|Posted by sm64provider on November 9, 2017 at 2:25 AM|
I don't usually write reviews about new games, but after completing this game fairly recently these thoughts have been circulating around my head, so prepare yourself for a more serious review than the other games on this page.
Doki Doki Literature Club starts out as your run of the mill Japanese Dating Sim. In fact it does it so well that the opening disclosure 'This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.' feels drastically out of place. You start off this dating sim like every other dating sim by giving the game your name and I guess going to school (To be fair, I don't play these kinds of games because they're a bit too cheerful and cute for me).
Ok, SPOILER WARNING! I will be rather blunt in this review, but only because of something the game does that has pissed me off (which is the reason I even want to write this review) so be warned...
Shall we start the spoilers?
The only thing other than the dating sim part I knew about was that apparently the game REALLY begins after one of the main characters die. So I stopped reading the review at that point and went to download this game myself as it seemed interesting enough. The game is FREE by the way, but I donated $1 just because I figured it was better than nothing. The game is available here ddlc.moe. There's like, a solid 2 or so hours of dialogue before anything 'bad' happens, and if it wasn't for the opening disclosure INCLUDING the disclosure agreement in the game 'By playing Doki Doki Literature Club, you agree that you are at least 13 years of age, and you consent to your exposure of highly disturbing content.', you'd think this was a solid visual novel dating sim.
So, continuing my original synopsis, you start off walking to school. You're joined with your bubbly, childhood friend Sayori. Today is the day you decide to join a club and while you're at it, look for a girlfriend and Sayori sort of persuades you to end up coming to the literature club, with the offer of free cupcakes being what wins you over. I think just before that happens, your character takes a moment to button up Sayori's blazer as she never does them up, to discover that her boobs are too big for it. She blames it on her laziness, the same excuse for her never getting up for school on time.
Before making a decision to even join this club, you arrive there and are greeted by not the club's leader, but the only other members; 2 girls. Btw, I think everyone is like 14? Although to be fair, Natsuki does look 12. Natsuki is the girl who offers you the cupcakes and welcomes you to the club in a very 'tsundere' way (as specifically described later in the game by Monika), and the other character Yuri with her umm...quiet nature? She's later described as 'Yandere' but that just means a person is crazy about someone else to the point of violence. Yuri is the typical kind of character who is quiet, has big boobs, quite smart, has long dark hair and keeps to themselves. Sakaki from AzuManga Diaoh is the same character essentially.
Ok, so far, everything is normal, the characters introduce themselves in a very natural way, there is no Engrish type stuff here, everything is loving and genuine. Monika shortly arrives, apologising for being late due to Piano lessons and then your character is asked to join the club. Because it's now too awkward to say no, you end up joining making everyone thrilled, especially Sayori. I'm forgetting the order of events here but I guess it's not really important. Over the course of the next few days, you do the following: write a poem, share it and read other characters poems, hang out with Natsuki and her Manga collection, hang out with Yuri (I think it depends what timeline you're on), help prepare for a festival where you promote the event (choosing who to help) and some other minor slice of life stuff. In the timeline I chose, I wanted to get close to Natsuki partially because she reminded me of one of my ex's, partially because I guess I liked her personality. Is that weird?
After choosing to help Natsuki with the festival preparations (which you never get to see, almost like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask because fo the doomsday event), you exchange phone numbers. At this point I was trying to figure out who dies, and why. Does Yuri kill someone? No, that'd be too obvious right? Wouldn't she also be the most freaked out by murder? Hmm, or maybe someone commits suicide? Or maybe it's more natural like a car crash or high school shooting? I knew whatever it was, it'd be organic given this games nature so far. Anyway, the character makes a comment on Natsuki's writing style, using Emoji's or something, I forget and that she was planning to come over to make cupcakes and not the other way around! So she comes over, you make cupcakes, flirt a little innocently, it's basically 'puppy love'? and then because it took so long to make and bake the cupcakes, Natsuki is out of time and can't stay any longer even though she wishes she could because her life is bad at home, and her father is horrible to her (reminding me of my ex again), but will be punished if she isn't home for teatime soon. You both go outside, have a brief moment where I think you almost kiss? (I'm trying to remember) and Sayori intervenes out of nowhere. Natsuki flees.
