[Doki Doki Literature Club! is a game that deserves to not be spoiled. This blog will have lots of spoilers, so please don’t read it if you haven’t yet played the game. It’s free on Steam, so why not give it a try?]
The only things I knew about Doki Doki Literature Club! before playing it were that it looked like a hundred other dating sims on Steam and that it was “dark.” That was the word that kept coming up when people would talk about it, though they were (thankfully) careful not to say much else. “Dark” is a vague word that can mean many things, so I thought it might deal with more serious subjects than the normal, bubbly dating sims I’ve played. I was intrigued, and it is free on Steam, so I gave it a shot. Man, am I glad I did.
“Dark” is an understatement, really. There are a couple of hints that your best friend, Sayori, is not as she seems, so when you, the player, show up at her house and she explains that she has been suffering from crippling depression for a long time, I was only partially surprised. Was this the darkness people spoke of? Maybe, but I doubted people would go so far as to caution people about a character who is depressed. From that, I correctly guessed that Sayori would probably attempt (and succeed at) suicide, which certainly fits the “dark” descriptor, especially given how dramatically it’s presented. The image of her body is shocking and in your face, and your character does not handle it very well.
But that’s not the true darkness. When Monika breaks the fourth wall prior to the suicide, telling you to make sure that you save your game and things like that, I thought it was just a funny, quirky way of reminding you of certain game mechanics. But, no. She is alive and sentient and killing off the other girls to gain your attention. She starts with Sayori, convincing her to commit suicide, and of course it’s kind of my fault, because she confessed to being in love with me but I was trying to get with Yuri.
So the game starts over with Sayori now gone completely, and what am I to do? I’m of course still shocked and confused by what happened, but I guess I should keep playing, right? So I do, and I keep trying to woo Yuri. Sweet, pretty Yuri. She is lovely, mysterious, shy and a little bit oh my god she is stabbing herself in the chest. Monika has gotten to her as well. And my character sits with her body for two days as cryptic, broken text scrolls continuously on the screen. Yes. This game truly is dark.
I kept playing until it was just Monika and me, her staring into my eyes and explaining that when she gained consciousness and saw me through a small hole (my webcam, I would suppose), she fell in love and wanted to be a part of my world. It was oddly touching. Well, if you discount the fact that she murdered her friends to get the chance.
After I finished the game the first time, I ended up looking up a way to get the best ending and did just that, because I loved the game so much. It was dark, yes, but it did such a good job of leading the player through all of it, and repeated playthroughs yielded fun surprises. The girls’ poems make more sense when you know their backstories, and Monikas’ in particular are very revealing. The game is so successful at deceiving the player because it takes itself so seriously. That’s why it has to be free, too, because it really sells itself as a standard dating sim. The art, the music, the writing – it’s all legitimately solid and convincingly sincere. Better than many of the actual dating sims I’ve seen on Steam, in fact. So charging money for it would only guarantee that many people wouldn’t play it. A lot of people are too meek for dating sims as it is, so even if they hear that this game is “not what you’d expect,” they likely wouldn’t plunk down some money lest they end up playing a typical, bubbly, romance game. So even the pricing and marketing of this game is well thought out. If you watch the trailer, it doesn’t hint at anything sinister. There’s no creepy undertone or “but things aren’t as they seem” tagline. Nope. It’s just what you’d expect from a dating game filled with cute anime girls.
And that’s why the twists are so effective, and why I loved this game so much. It is so unlike any game I’ve ever played. I want everyone I know to play it but recommending it is a tricky thing. The more I tell them to play it, even suggesting that it’s “not what they would expect,” the more I give away the potential for surprise. So I’ll just stay quiet and watch for openings. I’ll be patient and strategic and wait for a good time to strike. Just like Monika taught me.