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Detention: an original Taiwanese horror adventure

“Detention” is a 2D side-scrolling, point-and-click horror game that takes place in 1960s in Taiwan under a period known as the “White Terror.” This was a time when the country was put under martial law by the Chinese Nationalist Party after its defeat in a civil war against the Chinese Communist Party. You play as Wei Chung-Ting and Fang Ray-Shin, high school students who find themselves trapped in Greenwood High School, a high school in a mountainous region of Taiwan, and must navigate through the Silent Hill-esque highschool hellscape and confront their tragic past. Let’s just keep it at that to avoid any spoilers. 

The game places heavy emphasis on puzzle solving, which entails finding items that interact with the map and decipering combinations to unlock the next path forward. These puzzles are generally straight forward, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your taste. Occasionally you’ll have to evade detection from monsters, but I feel that these encounters are a little too easy, rendering the horror of “Detention” at times underwhelming. The game takes about three to four hours to complete and there are two endings available. 

What sets the story of “Detention” apart from most others with a dystopian setting is that it is heavily based on real historical events. Of course, I, as a Taiwanese, learned about the “White Terror” in high school, but only from a few paragraphs in my history textbook. “Detention” brings to life every vivid detail of that dreadful life during martial law: posters and slogans urging people to report communists, teachers taken by the police during class and highschool students being arrested and rounded up for execution. The game is a portal that transports you back in time so you can experience the tragic weight that is required in order to truly understand and take into memory this grim part of history. 

The biggest strength of “Detention” lies in its art direction. In a market saturated with tropes such as asylums, experiments gone wrong, monsters with ridiculous gimmicks (like Slenderman) and vicious female ghosts, “Detention” is an immediate breath of fresh air. It is also probably the first ever horror game to feature a Taiwanese aesthetic. I was so excited to see the once familiar Taiwanese school environment—the wooden chairs and desks, the blackboards, the white walls, the auditorium that demands obedience from the student body, the military instructor everyone is afraid of, the short hairstyles and the bland uniforms that kill individuality—retrofitted as the stage of a horror game for the first time, because it is perfect for that role. 

The implementation of local culture and superstitions as puzzles and ghost encounters is another highlight, with the latter being easily the most eye-opening segments for me. I desperately wish that there were more of these encounters. The fact these ghosts are based on folklore lends them personality and just enough perceived plausibility, making them so much more interesting than anything from urban legends or creepypastas.    

I’m sure others who aren’t familiar with Taiwanese culture will also find the visual elements exciting. The game masterfully paints an absolutely demonic and evil representation of Taiwanese culture, with its use of a drab, almost black-and-white color scheme and an oppressive political background, that I can only imagine the dread of seeing these representations and being surrounded by them in-game as an outsider. The cryptic Chinese characters and posters on the walls probably add to that feeling too. 

However, the game’s biggest weakness is that the threat of danger turns out to be an illusion. I mentioned earlier that the enemy encounters are too easy. That is because the ghosts all move very slowly that you can approach them carelessly and kite them around with no consequence. It doesn’t help that these encounters are few and far between and enemy variety is low. Add to the fact that these encounters are the only way you can die in-game, it’s easy to lose your suspension of disbelief and render yourself desensitized to the horror. Sure, the audio and visuals are consistently great at producing the anxiety of imminent danger, but nothing realizes that danger aside from jumpscares and a few admittedly quite creative scenes. This is especially true in the latter half of the game where the story focuses more on building its characters than delivering scares. Of course, I’m not discounting that the game builds horror in psychological and historical aspects, but I would have liked to see more ways to experience danger and loss of progress to keep me on my toes. 

The story and visuals provide a unique experience on Taiwanese history and culture that cannot be found elsewhere (aside from the developers latest installment “Devotion” which I will definitely review in the future). Everyone should give this a try. The game is available on PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch, iOS and Android. 

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