A Hack Writer Plays Doki Doki Literature Club

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Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

Goddamn it, @zombiepie.

Those were the words I kept muttering to myself throughout the first hour or two of Doki Doki Literature Club, a visual novel developed and published by Team Salvato. There are anime girls. There's a hapless guy (you) who joins a club just to ogle said anime girls and maybe get a little thigh-fiving action with those girls by manipulating one of them into thinking he likes her by creating poetry slanted towards the words and imagery she likes. The girls are inexplicably all drawn to him despite clearly being a douche with no identifiable characteristics besides liking whatever the hell the object of his affection likes.

This should not be a game I played to near completion. I hate all that garbage. It's Japan trope 101 bullshit, and it's the worst.

"Keep going," ZombiePie insisted. "It's worth it. Trust me."

So I did. And guess what? He was absolutely right.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Cameron Lowe. As your brilliant mind has probably figured out from the title of this blog, I'm a writer of shlock bullshit - mystic cannibal gangs, lesbian shapeshifters, and in a fit of madness, even a romance novel about ugly people who happen to be very fond of each other. Lemme tell you what, if you want to sell jack and shit, try being a guy in your thirties writing romance novel under your real name. It's a delight!

To date, I've written and self-published six books. Fuck, that's crazy to write down, but it's the truth. More importantly than that, I've got an English degree and I've read more than any sane person should ever claim in a lot of genres. Never ask me what you should read. You'll be listening to me long enough for your family and loved ones to send out a search party. I'm that kind of asshole.

The point is, I know stories. They're not just my business, they're my great love affair. I'm in danger of going completely blind and yet I'll piss away whatever vision I have left just so I can get in one last good book. I know the structure of writing (and the importance of mastering that structure so I can get to the business of ignoring it when I please). And most important to this blog on Doki Doki Club, I know tropes.

I thought I knew what I was in for when it came to Doki Doki Club in its first half hour. Through ZombiePie's chatter, I also thought I knew its twists - one of those I was right about (because he basically gave it away), but the other... well, let's dive in and find out, because it somehow manages to both be impressive and somehow squander its potential. More on that in a second..

SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT FIRST...

I can't talk about Doki Doki Club without spoilers. It's a visual novel and the story is pretty much the only point of the game. If you're looking for a quick and dirty recommendation, yes, go "play" it. It's free, and it's well worth your time even if you're not a fan of anime. Maybe especially if you're not a fan of anime. However, there are some dark themes. That's not a joke. Take the game's warnings seriously, and if that shit bothers you, go play something else. It really isn't fucking around.

REALLY, DUDE AND/OR DUDETTE, SPOILERS AHEAD

FOR REAL, THOUGH. SPOILERS.

OKAY. DON'T WHINE AT ME FOR SPOILING THINGS. WHINY BABY. ALWAYS WHINING. INFANTS ARE SUCH BABIES. THANKS MST3K FOR THAT LAST JOKE. YOU FOLKS ROCKED. ROBOT ROLL CALL! NO. NO, WE DON'T HAVE TIME. GOTTA GET TO THE POINT. SO... UHHH... HERE WE GO. SPOILERS, OKAY?

ZombiePie sold me on trying Doki Doki Club by saying this. I'm paraphrasing here.

"Sparky, you utterly devastatingly cool dude, you should put a halt to writing ten billion words of always fascinating things and play Doki Doki Club."

I set down my five-hundred pound bench press dumbbell thingie, wiped the single bead of sweat off my forehead, and laughed my ass off at him, because I sure as hell wasn't going to play a Japanese-ass visual novel that looked about as cookie-cutter as it gets. Nerdy guy lands a harem. Yay.

"Sparks - sorry, I meant sir - just try it. It really goes places you wouldn't expect."

Well, that just made me roll my eyes. Not literally. I didn't use them for craps dice or something. I started to get back in the groove of my workout. You know how it goes. I had to crunch out those flammy jam leg lifts. Gotta keep them glutes tight, know what I mean?

"Look," he wrote, seeming exasperated but probably just in awe of me, "it gets even darker than your books. It's good stuff."

That got my attention.

My books don't have twists for the sake of twists. I hate that. If a writer has a twist that fits in naturally with the progression of the story, that's great. I don't mind. But twists have often become the focus, with the rest of the story fleshed out around them like the world's most backwards human body.

That said, my books are often times dark. No one's really safe when it comes to my writing. That's not to say I drop bodies just for the sake of shock value. Like I say, it's all in service of the story I want to tell, and sometimes that means bad shit happens to good - or at least sympathetic - characters.

So why did it intrigue me in this particular case? Because darkness isn't really a thing I expect from anime-styled games. It's an unfair judgment, to be sure. I'm at least aware of how dark some anime and manga can get, even if I don't partake in them.

