“...the mundane becomes terrifying.”
January 8, 2018 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Doki Doki Literature Club is an uncontrollably horrific visual novel [Polygon] “ It’s a slow burn that begins with you and group of cute girls who must prove that their literature club is worth becoming an official school organization. Of course, your protagonist is hoping to forge new bonds with some of them along the way. The game encourages you to pick a girl to write a poem for, and depending on your choices, you may draw closer to the club’s charming, sweet members. Eventually, true to the game’s advertised content warnings (which you should take seriously, by the way), Doki Doki Literature Club leads you down a dark path, leading to the shocking and emotional death of one character. But in the same moment that it rips your heart open, the game instantly takes a much more unusual twist.”

• Doki Doki Literature Club! hides a gruesome horror game under its cute surface [PG Gamer]
“Doki Doki Literature Club! is one of the few games I’ve ever played that begins with a content warning, and it certainly earns it. Though the first hour or so lulled me into the pleasant rhythms of endless conversations—conversations that might cause a non-VN fan to feel like dozing off—once the terror train gets rolling, it becomes pretty clear that there are some dark dealings going on beneath the endlessly smiling faces of your companions. While the shock value certainly adds to the experience, it rarely comes off as crass or exploitative. Doki Doki takes great care to treat issues like depression and anxiety with more tact and delicacy than its apparent inspirations, like the infamous School Days. The dark side that makes up the main hook of the game doesn’t simply come out of nowhere, though. As I cycled through the game’s events again and again (a classic conceit of the VN genre) I began to realize just how well Team Salvato had sown the seeds for all the bleakness that followed.”
• Doki Doki Literature Club looks like a cute dating sim, but it’s a terrifying horror story [The Verge]
“Doki Doki Literature Club never lets you find your footing again. For example, many players will probably save their games before making big decisions that can make the plot diverge so that they can go back later and take a different route. After the cataclysmic shift in the game, however, this becomes impossible; in this and other ways, it takes these very familiar aspects of this genre of game and makes them feel very alien and dangerous. You have no idea what to expect anymore, but you keep going because you want to know what happens next. This is the genius of Doki Doki Literature Club. While it doesn’t do anything profoundly new in terms of narrative or game design, the way it fits all these elements together is clever in a way that turns the dating sim upside down. This game isn’t going to be for everyone; it goes to some very dark places in some very dark ways. While the warning at the start is meant to mess with your expectations, it’s also serious — but it’s up to you to decide if you should heed it, and risk making your heart go “doki doki.””
• Doki Doki Literature Club Scared Me Shitless [Kotaku]
“Doki Doki Literature Club is a free visual novel that presents itself as a totally normal game, where you’ll meet some cute girls at an after school club. There’s more than meets the eye to this one, though. When I saw a few weeks ago that Doki Doki Literature Club was one of the most popular visual novels on itch.io, I was surprised. While it didn’t look bad it just seemed so… generic. Cute moe girls! After school clubs! These were the kinds of visual novels that I stray away from. Last night, as I played Doki Doki Literature Club, I found myself not just utterly baffled but at times truly distressed. This game plays on your expectations of a cute anime girl visual novel, with its cutesy girls next door, and finds ways to twist them that hurt. It’s impossible for me to try to just tell you not to get invested in any of the characters because they are insidiously charming… until they’re not. This game is probably best experienced if you go in blind,”
• Doki Doki Literature Club is a hidden horror game for the internet age [Rocker Paper Shotgun]
“Even titles that try to pretend they aren’t horror generally add a little nudge and an eyebrow waggle in the screen shots or trailer. They don’t trust their audience enough to dig deep enough or stick around for long enough to discover the game’s true nature for themselves. Doki Doki Literature Club commits to the ultimate trust-fall: that the wildfire-like nature of social media and Let’s Plays can carry a fantastic horror game like this into fame and notoriety. No hints required, apart from that tagline. The game isn’t set up to try and trick you, though. Instead, it sets you up for the perfect fall – one that relies on you knowing you’re playing a horror game. Inevitably, you start to get comfortable. The lilted music gets to be familiar. The game even pokes fun at classic Japanese romance game tropes. Boobs are grazed by accident, and failures in translation are pointed out. You start to learn that the girls you’re struggling to woo are akin to actual people. You start to like them. Just a little. Just enough.”
• Doki Doki Literature Club Is the Most Messed Up Horror Game You'll Play This Year [GQ]
“I don't scare easy, but I can say with great certainty this is one of the scariest games I have ever played. Game might be a stretch. it's been referred to elsewhere as a "visual novel," let's not quibble about the fact every novel is visual, but to me it's more like a movie with keystrokes. The interaction, even on a base level, makes this game scarier the more fucked up it gets. As darker and darker hints are dropped throughout your conversations with the girls (one of whom gives a tremendously weird monologue about how beautiful knives are), the endless space bar mashing makes you feel like you are marching yourself towards certain doom. To say just how Doki Doki reveals itself as a horror game would be to ruin the dozens of twists and surprises it throws at you. But it doesn't go where you think, or even suspect. There is betrayal and some gruesome violence, but that's the tip of the iceberg.”
• A Virtual Page Turner [Girls on Games]
“Doki Doki Literature Club isn’t a game about romance – it’s a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style meditation on self-aware technology. It’s smart, it’s haunting, and it’ll keep you on your toes as you try to save the game’s characters… including yourself. You start the game as a loser at a Japanese high school: you don’t have many friends, and you spend all your spare time watching anime. One day, though, your neighbor Sayori persuades you to come to her new after-school club. (Sayori, of course, is bubbly, adorable, and devoted to you, even though you seem like a crappy friend.) The literature club only has three other members: Natsuki, a scrappy, plain-spoken manga fan; Yuri, a doe-eyed gothic horror devotee; and the president, Monika, a popular girl who also loves modern poetry. Oh, and they’re all super into you. Will you write your way into their hearts? the game’s Steam teaser text says. Heck yeah you will, because despite how selfish and bumbling you seem, you are a chick magnet. Except that the story doesn’t unfold quite right.”
posted by Fizz (38 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Aww, boo :(

