitter end and not surrender to the Devil. In order for the camp to be under the Devil’s control by the game’s end, this faction had to either be killed or forced into becoming demons. This means that the three have no problem doing the same thing to anyone else coming into the camp to try and stop them. THIS means that their new community that has cast off the shackles of the divine to become liberated, supernatural beings is built on, and sustained through, slavery and mass murder.
I’m sorry, but am I really the only one who sees that the only way this particular netherworld works is if these three become everything this game claims to hate? You’ve just gone from one supernatural being’s will being enforced upon an unwilling populace, to another supernatural being’s will being enforced upon an unwilling populace. This game wants so badly to stick a middle finger straight in the eye of Judeo-Christian social structure: condemning it for everyone who ever felt like they weren’t good enough. Yet the only answer it can provide is its own version of the exact same society that would have to be brutally enforced through death and casual sadism with the illusion of freedom for its three protagonists turned antagonists as its only saving grace. But even that is a stretch since, at any given time, the Devil can decide these three served their purpose and dropkick their sorry asses into a circle of Hell for his own amusement because, less we forget, HE’S THE FUCKING DEVIL.
Before the True Ending, We Know the Devil was severely flawed. It had a lot of ups and downs, but managed to pull an okay story together. After the True Ending this game, and I cannot believe I get to use this word again for an EVN after two years, is pretentious.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation, to steal an in-joke from the reviewers circle I run with, had potential. The style resembles the type of paper doll drawings you’d expect to find in any angsty teenager’s notebook. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the range to fully convey the emotions the story reaches for. My favorite is when Venus is enthralled by the Devil and his eyes just become sparkly. It isn’t worrying, it’s silly. When the story is at a moderate pace and the three are simply goofing off the artwork is okay and the creative team squeeze as much out of it as they can. But once you make it to the latter part of the game, and you’re going towards the different endings, the art falls flat.
To be fair, a lot of this is due to the fact that the sprites are framed against photographic backgrounds. This, unfortunately is copied over when the Devil is revealed as it isn’t an Event Graphic proper, but rather a close-up of the one that has been taken over against the static photo background. It’s a shame because the demon designs were interesting. Ironically my favorite was Venus’ ‘fallen seraph’ form. It’s a great design overall and it’s a shame it was wasted on a narrative third wheel when the others are either very basic or too vague to fully appreciate.
Considering that the game wanted a more supernatural or horror atmosphere, going full out and drawing original backgrounds that fit with the style of the characters would have gone a long way in actually delivering a darker setting and fully complimenting the story: weak as it is. Without it, this game can get very rough on the eyes. The one semi-bright spot is the music. The score for We Know the Devil by itself evokes some of the better scores of the Horror genre and is a chilling collection of musics that any horror story would be lucky to have backing it. In this game? Well before the endings, there are scenes where the music outpaces the story and leaves the narrative in the dust as it swells and echoes a tempo the dialogue not only cannot reach, but isn’t trying to reach. It’s a case of a big fish swimming in a little pond and I hope this composer is hired for more EVN work.
The best way to break this one? Turn on the Scroll Wheel. Both the Skip and Auto functions are turned off and that can get really tedious on repeat playthroughs, however they will turn back on if you go to the settings menu and allow for the game to move forward with the Scroll Wheel. If you do that then initiate the Skip button, you have very good chance of your screen looking like this. Nice.
The game also crashed a few times when I had the Auto feature on and I managed to confuse the Auto Save feature by starting a new game, then loading a manual save file. I had to step away from the desk and closed the webpage. When I returned to finish up that file I noticed that the Auto Save had the exact same file name as the manual save, but when I went to open it, it started from the beginning of the game. This admittedly gets very technical, but just from the top of being able to break the game by turning on the Skip option is something the Date Nighto crew will have to refine moving forward.
We Know the Devil is available on the Date Nighto website for $6.66. Cute. Each route takes roughly an hour to knock out so you’re looking at four to five hours overall. Even if you take out my analysis on the True Ending, you’re still left a flawed game that has a singular purpose. Once that purpose is delivered, and without any extras, there is no reason to return to it. And since Date Nighto isn’t sales friendly, the six dollar price tag is probably going to be its price for its entire life span. If you are morbidly curious about this one, six dollars isn’t as much of an insult as the twenty dollar price tag on Starfighter: Eclipse. Just don’t be surprised once you reach the end and you have no compulsion to pick this one up again.
You know what my thoughts as the credits rolled after the True Ending was? I imagined a scenario in which the last faithful Christian manages to get out an SOS before one of the protagonists cuts off their head and that SOS makes it to a Muslim Magical Girl Camp in the next town over. So now it’s up to the Muslims to save the dumbass fallen Christians from themselves and put a stop to the Devil once and for all. I doubt this particular creative team will go with that for a sequel, but someone needs to take the Muslim Magical Girl ball and run with it.
One of the things I take away from We Know the Devil, other than the hole left from that Anvil, is that there is plenty of room for this type of psychological story. I am clearly not the audience for this particular game, but even I can see that in someone else’s hands, a story using the very fertile ground of teenage anxiety, sexuality and insecurity against cultural pressure and norms would do well as long as it focused on the characters themselves. That would not only be entertaining, but also enlightening to a degree. It certainly isn’t impossible and, as hinted with the nods to Hannibal and Silent Hill, similar ideas have been done successfully in the past.
But, on the flip side of the coin, you have to want to tell an interesting story and not just erect an echo chamber. We Know the Devil is firmly in that echo chamber side of things. I’m not here to slam those who have had an emotional reaction to the issues brought up in this game. However, I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t this game’s plan from the get go to disguise the mess it actually is. It never allows its protagonists to resolve or even began to approach the issues they bring up: instead leaving them for the audience to connect and respond to. And while you are shaking your fist at the cruel world that dares to tell ‘perfect’ kids they’re not ‘perfect’, what slips under the rug is the unbalanced narrative, the overall lack of tension, and a dedication to it’s flowery angst to the point where the entire plot can unravel with a single question, ‘If they’re all such good friends, why isn’t anyone trying to fight to keep each other from being possessed before the Devil even shows up?’
‘JP, the obvious answer is that society is to blame!’
Yeah, we can’t end this without taking one more look at that ending can we? At the end of the day, what Aevee Bee and her crew really wants is to preach. Preach to us about the evil Judeo-Christian society that hates youth and idealism and creates lies about good and evil, God and Lucifer, to keep all of those brats in line. And yet, the only thing it can offer anyone who has resonated with its premise is a fantasy that simply exchanges hats and allows them the power to subjugate those who made them feel like they weren’t good enough. A power that was achieved not through the protagonists’ efforts and growth, but through believing a lie and submitting to a being that, in the context of this game, is no different from the other supernatural being it mocks. Tie that in with the lack of development to give all but one ending actual thematic weight and you have reached a level of pretentiousness that I haven’t seen in years.
If you’re happily in the targeted audience that We Know the Devil aims for, then you were warned at the beginning of this review not to keep read it so what the Hell? For everyone else? Hopefully someone will do this concept justice one day, because today is not that day.