Growing up is hard. Being a teenager at a Christian summer camp and feeling like you don’t fit in has to be Hell. I was never sent to a Christian summer camp, but I’ve heard enough stories about being different in a repressive religious environment. I suspect many of my fellow queer folks can relate.
We Know the Devil is a visual novel about queer kids at a Christian summer camp who are exiled to a isolated cabin where their mission is to defeat the devil. The game has an interesting way of handling player choice. Instead of choosing to follow individual characters, you choose pairs of characters, with one always being left out. Your choice of OTP can lead to one of three endings with a hidden “true” ending.
I found the characters to be surprisingly relatable. I instantly identified with “shy, shy” Venus, probably the nicest of the main cast, something of a doormat, and a reluctant drinker. I appreciated “mean girl” Neptune’s brutal honesty and frustration with her peers when they just didn’t get it, and although I didn’t connect with “tomboy” Jupiter personality-wise, I resonated with some of the things left unsaid on her route. I knew at least one Neptune in elementary school, I suspect most people will recognize the characters in this game. They definitely fit certain stereotypes, but they also feel real. They talk like I did back in the day. By the way, astute readers have probably noticed some obvious Sailor Moon references. This game definitely puts me in mind of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, itself a deconstruction of the magical girl genre.
In terms of music and graphics, well, the graphics probably aren’t going to win any awards (as the devs themselves note in a tongue in cheek manner). The character designs are simple drawings in black and white, and the backgrounds are washed out images that remind me of PowerPoint slideshows I used to make for school. In a way, the graphics emphasize how mundane most of the game is–a bunch of young people goofing off and drinking in a secluded cabin–up until the very end when it switches to a more hand drawn style. The soundtrack is described as “80s synth” a style that, to be honest, grated on me, but ultimately I felt suited the game.
Perhaps the most interesting–and frustrating–thing about this game is that so much is left unsaid, literally. There’s a notable absence of narrative text, and the player is expected to read between the lines and pick up on subtle cues. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, but I feel like the game will end up being too esoteric (both in the literal and figurative sense) for players who come in with the expectation that the game is going to be telling a story when the game is more interested in showing and letting the player draw their own conclusions. The game is ambiguous in a way that feels appropriate for magical realism–a genre that runs on ambiguity–but to some, including myself at first, it will feel more like a pretentious “artsy” film where you don’t really understand what is going on or feel like there’s a message that you just don’t get. I wish the creators would have taken more time to explain the world and how it worked, but I also think the vagueness makes the game unique, which is sort of a weird thing to say, kind of like saying any other game is so generic that it feels special. Speaking of films, the game is about as long as one, taking about two hours to get all the achievements (potentially shorter or longer depending on how fast you read) and the option to fast-forward through text you’ve already read makes replaying it less of a hassle. At just over $7 Canadian, it might seem like too steep a price for such a short experience, but I’ve seen some movies that didn’t have half the impact this game had for the same price.
It’s difficult to talk about how this game made me feel without spoiling everything. I will say that although there is a part of me that didn’t like the true end for reasons I can’t discuss due to spoilers, part of me absolutely reveled in it. It is, in a strange way, a really gratifying ending to the story. My favourite character was probably Venus, as, like Venus, I too was the “shy one” when I was younger. I think Venus’ route was my favourite route of the three “character” routes, and you’ll absolutely want to play them all for that true end, trust me.
In terms of diversity, while it’s somewhat difficult to tell due to the black and white colour scheme for the characters, Neptune is a bit darker than Venus and Jupiter. There is at least one explicit same-sex couple and one of the characters is trans (although they are presented in such a way that they seem unsure of their identity).
In terms of potential triggers, there is some body horror (particularly involving Neptune) and there is a scare chord at 4 AM that might startle those who aren’t prepared for it. Since one character does not yet realize they are trans until a certain point, the other characters use the pronouns that are in line with their current gender identity. There is no intentional misgendering but some might still be uncomfortable by it.
Make no mistake, this definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The lack of straightforward storytelling is perhaps this game’s greatest weakness. At the same time, it’s an intriguing title, and if you’re a fan of religious horror, coming out stories, stories about love and self-acceptance, stories that require you to read between the lines, or you yearn for stories about queer kids at summer camp, We Know the Devil is a short but sweet experience.