Remove if necessary.
posted by Fizz at 10:57 AM on January 8, 2018

Wow, this sounds incredible. Thanks for all the links (even if double)!
posted by Existential Dread at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2018

I have it installed, just haven't really played it as I am not a VN kind of guy.
posted by Samizdata at 11:09 AM on January 8, 2018

Mod note: Eh, this is a nice roundup of new content since then, let's run with it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on January 8, 2018 [15 favorites]

Huh! I'm not sure I had noticed the term "visual novel" before.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:18 AM on January 8, 2018

Not just to agree with cortex but.... the first post was more of a "Here's this new thing!" kind of post. Now that the subject has become more famous (or infamous as the case may be), the second post seems justified. Also, the original post was (in my opinion) frustratingly coy with the true nature of the game.

As for the game? When I thought it was just a visual novel dating sim it wasn't for me. Now that I know that it's really a gruesome violent horror game, I know it's REALLY not for me. If I had tried this on the basis of that previous thread's sly recommendations, I'd be quite upset. Fortunately someone spoiled the gimmick ahead of time, because of the experiences I think I'm better off not having, this game absolutely sounds like one of them.
posted by JHarris at 11:21 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

A tedious dating sim morphing into a horrific scare-fest reminds me of the movie Audition, which I saw for the first time recently and liked despite myself. The tonal shift really made me uneasy and gave the horror that much more impact. I might give this a try...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:25 AM on January 8, 2018 [10 favorites]

Man, I'm with JHarris on this one. I have such a hard time with being told that media with a horrifying twist/surprise is best enjoyed without prior knowledge of what the twist or surprise is.

