Note: If you haven't played the game, don't read this. Play the game on Steam, don't use your real name when it asks for your name in the game, then come back here once you are done. Also, if you a person like myself who don't like anime games, I highly recommend you play this one.
For those who want to know real quick what my thoughts are, here they are: holy crap what did I just experience? But let's take a step back to the very beginning of my one day journey through this crazy journey about a literature club at a school.
I don't like anime games, so it's no surprise I passed this one on fast. All I saw was a bunch of pictures of anime girls with a warm and fuzzy description and psychological horror genre tags that I thought were jokes. But it wasn't until recently I discovered through a podcast that the horror tag may be right all along, so I was intrigued. So I loaded it up and shamefully started playing the game. I don't want to be seen with an anime game because of how many anime games on Steam being straight porn. Despite that, I still held onto the hope of this game being greater than all of that. I started playing the game expecting things to be scary as soon as I pressed start, but what I thought would be instant wasn't so instant. After what felt like forever of meeting everyone at the club and whatnot, the scene finally comes for me to do things, and that was when I started to notice its creepy side. For those who decided to read this without playing the game, the game has a mini-game where you are given a list of ten words to chose from, in which the list changes every time you pick a word. You pick twenty words in total that will be used to make a poem that you don't see. The point of this is to choose words that will appeal to one of the girls that you want to appeal to. The horror came from the fact that some of the words were negative. I didn't know at the time that the negative words appeal to Yuri, but I still avoided them and thought that this is the beginning of the end. At this point, I thought I knew how the game would play out to the end because the one thing I knew about this game was that one of the girls hanged herself. Oh man was I so wrong.
When meeting back with the girls, I thought "great, more talking. Let's get to the good stuff." But it was when I read Natsuki's poem on how people try but only just was when I realized what I was missing out of. That was when I started looking forward to the poems. Anyways, another in-game day passes, and I am stuck in another mini-game choosing words that at the time I didn't know had meaning. I go back anticipating more great poems from the girls, only to find them somewhat depressing. To keep things short: the poems get more and more depressing to borderline disturbing, Sayori becomes more and more depressed, and the group gets in more and more fights. All the while, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the moment that I knew about to happen. I just never knew when it would come, and the depressing tension kept mounting. And then, it happened. You walk into Sayori's room to find her hanging from the ceiling. I already knew of the moment, but the way the scene played out still shocked me. I thought the game was done at this point-in-time, I wasn't prepared for what was to come.
I go to leave the game when I noticed the play button as well as one of the girls on the main menu was glitchy. So I clicked that glitched button and started playing again. I see the the very first scene and I think "well, here we go again." But what really ensued was purposeful glitches that creeped me out. Sprites coming in in weird ways, glitch text, the background sometimes slowly twisting, and music that would occasionally slow down for only a second was the stuff showed at the beginning, and it creeped me out so much. I have experienced many horror games in my life time, but this was the time I was holding my hand to my eyes. What was scary to me wasn't the fact that a character would come in glitchy-looking with a strange noise; it was not knowing when it would happen. Not knowing when you will be scared can be said for every horror game, but with every horror game you expect something at every twist and turn. Turning a corner? I bet their is something. Climbing a ladder? I bet their is something at the top. But with this game, it was impossible to tell. You expect something weird to happen, but you can never tell when to expect it, because the game is just a bunch of sliding pictures with no animation. This thought brought a lot of tension to me, because I was just waiting for the next glitch to strike. One thing that Team Salvato did very well was racket up tension. Whenever I see a line that is out-of-place, I get myself prepared for the worst, and it is through their excellent writing they do tension well.
But the beginning glitches are just that: beginning. What ensues for the next hour-or-so truly scared me. It started with talking to Natsuki about a topic I can't remember when all-of-a-sudden bold text that rolled over the normal text saying "my father beats the s--t out of me" and her eyes where blacked out when I really started to lose it. I thought I was good with horror games, why am I so bad now? Soon, things get progressively worse. Next thing you know, Monika is giving me a literature tip that started as a funny fourth wall break then turned into a pop-up message saying "help me." Yuri slowly goes mad, and you see things like realistic eyeballs over her normal eyes and her saying "no one would cry if she killed herself," which of course later turned into Yuri killing herself. And who could forget Natsuki with a scene where she has no face while she is telling you disturbing things, with that part ending with her neck suddenly snapping. This part in particular left me breathless. And the poems, oh the poems. What went from excitement soon turned into fear of seeing what is next.
This is really weird to say and I almost hate myself for saying this because of other great horror games, but Doki Doki Literature Clubis one of the best horror games I have ever played. The reason why I say this is because it scares me in ways that to me is much more impressive and effective than any other horror game I have ever played. Instead of throwing you into a dark setting, Doki Doki puts you intoa school classroom with normal girls. Where horror games go with jump scares or makes you powerless and pits you against a monster to scare, this one used its writing and purposeful glitchiness to build tension that both had me on the edge of my seat and covering my eyes. Team Salvato turned an anime visual novel game into an effective horror piece, and I respect that. But when you thought this crazy journey was over, the scary turns into the weird.
Fourth wall breaks have happened before Yuri's death, but it was afterwards that they began to fly. For the most part, I thought it was good writing and all that, but looking back I didn't realize what was actually happening. For those still tuned in without playing the game, first off what are you doing? But really, what she does is pull up a command prompt deleting Deleting Yuri and Natsuki files. While I thought this was a cool little stunt, I didn't realize she actually deleted the files. Anyways, the screen blacks and I wake up in a room with crazy things happening in the window and Monika staring at me. The conversation that followed blew my mind to the point where I yelled "no!" in disbelief and had to stop playing. At the beginning of the game, I named myself "TheMist," which was something everyone in the game called me. This happened all the way up to this point, where she talks about what is really going on and how this is just a game. What blew my mind? She used my real name. I never told her my real name, she accessed my computer and somehow found my real name. Anyways, she proceeds to tell you that this is all a video game, and details how she deleted Yuri and Natsuki. This, of course, is actually how you find and delete the character files. When following her steps and reaching the character folder, I found only Monika, and this was where my mind was blown again. This was when I found out that Monika was actually deleting files. Anyways, I felt she was nudging me to delete her file; so I did, and the story continued. The game goes back to the main screen, this time without Monika, and it is back to the races with another playthrough. Everything was normal until you find out that Sayori knows about all of your previous endeavors because her role as president allows her knowledge of it. Monika shows up and stops Sayori, and we see the credits role happily ever after. Then the game corrupts the files (or at least blocks access) and that is it.
I know a lot of what I have said is gameplay description more than thoughts, but this one is hard for me to put into words. This experience I had with this game is one that terrified me and wowed me at the same time. I am in all three parts scared to look at this game again, amazed at how well the game pulled off horror, and saddened to see that the game in my opinion is good for only one play through. I am both happy that the game is very secretive about its true intentions when looking at the Steam store and sad by it because I know the anime will draw people away (including myself). I love this game so much, but it is hard for me talk about with people who don't know what this is because they know I don't like anime games and me talking about one shows that their is something fishy with this one. Is this the best game of 2017? No, but it is an experience that should not be passed up.
Thank you for being part of my literature club!