To put it simply, Detention is different.
And it different because of how it intricately meshes culture and historical facts into a work interactive fiction, with a glaze of horror. It is a game that you could finish in one sitting and I strongly suggest you do (gameplay averages out to ~3.5~6 hours). Despite its “Horror” tag on Steam, the game settles for a general atmospheric eeriness throughout the whole game, and immerses the player through its narrative to look into more psychological themes of guilt, and identity seeking.
This 2D point-and-click atmospheric horror leans heavily towards presenting an alluring narrative through a puzzle-solving side scroller. Game mechanics in Detention feels complementary to its storytelling, acting as a guiding lamp to facilitate the Detention experience for the players. There is tremendous work placed on building its lead character Ray (Fang Ray Shin), drawing players into her personal story as they wander around the school compounds, solving puzzles to progress and piecing bits-and-pieces of what happened together.
To put the game’s background in context, Detention is set in 1960s Taiwan under anti-communist martial law following the 228 incident, during the regime of the Kuo Min Tang. This period of time is known as the White Terror by the Taiwanese, where people risk being imprisoned and executed for suspicions or having found to be associated with the communists, including speaking ill of the Kuo Min Tang, reading banned books, or any other activity which suggested a grudge with the government.
This unforgiving climate that Detention sets itself in puts insurmountable weight upon its protagonist as Ray stumbles through her teenage years, with all choices leading towards an unavoidable tragedy. While there are numerous indie horror games out there that are illustrated in a similar hand-drawn style, the illustration in Detention fits the story it tells perfectly, a timey and painful coming-of-age tale. The sound design paints the mood and scene well, and with the on-point combination of both graphics and sound, it is easy for you to be pulled into its world and lore.
For the player unfamiliar with Chinese culture, Detention supplies a bountiful of spirits, ghosts and religious practices from Chinese culture and mythology, which is a pleasant rarity to find diverse cultural representation emerging in games. The existence of spirits and ghosts in the game adds some difficulty to the puzzle solving, but they are still relatively easy to navigate through. The point-and-click nature of the game does not allow much depth in terms of gameplay, but I would argue that it is the well-balanced blend of point-and-click puzzle solving to unveil pieces to the story that contributes to Detention’s immersive story-telling.
Take an evening to enjoy this beautiful and poetic piece of narrative. You’re guaranteed to be gushed with thoughts and emotions that will stay with you long after you have finished it.
Game Title: Detention (返校)
Developer: Red Candle Game
Publisher: Coconut Island Games, Red Candle Games
Released: Jan 12, 2017
Genres: Horror, Indie, Atmospheric, Puzzle
Age Rating: N/A