Even better, Doki Doki is free. Not F2P, none of that. It's free, with DLC meant to support the developer if you like the game. In this day and age, that's a rad fuckin' business model.

It didn't hurt anything to try it. So I did.

And I was immensely, instantly bored as piss.

Doki Doki LIterature Club starts off as what I imagine is a typical visual novel. Bland, boring preambles about Sayori, the plucky childhood friend, are the focus until the main character - named by you as whatever you like, so I naturally picked GoddamnItZP - agrees to join a club to appease her. Two guesses as to what one he picks, and no, it's not the Fight Club. The literature club is full of cliched anime girls - there's the quiet, studious type, the cantankerous-but-really-sweet-and-creepily-young-looking girl, the aforementioned plucky Sayori, who makes little bones about her just-under-the-surface crush on the main character, and the club leader Monika, who doesn't have much of a personality aside from being the one to keep things on track.

Holy fuck, boys and girls, do I hate this early section of the game. As your character gets to know these girls, you show less and less of a personality and start to make choices that hopefully net you the anime cliche of your dreams. This is largely done through poetry readings each afternoon of the game. For these, you're not actually coming up with poetry, but selecting twenty keywords from a list of choices. Each girl has certain words she likes or associates with, so choosing those gains you favor with that particular girl.

This is pretty much creeper territory, as you don't actually establish any actual personality yourself. You're just creating a persona for whoever it is you want to be with. Then again, I guess that's pretty much my whole young adult life described in a nutshell, so... hey, maybe it's more true-to-life than I give it credit for.

Anyways, this is a largely by-the-numbers hour or so. I do like the occasional writing tips the characters throw out there as they talk about what they like in terms of literature. It's all mostly relevant advice, and useful if you haven't taken a basic high school or college level creative writing course.

Things start to take a turn for the weird when Sayori starts acting a little strange around the main character. She's a bit despondent, her laughs and cheer are forced, and she winds up missing a day of school.

Okay. Here's where stuff gets dark, so turn away if talk about depression or suicide gets to you.

Yeah. Suicide.

After the main character is forced to make a choice between telling Sayori she's his best friend or he loves her, he goes to spend an afternoon with one of the other love interests as they work on preperations for an upcoming MacGuffin-esque school event. By this point, even knowing what was coming basically thanks to ZombiePie's warnings, it's fairly obvious things with Sayori are about to take a turn for the worst. She comes by, sees the player character with another girl, and goes into full manic cheerful mode.

The main character realizes something's wrong, but nothing quite clicks until he goes to visit Sayori at her house and finds her hanging from the ceiling fan.

Okay. That's enough to make Doki Doki interesting. Sayori's depiction of depression is actually well written, given the constraints of the game style. One particular gut-punch comes when she tells the main character, "You think I'm happy because that's the only part of me I allow you to see," or something to that effect. It's a brave, honest moment of writing. The people we love perceive us as the front we present to them, and that's doubly true of those fighting depression or other mental illness.

When I say it's a "terrific" moment, I don't mean that to imply her death is terrific. It isn't. The imagery of her hanging is disturbing and the build-up is immensely sad. But it is a terrific moment of storytelling and I applaud it as such. If I hadn't been warned about it, it would have definitely been a lot more effective, but honestly, if I hadn't known about it even in a roundabout way, I wouldn't have played this game, so I'm glad Zeep warned me. Well played, Doki Doki. You have my attention as a player, a reader, and writer.

And then Doki Doki goes fucking batshit nuts.

REALLY, STOP READING HERE AND JUST GO PLAY IT. UNLESS YOU HAVE, IN WHICH CASE, STICK AROUND. LET'S CUDDLE. FIGURATIVELY. I DON'T WANT YOU HOGGING MY BLANKETS. OKAY, SPOILER WARNING DONE. LET'S GET BACK TO WORK.

That's where ZombiePie's warnings couldn't have told me where the game goes next. The whole thing goes back out to the main title screen, where some pretty sick imagery has replaced the cheery picture of the main girls from the literary club. The game restarts, and Sayori is just... gone. She's not mentioned by anyone and her presence isn't felt. Instead, you're invited to the club by the leader, Monika, and events play out with the object of your affection becoming obsessed with you.

All the while, the game starts to play with the onscreen imagery and text in some great ways. Doki Doki isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse, so the effects are largely simple - red shaders, a demonic-styled font, etc. There are hints that some darker force is at work behind the scenes, displeased with the woman you've chosen. As she slowly slips further and further into madness, the player starts to see the game "break" with images foreshadowing what's to come.