Sayori reveals that she's happy for you two, and happy you joined the club, but that her heart hurts. She doesn't know why but she felt that if she didn't ask you to the club then you and her wouldn't spend much time together which also hurt her heart. Your character asks what's wrong and she said she was too worthless to have anyone worried about her (This character REALLY reminds me of a friend when I was in Secondary School. I'll just call her MM). You then convince her she needs to tell you, and basically force her to. She says she has depression, and has all her life. She takes medication and has counselling (I think?), and it's the real reason she struggles to get out of bed. Her excuse of being 'lazy' is just a cover for her depression and she doesn't know what she wants right now, other than us the player to be happy. To force us to do anything else would be too selfish and she's basically in a lose-lose situation, saying if she killed herself everyone would be happier as she's a burden (Again, like my friend). You get a choice now. Say she'll always be your dearest friend, fulfilling her earlier request of wanting everything to return to the way things were before, just being friends again, or you can tell her you love her fulfilling her obvious desire for you.
At this point I understood the game's nature now. The warning message. This game is about the cruel reality of depression, how it's about an invisible illness and how someone can be bubbly on the outside, but be hiding scars and suicidal tendencies from their friends, how even if they get 'help' and take meds, this is still a frightful daily struggle for millions and is unfortunately 'normal' as sickening as that is. This reminded me of the time 7 years ago when MM was telling me something similar, about why she was missing from school for 5 months. 5 whole months! I had to take a break from this game to read up on what little MSN convos of us I had saved, as well as her Facebook posts and some other stuff? I felt really bad for Sayori, I really connected with her based on this past experience (except I was the one attracted to MM, not the other way around. I said I wanted to be friends, but she actually rejected me haha 'but u want tht to lead to summink' and 'u want more than tht'). After realising this I wondered where the game could possibly go from here if she commited suicide? Because I had already figured out that no matter what you tell Sayori, it was game over for her (Be friends = ignore what her heart wants, make her feels useless, kill herself. Be lovers = tell her what she wants to hear, make her feel like she's being selfish and holding you back, kill herself). Except NOOOOOOOOO, the game wasn't trying to give a narrative on depression. It was actually something stupid. The whole premise of this game was stupid, and I can't explain what I'm even talking about right now because it fits into the end of my review and not here. For word fluidity, I'm going to continue writing about my thought process about what this game MIGHT have been, before dropping the bomb of disappointment.
I told Sayori I wanted to be friends and for things to return to normal, knowing her fate. The next day your character goes to school without Sayori, thinking she overslept again because this guy is oblivious. I don't mean that as an insult, he has reason to be. The only reason I know it isn't because she overslept is from the warning message and experience he doesn't have. You make it to school with your cupcakes/Yuri's decorations or whatever happens in her timeline/ is Monika even a choice? And Sayori isn't there, surprise. I think Monika is the first to greet you, even though she has a habit of 'being late' as you'll come to learn through playing this game. You deliver the cupcakes and Monika basically says she knows what happened between you two yesterday and that you should probably go check on her as 'you kind of left her hanging this morning, you know?' She then tells you that she's finished printing off the pamphlets. You pick one up and find the poem equivalent of a suicide note by Sayori in there. Panicked, you feel the need to check on Sayori and zip off.
You find Sayori in her room. Her parents don't seem home. You check her in her room and...she's hanging. from the ceiling, by her neck, already dead from suffocation. I didn't even notice Monika's poor taste in play-on-words choice there. I was shocked but knew something like this would happen. The character basically says fuck everything and the game just...ends. But it doesn't end, time resets, but at the same time it doesn't...
Ok, that's uhh...fine. Where do we go from here? Do we now get to see the events after the festival? Like, Yuri reveals she has depression from having to deal with Sayori dead now and cuts herself, bleeding to death? Causing Natsuki to no longer feel the club is her safe space, also commiting suicide like a mexican-wave of despair? Ending with another disclaimer from the game where it says something like:
'Despair is an invisible illness. Statistics from the Jason Foundation have found that there are 5,240 attempted suicides by kids in grades 7-12 daily. If you see a friend who you think is depressed, please call the national helpline service on 1-800-784-2433'
...or something. But guess what? The answer is NO. The game does not do this because that would be too clever. In fact, the game BREAKS CHARACTER and goes for a CHEAP story-arc type deal involving a villain. Why. WHY? This is wasted potential and I am mad. They have a villain end up basically admitting 'they killed themselves because of me! I manipulated them, and have hacked time and space to make me a God!' Ok I'm getting ahead of myself here, this belongs at the end of the review. But basically the villain is the same concept as Flowey from Undertale. If you know who that is you pretty much know how this is going to play out, including the multiple timelines bit...except instead of guilt tripping you like Flowey did, this villain trades that for alluring you because they love you.