In case anyone else is interested in having the twist explicitly spoiled for them, you can check out the Wikipedia page. The twist is something that I have hella trauma around and if I went in blind to playing this game, it would have been unimaginably shitty and triggering for me. I am glad that the game itself has a content warning, and I wish more media did; it sucks to value "no spoilers" over people's mental health.
posted by ITheCosmos at 11:43 AM on January 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

I like horror games but that 4th wall breaking stuff would have messed with me in a not fun way. After reading the wikipedia summary, this is one I'm definitely noping out of. Super cool concept though.
posted by treepour at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

DDLC was really well done and hits hard with the dark and horrifying elements. Definitely not for everyone - it's a level of disturbing content well beyond where most "horror" is willing to go. I didn't find much of it surprising, more that the game would hint at something horrible, play on the implicit assumption that it couldn't possibly go there, and then follow through with a vengeance.
posted by allegedly at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2018

Sounds like reason to...*puts on sunglasses*...DOKI DOKI PANIC.

posted by Strange Interlude at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

OK, I'm going to try to step delicately here. It's difficult because I'm trying to avoid spoiling myself too much, though maybe that's a lost cause.

It seems like this VN has been pretty straightforward about having horror elements, and the previous post introduced it specifically as a horror game, but JHarris refers to the original post being "frustratingly coy" and ITheCosmos seems to have additional issues here--is it that while either or both of you might be fine with horror in general, there are specific things here that a horror warning alone would not be enough to help with?

I, personally, often *do* have a different experience when unspoiled versus spoiled, and would like to be able to get the unspoiled experience, but on the other hand, I don't want that to come at others' expense. My preferred method for dealing with this is for marketing to give a general idea of relevant issues (like indicating that something has horror elements), without specifics, but if that's failing here, I'm wondering how to approach it.

Personal anecdote: My wife is fanatically anti-spoiler, but she has a few distinct trigger issues, so if I or my eldest learn about something she wouldn't like, we guide her away from it...but it's not perfect, as my eldest recently advised her against something she decided to watch anyway and had no problems with at all.
posted by Four Ds at 12:01 PM on January 8, 2018

Between this and Dream Daddy Simulator, I've been seeing a lot of people who apparently have no experience of VN / dating sim genres playing these and experiencing them as though they were sui generis. I think Doki Doki particularly relies on subverting the stock characters of the genre, so it's strange for me to imagine.

There's a short portion in the middle where I thought it might be a reasonably sensitive portrayal of mental illness, but then it veers more into exploitation, so ... I might warn people about that.

Should we revive the FanFare narrative games club?
posted by RobotHero at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Huh! I'm not sure I had noticed the term "visual novel" before.

It's an old genre, at least in Japan, dating back to the early 1990. If these "minimal gameplay" games sound interesting and you like horror games, there's a visual novel sub-genre with some notable games, per Wikipedians.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

If these "minimal gameplay" games sound interesting and you like horror games, there's a visual novel sub-genre with some notable games, per Wikipedians.

Also, consider picking up a used Vita. While the Vita isn't getting too much support these days (Sony likes to pretend it never existed), there are a ton of older games specifically of this genre available to play. With the popularity of the Switch, you'd likely find a Vita on the cheap. It's still a great system and worth picking up.

What I'm saying is that if you like JRPGs and Visual Novels as a video game genre, you'll really enjoy the Vita.
posted by Fizz at 12:32 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm still thinking about this game. And that's because to me, it's got a very different message when you've found out the 'deeper' message. A deeper message that actually makes it more shallow.

To back up a little, I really enjoyed my playthrough because it really dug out the hidden horror of VN - female characters who only exist as wish fulfillment for the male player character.

If you're reading this you've (hopefully) played the game through already but if not, the twist is that one of the female characters who was not meant to be a romantic option is so obsessed with the physical real world player, that she takes over the game and kills off everyone else - removes them from the code.

As meta commentary, imagine being a person in a VN, imagine if you were actually sentient and your whole being was about 'loving' this non-existent, entirely distanced and omnipotent player human. You'd go insane. Because it is an insane, twisted world that's been made.

