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Warning: The game I’m about to talk about is not for minors, people who aren’t up for handling intense themes or really bothered by suicide and self-harm.
Doki-Doki Literature Club (henceforth “DDLC”) is a “visual novel” game that appears, at first, to be another game following the “Dating Sim” trope. Released in 2017, it has been a cult hit and free-to-play. That all being said: It is not a dating sim game, it’s cleverly packaged computer/horror.
Suffice it to say, if you’re not into it, you can read a summary of the game and the various acts it goes through on this wiki, or watch any of the playthroughs on YouTube. Honestly, you’re not missing much “gameplay” by doing so. I will be discussing spoiler like material, so if you want to play blind, read no further. Otherwise, it’s a almost three-year old game, get over it.
One of the biggest shocks, and painful moments of the game (and there are many) is the death of Sayori. While I’m sure not everyone who plays the game is sympathetic to every character, I identified with her especially.
You see, Sayori is depressed. Deeply so. She hides it behind a carefully designed mask of cheerful aloofness. This throws people off, even if she lets the mask slip (on purpose, or by accident). Her behavior of sleeping in, clumsiness and desire for others to be happy is a really clever cover and one that I identify with. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to see through it. As the kids say: Game recognizes game.
DDLC even goes so far as to drag you into a false sense of relief as you “end” her segment of the game, making you believe that, while not better, things are on the up-and-up. Only to throw it back in your face. I know I was warned. Still, I felt it.
Obviously the game begins to slide right off the rails into surreal horror/computer spookiness, subtexted by realistic people issues. The Yuri character enjoys self harm, which is something people suffer with every day. Natsuki is the child of abuse and neglect and offers up a tough front because of it. All of these characters are sympathetic and probably why the game is so popular. Additionally, the developer did some neat behind the scenes stuff with files in the game directory.
Overall, I really enjoyed the relatively short play through. It’s packaged as a type of game that I’d normally avoid, on principal, but recommendations and mild spoilers directed me otherwise. If you’re not bothered by some of the material in the game, then you’re in for a treat. It’s got more depth than it has any right to, and delivers real emotional stuff in a genre rife with the direct opposite.
The best part is that the game is free to download and play. It runs on Windows, Mac and Linux and if you’re so inclined, the developer has some extra special stuff in the $10 DLC.