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About the Story
The high priest of an obscure cult is preparing a ritual. Don the priestís sacred mantle, for these holy labors are yours to direct. You may carve a votive, lead a prayer, or make a sacrifice ó but you must see to the task with care. Unearthly eyes gaze down upon you from the sea above. Will your devotion reach them?
Nominee, Best Use of Multimedia - 2018 XYZZY Awards
20th Place (tie) - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
These Heterogenous Tasks
Music, darkness, melancholy, the unknowably alien, and the space to absorb them. Thatís the mood which Devotionalia is after, and it skewers it like a moth on a specimen-board.
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The Breakfast Review
The piece seems to be about the nature of religious devotion. The unfamiliarity of the story's deity and cosmology serves to isolate the acts of prayer and sacrament so that they can be looked at without our own beliefs getting in the way. There's a lot here that's really worth contemplating.
As a breakfast, I think it's rice congee with a firm, white fish, topped with flakes of crispy fried onions and fresh chives. It has an ascetic look, but threads of ginger and sesame oil boiled in with the rice make it surprisingly flavourful. And then, piping hot green tea.
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McT's Interactive Fiction Reviews
In a way, this game reminds me of the works of Chandler Groover and Phantom Williams. It has a similar rich aesthetic. A surreal, haunting feel. A sense that thereís more hidden below the surface. [...] The interface matches the ambition of the prose. The music is atmospheric and appropriate. The aesthetics of the design are completely aligned to the game experience.
Itís something a little bit special, this.
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The pensive mood of the game supports its plot. The author handles the alien details of the world well, showing rather than telling and focusing on the story rather than belaboring the setting details. Itís a much more original setting and plot than most games have, and the author provides just enough details to make it comprehensible but still mysterious, befitting the priestís uncertainty about his gods.
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It mostly does one thing, which is Ďan evocative, doomed setting of a cultist tending to a dying ritualí, but it does that one thing very, very well. The music and design choices heighten the experience; itís probably one of the most slickly-produced games this year.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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"You have devoted your life to a god whose voice you have never heard"
In Devotionalia, you play as the most senior priest of a dying cult, far from civilization and any human interaction beyond the lost children you foster as acolytes. It depicts the thankless, daily, forgotten tasks of a decaying mental universe -- crucially, it does so in an incredibly empathetic and emotional way. Even as we make choices on behalf of the priest, we are invited to establish our sympathy with them and an understanding of their world-view beyond the specific lore and ritualistic practices of the game.
Even in the most Lovecraftian, rich descriptions of arcane deities and strange beings, the prose's focus is upon how it might feel to emotionally live within such a world. The old age of gods and religion is, in many ways, our own, despite our late-expressed belief that we are "young". The children we care for think us "ancient", and perhaps for good reason. Our character does not only worship a god, but commits a profound -- almost heretical, although the narrative does not reflect on this overtly -- act of empathy with one: we think of the "pain of godliness". And our own devotion, as the Twine makes clear with its synonyms, just as easily resolves as "desperation".
Several of the best choices in the game are themselves powerful in their implications even if not chosen (for example, the opportunity to "sacrifice yourself" instead of sacrificing a meal/producing artwork/composing a prayer early in the narrative), compelling you to go back and explore other paths. Thoroughly recommended.
I beta tested this game.
Devotionalia is a shortish but replayable fantasy game that is all about atmosphere and contemplation. It is a choice-based game, but not immediately recognizable as Twine, due to the extreme customization: graphics, music, many variants of link types, and more.
The game comes with a helpful instruction page. Essentially, you are a priest of an ancient religion, the gods almost forgotten. You wish to learn from them, and thus you make your devotions.
There's not an action-driven story or a big cast of characters. It's a somber reflection on life. If you've ever seen the painting "The Monk by the Sea" by Caspar David Friedrich, this game is essentially the interactive fiction version of that painting.
In this choice-based game you play as the last priest of a dying cult. You have never heard your god's voice, and you wonder if the god is still there. Your primary choice in the game is to decide which particular act of devotion you will perform, in the hope that your god will speak to you or give you some kind of a sign.
The music is excellent, particularly the piece that sounds like Gregorian chant. It completely changes the feel of the game. The background graphics are also lovely.
Also, the opening line is up there with Erstwhile's as one of the best opening lines in IFComp 2018: "You have devoted your life to a god whose voice you have never heard." Immediately gripping.
More substantively, DEVOTIONALIA manages to pull off a feat that is difficult for any artwork in any form: It's emotionally powerful and yet ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations.
For example, I kept coming back to how DEVOTIONALIA dramatizes a question that many of us probably ask ourselves at least once in our lives, perhaps when we're alone with our thoughts and no distractions: "Has my entire life been based on something that does not matter?" The priest wants a sign that the deity is there, that the god he has spent his entire life serving still cares, that what he's done with his time on this earth has served a real purpose.
There's plenty of religious literature that wrestles with situations like the priest's: of people going forward, day after day and year after year, living out their acts of devotion (in all kinds of ways) - without direct confirmation of the value of what they're doing. I think of some of the Christian mystical works like John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul; or the title of Dorothy Day's autobiography The Long Loneliness; or Mother Teresa's diaries, in which it was revealed that she spent decades working with the poor of Calcutta because of a directive from God, all the while questioning God's very existence; or even of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed, in which he wrestles with his faith and his wife's death from cancer.
But you don't have to be a religious believer to wonder whether this thing that you've devoted your life to is worth it. Have I made the correct career choices? Is this political movement I'm involved in really for the best? To reference another game in this Comp, have my reproductive choices been the right ones? Many of us, like the priest, just want a sign from God, or some confirmation from the universe.
In DEVOTIONALIA the priest gets his sign. Something is there. But the sign doesn't really answer his fundamental question: "Does what I've done with my life matter?"
Which is probably the right ending. This question may ultimately be one we must answer for ourselves.
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