So time resets, and you're taken to the title screen but uhh, it's a little glitchy. Sayori's sprite is a mess of squares made from two of the others in an uncoordinated mess. Your save files are gone so you start a new game. It starts almost like normal but sometimes there are slight jump scare moments, and any mention to Sayori is replaced with a random string of text, and any story involved with her is re-written as if she never existed, and I think Monika ends up bumping into you and introducing you to the club. This time they want you to join because the club needs 4 people, Sayori would have been the 4th, so you join. The game plays mostly the same but there are maybe 2 instances where characters dialogue have text that has an extremely thick outline, usually being dialogue that is changed to be more negatively emotional. 1 such instance is where Natsuki is saying how she keeps her manga in the club and not at home because "My dad would beat the shit out of me if he found this.". I was a little surprised everytime this happened becaue OMG WHAT HAPPENED TO HER EYES AND MOUTH, WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT. Is Natsuki a robot powered by black, smokey squiggles? Monika comes over CASUALLY like you do when a human being stops being a human being, and gives her a chocolate bar. "If you're interested in Natsuki, then always keep a snack on you." explaining that she passed out due to low energy as her father doesn't feed her (This reminds me of my ex again. I don't know anything about the stepdad she hated, but she used to get so hungry she would steal from shops. I used to give her some of my packed lunch, I felt really bad for her).
Next she gets up and it's time to present our poems to each other. I don't think anything was off here. I'm not sure? But it's what happens after. Natsuki and Yuri get into the same argument as last time. Before it was barely an argument, more like Natsuki being stubborn and Yuri standing up for herself over something they disagreed on? It was a bit cute. This time, it was a catfight of words (actually something closer to what my ex would've gotten herself into) "Me? Look who's talking you wannabe edgy bitch!" Natsuki says to Yuri. Yuri makes a comment on Natsuki's dad not feeding her and how she's really thin or something? It gets aggressive. Before it ends Monika steps In front of the dialogue box (is she allowed to do that?) "Why don't we step outside for a little bit?" as the 'game' fades away in the background. Wut. Oh by the way, in this timeline I tried getting with Yuri (picking keywords for the poem your character writes trying to target Yuri, but staying away from the scary words WHICH does seem to change how things play out later. Words like 'Ambient', 'Universe' and 'Disaster', 'scars' are both Yuri words, but are different sides of her). So if targeting Natsuki in this second playthrough yields a different timeline I'm sorry I'm not covering it here.
After the vicious argument, Natsuki comes out of the classroom where you and Monika are standing. She has tears running down her face and she just flees. Going into the classroom where Yuri is, she is seen chanting "I didn't mean it..." over and over, as if she had been in a trance. Yep, that's true. Unbeknownst to herself and Natsuki, they were both being controlled. Manipulated is kind of the wrong word here, even if accurate. She apologises and everyone goes home. The next day she apologises again, this time to Natsuki who's casually reading a manga. Natsuki is confused. She has no memory of the argument. At all. None, so she just accepts the apology to get Yuri to shut up. Monika arrives late! Woo! I know what you were really doing, and it wasn't masturbating or 'Piano' lessons. Things have returned to normal, for the most part. Yuri asks to read a book with you. After agreeing she offers to make a cup of tea and leaves the room to get water for the kettle. 10 minutes later you find her elsewhere in the building, cutting herself. She freaks out. Suddenly time rewinds like on a VHS tape and you're back in the classroom waiting for her. She comes back with the pitcher. Was that moment paranoia? Is the game going to have her kill herself next?
