Towards the end of 2017, it seemed like everyone was talking about a visual novel named Doki Doki Literature Club. At first glance, it seemed like another by-the-numbers, cliché filled dating sim but for the warning that stood in stark contrast to the game’s cutesy aesthetic: “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed”.
You’d be forgiven for dropping this game in the opening hour.
Up until this point, DDLC is exactly what you might expect. Four girls to choose from, dates to go on, yadda yadda yadda. However, as the school culture festival approaches, tensions begin to rise until they culminate in lunacy not seen since Higurashi When They Cry.
Each character fits a visual novel archetype. Natsuki, for instance, is your classic tsundere and will act exactly as you’d expect her to. However, the dialogue is surprisingly nuanced and there are hints scattered throughout that allow you to (at least partially) work out what’s going on. This game loves to drop clues which will come back to haunt you, and Yuri even points this out to the player, remarking “Isn’t it amazing how a writer can so deliberately take advantage of your own lack of imagination to completely throw for you a loop?”.
Nothing is set in stone. Visual novel mainstays are subverted all the time, with the user interface, character models, and even the text subject to unexpected changes.
That said, this isn’t a typical jump-scare game.
Rather, it has a far more insidious method of scaring the player – some things only happen randomly while others are so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Perhaps the most terrifying thing, though, is the implications of the game’s big twist. Without going into spoiler territory, DDLC is a game that makes you think about what a visual novel is.
Like the best visual novels, DDLC has some degree of replayability, not just because of the different dates you can go on, but because there are several secret endings that take lots of experimentation to unlock.
It’s funny how a game initially created to poke fun at the tropes found in anime and visual novels has become one of the most popular indie titles of 2017. Visual novels are not particularly popular in the West, yet DDLC has been downloaded more than a million times. Part of its success is undoubtedly due to the number of popular Youtubers that have played it, but it could signal a new interest in the medium from fans who otherwise would never have even considered playing something like this.
Doki Doki Literature Club is a game best experienced for yourself. It’s free on Steam and only takes a few hours to finish so if you get a chance, you should definitely check it out. One thing is certain: this is a game you will not soon forget.