A Rare surprise in a saturated genre.
Doki Doki Literature Club is sickly sweet, delightfully briefly. It is not often I am surprised by a game. Of course I had heard things. Dark things that within the first hour seem disturbingly unlikely.
In the first hour Doki Doki Literature Club writes a love letter to your standard anime Japanese dating sims. Overly cute whilst visually alluring to the naked eye, but in the best way. Satchely of Team Salvato does a a magnificent job with the character designs managing the perfect balance between over the top cuteness with menacing undertones.
You begin as the standard silent protagonist. The game then unfolds as a visual novel. You are coerced into a joining a club at your school by your overly chirpy friend.
I will admit the first hour dragged slightly but I plodded on. Doki Doki Literature Club then rewarded me with subtle hints of the madness to come. By the end of the game, of which can only be fully appreciate by multiple completions you are left with a feeling of overwhelming discomfort. At the same time satisfaction that you have just been treated to something special.
In my five reasons to play I shall attempt to outline what made this experience so special to me. Whilst doing this I shall not mention any great plots points in the game. Instead I will try and focus more on the mechanics and aesthetics of this diamond in the rough.
1) The Art Style is Positively Enchanting.
As mentioned previously, the first hour of Doki Doki Literature Club is perhaps a little slow. Not in a bad way but more like negotiating a lazy river. One thing that keeps the current moving along nicely is the enthralling art style executed in typical “Kawaii” style popular in Japanese culture. There is an abundance of cuteness on display here and Satchely does a stellar job of engaging our visual mind.
The colours are rich and the character models contrast perfectly the ascent into madness later in the game. There is one moment later in the game where I found it increasingly difficult to look at the screen due to a character’s piercing gaze. Check out some of Satchely’s work by clicking the image above.
2) Doki Doki Literature Club is a short game.
I do not say this as a negative any way. Too often games go out of their way to be as vast as possible, often losing sight of the message. I think back to Final Fantasy XV and though the game is massive there is a lot of barren moments. Open world does not always work. Also in an increasingly busy world of family and important jobs we are limited on our leisure time. It is nice to have a game that caters for this.
Being a visual novel means that the game also cannot be too long as it would begin to drag. The game is almost impeccably paced. Despite the start being slow, it is necessary for the story and to build the ascent into insanity to come later on.
3) The game is exceedingly clever.
I believe part of the enjoyment of the game comes from the clever mechanics of Doki Doki Literature Club. At some stages the game seems to know exactly what you are doing and when you are doing it. Almost peculiarly self aware.
It is possible to see multiple endings through manipulation of the save/load mechanic although there are moments where you feel like you would never want to play this game again through sheer terror it creates.
The game even has code built in should you replay preempting the events you know to come. At some points you I even believed the game was genuinely broken only for it to snap back into normality.
It is difficult to describe this without ruining any key plot points but serious play it once, twice and try different things to see how it turns out.
4) The Best Things in Life are free.
When Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson regaled us with this number I doubt Doki Doki Literature Club was what they had in mind. Yet this game is one of the best experiences of gaming I have had. I wouldn’t say I came out of it feeling happy but I did come out satisfied if not a little uncomfortable.
I know this point may not seem like a major thing but if you really aren’t sure whether this game is your thing you will be no worse off for time and money and who knows you might even become a fan of a new genre. For a free game there are few make make you feel like Doki Doki Literature Club.
5) Genuinely Terrifying
At certain points in Doki Doki Literature Club the hairs stood erect on the back of my neck. It took me a few days to establish where I’d had this feeling before. The closest I could remember was watching David Firth’s “Salad Fingers”. The scene setting and delicate lead up to the horror to come is a credit to the work of Team Salvato.
The coding and production of Dan Salvato has to be commended,
Dan Salvato – Writing, coding, music
Twitter – Twitch – YouTube
Satchely – Character art
Twitter – DeviantArt
Velinquent – Background art
Twitter – Pixiv
The team above builds the perfect lead up to make sure that when the moments come they cause maximum disturbance. Once again it is difficult to go into specifics without giving away too much possibly hampering the experience of newcomers to the game. However rest assured if you are not disturbed by certain scenes in the game. I would question your state of mind at the time of playing Doki Doki Literature Club.