This is apparently not what the game is about. Or at least, this is not the 'deeper lore'. There's a good Game Theory (I know) rundown but to summarise: if you puzzle through the game files and the extra artboards it turns out the characters in this game come from another game, a game which is yet to be released. There's a lot that's speculation but essentially: the other game is a torture laboratory that has driven the characters insane in a way that reaches across the gameworlds.

I normally love this kind of metatextuality but it mostly undermines the feminist-ish VN reading that I enjoyed. I'm still trying to work out if the two readings can co-exist and of course, who knows what the future game will hold. But for now, while I like the intricacy of the 'deeper lore' it's sticking in my craw.
posted by litleozy at 12:57 PM on January 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

Note to anyone reading this - if you haven't played it, and have any inkling of interest, then leave this thread, learn nothing more, and go for it. Take the content warning seriously, and play until you see the credits. It is truly an exceptional experience. Heck, you don't even need to play - just finding a good stream and watching that will do wonders. GTLive has some good streams on YouTube - the full length ones if you have the time, but the shorter trimmed ones work too.

The toughest part is sticking with the game long enough. Trust me, it takes the right amount of time to do what it does.

Now, is there any good way to discuss the game here without spoiling it for anyone? Because it's definitely not something I'd ever want to spoil.
posted by evilangela at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2018

It's a terrific game, but it's far less creepy when you know the twist is coming. The only problem is that the sort of people who would enjoy DDLC would probably not buy it without knowing that things get weird. I ended up respecting it a bit more than enjoying it because it's a bit of a one-trick pony.

But it's still pretty cool. I got my friend at Epic to give it a try and he went and spread the word there on all the internal fora. So if the next version of the Unreal engine has a few...surprises...you can definitely attribute that to me.
posted by Edgewise at 1:11 PM on January 8, 2018

I have never played a VN, and am inexperienced with JPRGs in general. Given my lack of knowledge of the form and genre, would the game's subtleties go completely over my head? Meta-narratives are certainly in my deranged wheelhouse, so this post has me intrigued.
posted by mkhall at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2018

I have never played a VN, and am inexperienced with JPRGs in general. Given my lack of knowledge of the form and genre, would the game's subtleties go completely over my head? Meta-narratives are certainly in my deranged wheelhouse, so this post has me intrigued.

No. One of the things the game does well is to help people with no experience with dating sims and VNs get comfortable with the format and the mechanics. Breaking the rules doesn't have as much impact if someone doesn't know those rules.
posted by evilangela at 1:57 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I made a FanFare post if people want somewhere for spoiler-heavy discussion.
posted by RobotHero at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic post!
Also, the original post was (in my opinion) frustratingly coy with the true nature of the game.
I posted that and I still think the content warning is enough to guess the true nature of the game. It's the one aspect of the game that can be spoiled without feeling bad about it since the warning is everywhere you can find the game.

How it achieves its horror, that's another story, but I didn't find it particularly gruesome outside of one scene.

I think it's the only game I have ever played that has managed me to give me nightmares.
Now, is there any good way to discuss the game here without spoiling it for anyone? Because it's definitely not something I'd ever want to spoil.
Sadly no, which is unbelievably frustrating, I really want to read what y'all think about the game. Maybe a Fanfare post?
posted by Memo at 2:35 PM on January 8, 2018

A Fanfare post, you say?
posted by RobotHero at 3:06 PM on January 8, 2018


I went in with no idea of what the game was like since I heard that was the best way to play it. I just thought it would be gory or something, like Saya (which I've never played). In the first run-through of Doki Doki, the protagonist's childhood friend kills herself suddenly, despite your efforts to make her feel better. I thought that was pretty shocking, because of the tone of the game and the art-style, and a tiny bit upsetting. But the gameplay seems interesting.
posted by typify at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2018

The following is Me Stuff. It might also turn out to be You Stuff, but these are my personal objections to it. I realize how hard it is to make a truly different and interesting game in this age of endless copycats. But, these are issues I actually have. They aren't me just trying to dump on this noble and popular experiment, which we, by all means, need more of, but just, here is how I feel, and the reasons I would not have enjoyed this if I had tried it.