My thought at this point is, "Oh, we're getting a representation of what Sayori's hell would be like, if they're going for that kind of a story. Interesting." It's certainly what the game seems to imply is coming.

What does happen is bizarre and gruesome, but it's not hell. At least not the kind you and I are associating with it right now.

The love interest again kills herself, this time stabbing her stomach repeatedly until you're left looking at a bloody, mangled corpse staring at you adoringly. It's messed up, and the game's writer keeps going - instead of you calling the authorities, you're just sitting there, with the body as time passes. A lot of time. So much time I thought the game was broken or something, but instead, Monika, the literary club's leader, comes back and tells you a whole weekend's passed. She sees the body, and instead of horror, she just seems fascinated by the whole thing.

This section, this whole middle third, is utterly fantastic. It's a great example of a low-budget game using its strengths to create something incredibly powerful and disturbing without having to resort to flashy tricks. The use of the fonts to contradict the cheery bubblegum bullshit with darker portents of what happened and what's to come is awesome. The visual cues create a great sense of atmosphere, and the steadily degrading music gives the whole thing a feel of sliding into some Dante-esque level of hell.

Doki Doki is worth playing for this section alone. It subverted my expectations entirely, and I wholly applaud the developer for taking such a weird, wild route to its ending.

And what an ending it is, even if it doesn't stick the landing quite the way I'd like.

It's revealed after the second suicide that Monika has been behind the whole nightmarish thing, and that she's completely aware this is a game. I should probably put "aware" in quotes because this is all just obviously scripted stuff, but the game does some neat tricks with its concept, including Monika calling the player by his "actual" name - meaning your Steam ID. There are also some files dumped to your desktop to give the whole thing a spookier feel, as though Monika has actually invaded your computer and is slowly taking the thing over. Then she essentially implodes the world, deleting the other characters from a file in your Steam folder - yes, really - leaving her and the gamer - and not the character you've created - as the sole occupants of her dream universe, wherein she admits she's been wildly in love with you.

The game "ends" here in a loop. Monika shares her philosophies on love, and what she thinks the player should do to be happy, and the things she regrets most about having a real game world to play in. It's a fascinating idea, one that unfortunately was marred by ZombiePie shouting at me to go a little bit further, just a little bit further. As it turned out, he was referencing seeing something I'd already witnessed - MOnika using my "real" name, but by that point, it was two in the morning and I couldn't take any more Doki Doki.

I came back to it the next day, sure I'd missed something. The concept is neat, as Monika is still sitting there spouting off philosophy and dreamy odes to the player, but I didn't quite "get" what I was supposed to do next until I looked up a guide. You have to actually delete Monika's file from your computer in order to get the "ending," which actually keeps going.

It's a mind-trip, but it's such an elusive, bizarre way of doing things, it actually ended up irritating me rather than amazing me. It's neat that players had to figure this stuff out, but I'm not sure I like the idea of Monika being an intelligent Ai as much as I would've liked the idea of the story playing itself out as the horror story it implied it was in that middle third.

It's unfortunate. Because that ending is special, and it does work, especially if you're smart enough to pick up what to do next. But I don't like ARG-styled games, particularly when it comes to something where I just kinda want to see the next part of the story. I don't want or need an impediment to that to enjoy myself. It's a neat concept, but imagine reading a book and the writer uses invisible ink during the last thirty pages when you have no idea what the fuck invisible ink even is or that it exists. That's me and Doki Doki. I can appreciate it, but in the end, I'm not sure I like the decisions it made.

All that aside, this and What Remains of Edith Finch make a strong case for storytelling within games making more sense than on the page. This is not an experience I could have had with a regular book. We're slowly approaching the point when storytelling in games isn't just good by the medium's standards, but good by any medium's standards. We still have a ways to go, but Doki Doki gives me hope for more and more inventive storytelling within the confines of a game's structure - or beyond it. Whatever Team Salvato works on next, I'll be paying attention.

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#1 Edited by YI_Orange (1354 posts) -

Yikes. This is the most I've read on this game and you just took me on a roller coaster that I think perfectly mirrored you. "You think I'm happy because that's the only part of me I allow you to see," or something to that effect. It's a brave, honest moment of writing. The people we love perceive us as the front we present to them, and that's doubly true of those fighting depression or other mental illness." That is really fucking powerful, but the "post game" stuff leaves me asking why in a way that almost trivializes that. I really want to hear more about this game. Don't convince me to play it, pretend I already have and tell me why I should love it.

Also, I am not an opponent of stories in games. Life is Strange and The Last of Us are two of my favorite stories across anything. I loved The Witcher enough to read ALL the books before three came out. I very much enjoy the 999 and Danganronpa series. I basically prioritize story above all else. Everything I've read about this game has been intriguing, followed by disappointing. Tell me which way to lean.