You get ready to read the book and end up sitting on the floor because she's too embarrased to tell you that her boobs give her back problems when reading comfortably at a desk. Similar to Natsuki, you sit next to each other against a wall and read almost in sync. Your character helps Yuri eat some chocolate by subtly placing a square in her mouth. Surprised yet endeared, she eats the chocolate, blushes and yanks you to her feet. She talks about her heart pounding and how she can no longer concentrate on reading the book. The lights turn off. She begins describing her confusing feelings (she's definitely in heat right now), she basically shows signs of 'Yandere' toward you. She leans in to take a closer look at your face, and she has hyper-realistic GODDAMMIT eyes that are twitching unnaturally. Suddenly Monika appears, the lights turn back on and Yuri steps back. Time to present our poems, lol! You know, despite this games shitty ending, it does have some brilliant moments like this.
I just realised I'm talking about Yuri WAAY more than Natsuki even though I was interested more in Natsuki. Whatever haha. To keep things short, Yuri gradually gets crazier and crazier, to the point Natsuki and Monika both warn you to keep away as the more excited she gets, the more emo she becomes, but it happens anyway. She gives you a pretty creepy poem about human eyes splitting open, 6th dimensional gears, a clock ticking 40 times every second tick, there's even a part which says 'a kaleidoscope of blood written in clocks'. It's not even a poem, it's just edgy shit that someone writes when thinking passionately about something. She later reveals that when she wrote that, she was masturbating with a pen she stole from you! What!!
Eventually Friday comes. The festival is on Monday (this is where I found that out), and Yuri scares everyone away from the club. She's basically beyond saving at this point, having gone full psycho. Just after telling you that she wants your poem to give her papercuts so that your skin oils can enter her bloodstream (see what I mean?), she gets out today's knife (Monika says Yuri owns a collection of blades which she cuts herself with) and stabs herself 3 times, bleeding all over the floor, dying instantly. Glitched dialogue fills the dialogue box in front of Yuri's corpse. You can advance text manually, but there's over 1,000 lines of garbled text, so you have to fast-forward using the 'Skip' button. It takes a few minutes, and you see sunset, night, sunrise a few times until Monday comes, meanwhile Yuri's body slowly looses shape and colour, and the blood slowly turns a crusty dark red colour as if your character has just been sitting next to a corpse all weekend. Monday comes and Natsuki is the first there. She screams, and vomits. I thought that artistic choice followed by that payoff was brilliant and would like to see it somehow re-worked into a game about depression. But the moment is instantly ruined by Monika who comes along and decides to break the fourth wall. In fact she says she has control over Doki Doki Literature Club and shows you deleting the Natsuki.chr and Yuri.chr files. WHAT THE FUCK! Game, why? This is your villain I was talking about. The villain is Monika. And by the way, the garbled text Yuri's corpse mumbles is translated in the 'History' tab in game which usually shows a list of recent dialogue. It's Monika talking to you, introducing Doki Doki Literature Club in a loop until Monday comes.
I'll say it again as this is a new paragraph. Monika is the villain of this game, who comes off as sentient, just like Flowey from Undertale. She says her motive was to make the other characters 'crazy' so you'd fall in love with her and no-one else. Sayori was only depressed because Monika changed a few values here and there. Yuri killed herself because Monika changed some of her values too. I'm not sure if anything happens to Natsuki, but yeah, cheap cop-out ending. There's more gameplay after this, where you 'kill' Monika by deleting her file, time resets as if she never existed, blah blah blah, and to get the true ending, you have to start a new game, paste her back in, she deletes herself, paste her back in, she intervenes and then you get a credits sequence where a bunch of important pictures you collect scroll by, getting deleted? The game ends by deleting enough of its files to not be able to launch anymore.
I'm so mad that they went with that kind of sub plot. It's not like people that age actually get depressed and attempt suicide. That speculation I gave earlier? 'Despair is an invisible illness. Statistics from the Jason Foundation have found that there are 5,240 attempted suicides by kids in grades 7-12 daily. If you see a friend who you think is depressed, please call the national helpline service on 1-800-784-2433' Yes, that's real, here's the link to the page I copied some of that dialogue from https://protectyoungeyes.com/snapchat-suicide-social-media-killing-our-kids/ and here's the Jason Foundation link that article links to http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/.
What a wasted opportunity
I don't even know what to rate this game.
The graphics were brilliant, the music was brilliant, the marketing, characters and almost everything else was brilliant, but handling the end of the game the way it did, and structuring the narrative of the game around it is the only thing that let it down.
I'm stuck between a 8/10 and a 5/10, so take your pick