Reflections on Doki Doki Literature Club!

I seem to be slowly turning into That Visual Novel Guy.

Anyway. Most of this will go behind a cut, mainly due to massive Doki Doki Literature Club! spoilers. I mean, more than the Steam/Twitch tags and content warning already spoil it.

I recently played through Doki Doki Literature Club! (The exclamation point is part of the title). I had streamed the first hour or so of it (Which took me closer to two hours because Voice Acting), and given what I knew of the game, was intrigued about how it would get to where it was going, but nonetheless put it down for about a month.

To give an idea of what I did and didn’t know regarding the game:

  • I knew (Initially from word of mouth, then reiterated by the game’s Steam tags and content warnings) that the game, at some point, turned from stereotypical high school dating simulator into some kind of horror game.
  • I did not know, however, precisely what kind of horror (Slasher? Supernatural horror? Psychological thriller?) it would turn into, nor did I know when that turn would take place.

With that, and with the content warnings (“This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.”), the point at the end of Act 1 where it actually takes that turn wasn’t much of a twist at all. I felt like it was more something you were meant to figure out would happen before it actually did. When Sayori confessed her severe depression (And in fact, before that, when she first seemed down), my immediate thought was “Oh no she is totally not long for this world.”, Yet, due in part to the way I play the very few Visual Novels I have played (Doki Doki Literature Club. Ladykiller in a Bind. In the words of Tony Kornheiser, “BOOM! THAT’S IT! THAT’S THE LIST!”), I felt compelled to continue down the path I had started.

I should point out here that the way I play through a visual novel my first time through is to treat it like real life. In other words, I have only one save file, and I constantly save over that single file. What this meant was that I ignored the early-game “meta tricks” the game tries to pull on you, treating Monika’s “make multiple save files!” Tip of the Day as a cutesy bit of fourth-wall breaking rather than an actual tip to be followed.

This resistance extended to Sayori’s suicide. As mentioned above, I knew it was coming, though not the specifics (I completely missed Monika’s phrasing just before the discovery). And knowing it was coming actually heightened my sense of dread – I knew it wasn’t going to end well, I just didn’t know when. And it was still shocking. My emotions just prior to and during the discovery were to the effect of “Oh no oh no oh no oh no OH JESUS!” when the moment finally arrived.

My resistance to the game’s playing around with meta elements extended slightly past this. From what I later read, you’re “expected”, after the suicide, to go back and try other choices to prevent it. I didn’t, even ignoring the fact that my saving style would have left me unable to. I reasoned that “I picked the option that was the closest to what Sayori wanted. If trying to get things back to the way they were wasn’t enough to save her, there’s no way the ‘Tell her you love her, consciously ignoring where she says going back to the way it was in childhood is what she wants’ option will work.” And it turned out I was right.

Similarly, despite Monika’s hints during the end game, I couldn’t bring myself to take the final action until I read an article stating that that was what you had to do to get an actual ending. And honestly, I’m not sure if it’s because the game made me feel stupid or I felt like it took advantage of me or what, but I resented the game for it. I’d argue that what the DDLC wiki calls “Act 3” was a better ending than the actual ending (Either of them). Sometimes, you don’t get the neat “the end, credits roll”, which is a harsh but true lesson. Alternately, maybe it’s just because I figured eternity with Monika didn’t seem so bad, the whole “Driving two other characters to suicide and then literally deleting them” thing aside.

The other question I have is a sort of meta question. The game, content warning and all, lures you in with the promise of, essentially, “A typical high school dating simulator visual novel that you’ve played a million times before”. But is that really the “typical” visual novel? Or is it what TV Tropes would call a Dead Unicorn Trope, more stereotype played for a joke than reality? As I’ve mentioned a couple times, I’m the wrong person to answer that question.

On one hand, I’m glad I got off my butt and finished the game, though I’m equally glad I wasn’t streaming the end of it. I joked on-stream when I started the game that this would be the start of my descent into becoming a visual novel junkie chasing after a high I knew I could never achieve again. But Doki Doki Literature Club! came closer to letting me achieve it than I expected, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

On the other hand, I think it became a little too meta for its own good at the end, but maybe that’s because it clashed with my philosophy on playing a game through the first time. I’m not opposed to save-scumming on subsequent playthroughs of a visual novel–how do you think I got all of Ladykiller in a Bind’s achievements?–once I spoiled myself on getting the first “actual” ending, I decided I was through, and just went ahead and spoiled any other endings there may be as well. Suffice to say I don’t think I’m going to bother to go back and do the content I missed.


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