On the warning on the post: it says not suitable for children or the easily disturbed. That could mean multiple different things. Not-for-children could mean sexual content, which one could actually assume from the premise--eroge visual novels are a thing, after all. I don't seek them out, especially not in this kind of wish-fulfillment harem setting visual novels often are, but they're not necessarily a deal breaker. Being not for the "easily disturbed" is even less helpful, and could mean anything from exploding zombie brains to goatse. I read HP Lovecraft, but I don't find it *disturbing*, and a lot of horror stuff bounces off of me, but gruesomeness, gore, blood and graphic violence I am absolutely not going to enjoy.

And fourth-wall breaking computer stuff, well, to me that's breaking the contract a resident of my computer makes with me when I install it: DON'T pretend to be closed when you are in fact running! I make it a point to kill memory-resident parts of programs like Adobe Reader, OpenOffice and MS Office when I find them. A program has no idea what I'm going to be doing with my machine after I close it, it could be Serious Work Things, I don't want it intruding on my pitiful efforts to make a living. If I had closed the game in an effort to stop the ride, and it had kept going, I would be furious.

For this game, the original thread fell into a weird place for me. Going by its itch.io page, I wouldn't have tried it, because I don't get into visual novels. But the thread seemed to be saying, wow, you're missing out if you don't try this game!! (btw not for kids or easily disturbed). Am I easily disturbed? How easily is too easily? Everyone really seems like they like this game! Maybe I should take a chance....

....ah! This kind person, slimepuppy, says it's actually pretty hardcore horror (I identify the phrase "the warnings are no joke" as the key tip-off sentence), and is careful about who to recommend it to! Okay, that sounds like enough reason to sit this one out. Let's not take chances.

Again, I love that this game exists, and that people enjoy it, and I wish the best for its success and that of its creators. I really wish my objections didn't exist, but they do, and I feel a responsibility to note them.
posted by JHarris at 4:51 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just downloaded (have avoided reading most of this thread). Holy shit; those content warnings are serious business. I'm honestly not sure whether I'm going to play it.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:32 PM on January 8, 2018

I mean, seriously:
If you made it this far due to concern for your mental health, then it's best to assume that this game is not suitable for you, and you should not play this game.

Thank you for your consideration, and be safe.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:35 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's also probably among the top 10 most highest rated games on Steam of all time - 97% positive ratings out of over 60,000 reviews. My favorite game of the year, I feel giddy just thinking about it, one of the scariest moments in gaming I've had, it is such an intelligent game. It's easy for me if I know someone isn't ever going to play this game, because I'd just straight up tell them all the crazy innovative things it did that I'd never seen done before in 30 years of gaming.

This is not technically a spoiler - but the final note from the author (yes it's made by one guy, like Stardew Valley or Undertale was) when you 100% complete the game is quite touching.

"For years, I have been enamored by the ability of visual novels - and games in general - to tell stories in ways not possible using traditional media. Doki Doki Literature Club is my love letter to that. Games are an interactive art. Some let you explore new worlds. Some challenge your mind in brand new ways. Some make you feel like a hero or a friend even when life is hard on you. Some games are just plain fun - and that's ok too.

Everyone likes different kinds of games. People who enjoy dating sims may have a heightened empathy for fictional characters or they might be experiencing feelings that life has not been kind enough to offer them. If they are enjoying themselves, then that's all that matters. That goes for shooting games, casual games, sandbox games - anything. Preferences are preferences and our differences are the reason we have a thriving video game industry.

My own favorite games have always been ones that challenge the status quo. Even if not a masterpiece any game that attempts something wildly different may earn a special place in my heart. Anything that further pushes the limitless bounds of interactive media.

