Sunday, January 07, 2018

My Experience With Doki Doki Literature Club (Act 1)

 In the bygone days of the internet, was a bastion of independent media. There were free games and animations all done in flash by amateurs who just wanted to get their name out. It's still around, though it's relevance has considerably dwindled.

 In those bygone days I would scour Newgrounds, thirsty for any content that would hold my interest. As ashamed as I am to admit, one of the things that held my interest was a game called Sim Girls. It's not very good, and I was mostly playing it out of boredom, but it became a guilty pleasure for me. I became as obsessed with trying to fuck a pretend girl as real men are with trying to fuck real girls. It's all very embarrassing.

To those of you without a beard on your neck, this is what's known as a dating sim. Sim Girls is an interactive romance novel based on the manga, DNA2. The object of the game is to seduce three girls and eventually choose who to be with at the end. You do this by building your stats (charm, intelligence, and strength) according to the girl's preferences. Dating also costs money, so you'll have to spend time working as well. There's a time limit and you have to micromanage your stat building to get the best result possible. If you do this efficiently and make wise dialogue choices, you can convince all three girls to fall for you. The player character is inclined to try and impress the hot, popular girl. But that won't stop you, the actual player, from pursuing the cute girl or the girl next door (who also happens to be your childhood friend) as well.

Dating sims are designed to pander to a very problematic part of the male ego. They indulge our base desire to attract as many potential mates as possible regardless of the consequences. It's the same kind of reckless promiscuity that's applauded in men and reviled in women. Dating sims display the same toxic mentality as pick-up artistry (which coincidentally is about as effective at picking up women as playing a dating sim by yourself). They are definitely creepy, but for reasons unrelated to the horror genre.

Enter Doki Doki Literature Club, a seemingly generic dating sim who's concept almost appears to be copy/pasted straight from Sim Girls.

 The object of the game is the same as any other dating sim. Impress the girls and try to get closer to them. Instead of building your stats, you construct poems by choosing random words off a list that match the personality of the girl you want to impress.

Now I was already well aware of what type of content to expect from DDLC, but even if I wasn't, there is an explicit content warning before the title screen that would seem out of place to anyone going in blind. I can't emphasize enough how seriously you should take this content warning. They aren't fucking kidding.

Ahead are spoilers. I highly recommend that anyone interested in playing this game, stop reading and come back when you're done.

For the first two hours or so the game is exactly what you'd expect from a typical dating sim. The dialogue is often tedious (though well written) and the game play is far too simple. I think this was deliberate. The longer it took for something out of the ordinary to happen, the more my anxiety grew. I'd almost get lulled into a false sense of security at times and forget this was supposed to be a horror game. The game is so intent on passing itself off as a traditional dating sim that you start to believe it yourself despite being warned.

That's not to say any of this is bad, it's actually a really cute and well-thought out visual novel, but if you're not interested in that kind of stuff, I can't blame you for not wanting to sit through hours of one. But you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you just clicked through all the dialogue. You kind of have to approach this game as an ordinary dating sim, and get invested in a waifu. The pay-off is worth the wait.

The game begins with the player character walking to school. He spots his ditsy childhood friend, Sayori, who has overslept again and is rushing to catch up with him. He describes Sayori as an "annoying girl" and implies that the only reason he's still friends with her is because they've known each other for so long. He speaks very rudely to her and seems perpetually irritated by her.

After school, Sayori nags the player character to stop by her literature club to which he reluctantly agrees after she promises there will be cup cakes. After seeing that the club consists of three other cute girls, he decides to join in hopes that he'll be able to get closer to some of them.

You soon start getting to know the remaining club members. Yuri who is shy and bookish, Natsuki who's cute and bossy, and Monika who's popular and does well in school. Monika also happens to be the club president. At the first meeting, Monika instructs the club members to write a poem that they'll all share with each other the next day. After the day ends, you're prompted with the poetry writing mini game. There are three icons on the bottom of the screen that represent Sayori, Natsuki, and Yuri. The icons cutely bounce up and down when you choose a word that suits their respective character. You are not able to woo Monika however, and I took this to mean that she was only meant to be a guide character

Related image

The next day, the player character and the girls exchange poems and offer feed back. It never shows the player character's poem because the game never tasks you with actually writing one, however the girls' poems are placed on the screen for you to read. Some of their poems are actually pretty creative and thoughtful, which was surprising until I remembered that this game was made by someone who cared about their writing. Natsuki and Yuri have drastically different writing styles so if your poem appeals to one of them, the other is certain not to like it. At one point, Natsuki and Yuri exchange poems and feedback, and neither are too happy with the criticism they receive. The discussion gets quite heated. They both turn to the player character and ask his opinion. You are now faced with 3 options. Side with Yuri, side with Natsuki, or ask Sayori to help. I opted to ask Sayori for help and she manages to diffuse the situation.

The game goes on like this for a while. You exchange poems, bond with girls, and click your way through slews of text. The girls sometimes remark on how close Sayori is with the player character. At one point Monika breaks the 4th wall and reminds you to save your game before making a big decision, which didn't freak me out because games do that all the time. Like when this purple asshole from Mario Galaxy 2 harasses you about taking a break every 15 minutes.

 Image result for mario galaxy 2 take a break

Monika eventually decides the club will be participating in the upcoming school festival where they'll host a poetry reading. This is obviously what the story would build up to in a normal dating sim. In Sim Girls, you have to woo your mate before the fire works festival takes place. This made me a little queasy because, well, that has to be where shit hits the fan in this game, right? I find myself dreading this festival.

 The girls' poems gradually start to get more vague and mysterious as the game progresses, but it's nothing too alarming or out of the ordinary. They're high school girls after all.  Just as I started to wonder if all the buzz surrounding this game was an elaborate hoax to waste people's time with an ordinary dating sim, things take a turn for the worse.

The player character starts to notice something off about Sayori. She's not been her usual bubbly, cheerful self. She seems distracted. The player character asks what's wrong and she brushes it off, assuring him that everything is fine, but that does little to ease his mind. The player character also noticed that Sayori has been talking to Monika a lot lately. Then it dawned on me. Don't trust Monika. I felt a chill go down my spine.

While walking home with Sayori, she springs an awkward hypothetical on the player character. She asks if he would walk home with one of the other girls if she wanted to. You're then prompted to choose whether or not you would walk Sayori home as always, or ditch her for the other girl. What would I do in this uncomfortable situation? In a dating sim I would just choose my favorite girl, but walking with Sayori really means a lot to her, and she's depressed. I choose Sayori. I wouldn't have done the same in a regular visual novel. I'm hooked at this point.

One day Sayori complains that she's not feeling well and decides to leave the club meeting early. Meanwhile the other girls are discussing preparations for the upcoming festival. Since the player character has not been assigned a specific task,  he's asked to choose which girl he's going to help with preparations over the weekend. After some arguing amongst the girls over who needs help the most, you are prompted with a selection screen. Even though you're given the option to choose between all four girls, Monika and Sayori already agreed to help each other, so ultimately it forces you to choose between Yuri and Natsuki.

The player character is excited that he's going to be spending time with one of the girls outside of school, but is worried about Sayori so he decides to check in on her. He knocks on the front door of her house but she doesn't answer. Oh shit, holy fucking shit, I thought. My stomach turned. The usual cheerful music that had been playing in the background the entire game has stopped. The player character goes up stairs. He opens the door to her bedroom and...

 Image result for doki doki literature club sayori bedroom

...Sayori is alive. The game fakes you out. I felt a sigh of relief wash over me. Her mental state has gotten worse though. She says a number of alarming things and expresses intense feelings of mental anguish. The player character promises he'll do anything he can to help her. Nothing he says seems to do any good though.

Later that day the player character meets up with which ever girl you chose to help with the festival. I chose Yuri, but I don't think it matters who you choose. The game continues as a generic dating sim where the player character shares some awkward flirty moments. Just an air of intimacy. I started thinking about Yuri as my potential waifu again. She does some creepy things which make both me and the player character nervous for a while. In Yuri's case, the player character pricks his finger and she instinctively puts his finger in her mouth and licks the blood off. Personally, if any girl I was into did that, my dick would immediately get hard, but I wouldn't blame anyone for being put off. This is a horror game so that really can't be a good sign.

Sayori stops by and catches the player character having a bit of a moment with whichever girl you chose. After an awkward moment, the other girl leaves and the player character is now alone with Sayori. Sayori is obviously hurt by what she just saw and she confesses that she is desperately in love with the player character. You're left with a choice to accept her confession or let her down gently. I decided to let her down gently. She doesn't take it well.

The way this game handles depression really hits home. Anyone who has known someone suffering depression, or has experienced it themselves, can easily identify with the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness Sayori is expressing here. I've watched dozens of let's play videos on this game, and this is the point where even the most bored players suddenly became engaged/

On the day of the festival, Sayori isn't there to walk to school with the player character like she usually does. The player character contemplates going to check on her but ultimately decides against it thinking that she merely overslept again. The player character arrives at school and has a downright disturbing conversation with Monika where she informs him that she already knows about his encounter with Satori the day before. The player character then notices the poems the girls submitted for the festival. He picks up Sayori's poem and it comes up on the screen. My blood curdles.

The player character rushes to Sayori's house. As he leaves, Monika yells "Don't strain yourself!" He knocks on Sayori's door. No answer. He walks inside and up the stairs to her room. He knocks. He tells himself she must be a heavy sleeper. The player character has an internal struggle over whether or not to open the door. He decides he has no choice. He opens the door and...

Image result for sayori hanging

I saw this coming a mile away and it still couldn't prepare me. The music that plays is a slowed down, distorted version of the theme song.  My skin crawls and my heart hurts even now when I think about it. The cute, bubbly Sayori is hanging lifeless by the neck. There hasn't been one piece of media that has shocked me so effectively. I literally had to hold back tears. The player character is horrified and blames himself. He states that it's not like some game where he can reset and start over. It's almost as if the game is trying to teach us a harsh lesson about the real life ramifications of  trying to court multiple girls at the same time. Love is messy business, and people aren't just machines that you can feed the correct input in to get a desired result. It's like saying "shame on you for playing this tripe in the first place."

(Did I mention how creepy the fucking music is?)

The game ends and takes you back to the title screen where Sayori's character is now a distorted, glitchy amalgamation of all the other girls. At this point, I instinctively tried to load an old save to see if there was any way to keep Sayori from committing suicide, but the game doesn't let you off the hook that easily. Loading an old save will prompt you with a message that Sayori's character file is corrupted or deleted, then force the game to restart.

Image result for doki doki literature club save file corrupted

 You're now back at the beginning, but the game is corrupted and glitches out at any mention of Sayori. It forces yet another reboot where the game starts over and the player states that he's always walked home alone.

(This is a review in progress, and I'll be talking about act 2 shortly)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Friday, January 19, 2007


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pork City

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fan Art.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006