I extend my true gratitude to all those who have taken the time to achieve full completion. I hope you enjoyed playing it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Thank you for being a part of my Literature Club!"

posted by xdvesper at 6:54 PM on January 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's made me think about horror as a genre, more generally.

I think ironically this game is more effective when you DO know it's a horror game rather than have it come as a surprise - that way, you pick up all the subtle hints the game is doling out at you which you would otherwise have dismissed. So I'm not afraid of telling people straight up it's a horror game.

Psychological horror as a genre is tied to the subversion of expectations - they need to put you in a safe / comfortable space to get inside your defenses. Think about a horror movie, where the protagonist runs into a room they think is safe and close the door, and THAT is when the audience defenses are down. They cannot do that if you were not familiar with the genre to begin with. So someone with no experience with Visual Novels, for example, will have their guard "up" all the time (since they have no expectations to begin with). Hence I feel a little weird seeing people recommend this to people who don't play VNs, it's a bit like recommending Evangelion to someone who hasn't watched anime before that era? It's still great, I guess, but not as great as it could be.

And I think finally it's very much tied to the loss of control and helplessness. If anything, this game has demonstrated that we're really only scratching the surface when it comes to how creative interactive fiction can get. For me, the creepiest / scariest parts were never hinted at in any of the reviews, and neither were the best parts, and I wonder if the reviewers are just deliberately not talking about it or missed them entirely.

I want to start my own Literature Club now...
posted by xdvesper at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think I went into enough detail about DDLC in the previous thread, but I found these two quotes from the last two reviews amusing:

"I had complex conversations with each of the girls about what makes a good poem, and why people write, and how reading brings people together. They’re the kind of high-minded conversations an English teacher would die to have in their class."


"At times it even like a slog, clicking through endless amounts of inane, flirty conversation about poetry."
posted by one for the books at 8:55 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Spoilers I guess.....

Didn't work for me. I got to the extended, isolated, boring part and couldn't figure out how to end it. Thought that might have been the point, but I read some additional commentary and I think it isn't? I guess I was supposed to find character files or something, but I only know that from external commentary. I'm an oldschool Unix guy. I know how to find my way around my computer, but I just couldn't be bothered.

I got bored and quit. There were disturbing themes, and some weird disorienting glitchy effects, but I didn't get to anything that I'd call horror.

Send me a message if you thing I'm missing something critical.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:02 AM on January 9, 2018

Sounds like Madoka Magicka by way of Audition. I'm intrigued.
posted by naju at 7:09 AM on January 9, 2018

I am morbidly fascinated by this but too chicken to actually play it (see also: David Cronenberg movies). Is the plot summary on Wikipedia complete or are there additional horrors being omitted by reviewers, as xdvesper suggests above?
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:25 AM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to figure out if this is the Undertale of visual novels, or if the Undertale of VNs would more be like "The VN where you don't have to date anyone!"
posted by FJT at 12:02 PM on January 9, 2018

I mean... you're not exactly dating anyone in Doki Doki Literature Club, are you? So maybe that's exactly what this is.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2018

The Undertale of VNs would be one where you eventually realize you need to take a break from dating and work on yourself.
posted by RobotHero at 1:35 PM on January 9, 2018

Played it through last night and I couldn't stop (but wanted to stop hitting the space bar because I started getting freaked out about what might happen anytime I moved on to the next moment). I gasped a couple of times and had disturbing dreams about some of the characters later (nothing specific - just that they were in my dreams at all). Because I knew it was a horror game, this feeling of anxiety started early which frequently made even the mundane interactions worrisome.

Reaction to horror - like reaction to comedy or really any genre - is a personal thing based on your own experiences, baggage, mood, etc. DDLC really, really worked for me, but I suspect my friends who prefer other kinds of scares (or hate scares in general) would find it meh or even baffling. Life's rich tapestry, you know?
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:08 PM on January 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Flannery Culp - I'll write up a bit more of my experience in the currently mostly empty Fanfare Thread
posted by xdvesper at 4:06 PM on January 9, 2018

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