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#2 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@yi_orange: It's one of those cases of a story being intriguing, entertaining (at least in parts), AND disappointing. Don't look for a binary "is it/isn't it" here, because you're not going to find it. Whatever else I think of Doki Doki aside, it's a complex game with wildly varying levels of satisfaction depending on specific moments.

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#3 Posted by YI_Orange (1354 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw: I guess what I really want to know about is the ending. As I said, I feel like, not even having played it, the ending ruined the entire game for me. Not in a spoiler way, but in a "what the fuck, why?" kind of way. Like The Prestige(I love that movie, but the ending infuriates me). The way you present the ending as being AI manipulation really makes me question what the point is. I mean, honestly, your write up sounds very much like the way I would have felt had I played the game blind, but on reflection, I feel like I don't understand. I'm just confused and a little annoyed.

And yeah, sorry, I wasn't looking for a hard yes/no, but I find really passionate "yes"es to be very compelling. Someone once almost convinced me that the Star Wars prequels weren't THAT bad.

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#4 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@yi_orange: There are two endings beyond what I’ve detailed here. Those provide a little more focus to the narrative presented above, but there’s no easy answer as to “why.” In itself, that’s not a bad thing. We don’t always deserve answers as to why a story is the way it is. But you’re not wrong. The ending to this leaves me wanting, and not necessarily in a great way. And if that would turn you off a story, definitely don’t play this. But I think the game’s strengths in its middle make it a fascinating experience.

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#5 Edited by BisonHero (11550 posts) -

Yeah, it's interesting that the game leans so hard into the metafiction at the end, because there's definitely a camp of people that would've preferred the game either just be kinda VN horror, or even just be a VN where the characters have well written problems, because yeah, the Sayori part at the end of the first act is actually pretty well written. I don't mind the "ARG" elements as much as you did, but I can understand why they would bother you because it's more puzzley and obtuse than any other part of the game, though they do hint at it pretty strongly. She isn't so much a rogue AI as she is a self-aware character in a work of fiction, which in video game fiction manifests itself as someone who can alter the game story as you're playing it. I don't think there's supposed to be any implication that she really exists or cares about anything beyond the story she inhabits and her interaction with the player.

Also, good on you for soldiering through the opening couple hours. It turns lots of people off because it's SOOO standard VN fare, but it's necessary to set up the characters for what they do with them later. I do wonder if they maybe could've pared that bit down more so it gets to the interesting part sooner. It can't just jump into it within like 2 minutes like Frog Fractions, but there's probably a middle ground between 2 minutes and 2 hours.

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#6 Edited by YI_Orange (1354 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw: I guess the difference is if there's something to be gained from that wanting. I love to think. I love to interpret. But from what I've read of this game(mostly this write-up, but a handful of threads here and there), it feels like the dev is a big fan of Danganronpa or Undertale and tried to do their own thing.

I don't know, maybe it's my own thing. Literally the hardest my heart has ever pounded at a game was the very very end of Gone Home. I like things to feel real. When you subvert humanity you really run the risk of subverting your meaning too. If that makes sense.

Edit: And Nier: Automata is possibly my GOTY

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#7 Posted by TheHT (15784 posts) -

Oh man, games that fuck with shit outside of the gamespace will always get to me, just conceptually. Wasn't Imscared like that too?

I felt the same going back to when I first read about Majestic as a kid. I hardly ever get around to playing 'em, I just love reading about them like some fake urband legend kind of shit.

Fuck. I should really load up NieR: Automata. Might check this one out too.

Thanks for the write-up!

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#8 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15645 posts) -

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Since we're all spoilers all the time down here, I'll say that the bit where Monkia told me my name gave me legit chills and caused me to issue a chain of expletives in a steam chat with ZP. It was also like 1 in the morning. Even moreso than Undertale's own brand of genre-savvy/subversion talk, this game got to me in a way I was not expecting.

Seriously though, I love how bonkers batshit crazy it gets. I guess I can understand if the last chunk of the story didn't resonate with you, but I really liked all the meta stuff (and apparently there's some crazy shit hidden in the game's files too.) I'll also give DDLC credit for being just an absolutely savage critique of these sorts of Dating Sims and those character tropes in particular. It might not resonate as much if you haven't been down a dark anime hole like I have over the past year, but it's pretty clear that the people writing this game got really tired of certain poorly-executed archetypes.

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#9 Posted by TobbRobb (6557 posts) -

I picked the game up on a whim a while ago when I had a few hours free. I went in to it expecting "free" quality anime bullshit which is pretty much what I was looking for. But being familiar with the cliche's and tropes around this stuff, it was pretty obvious from the start that the writers were playing up the cliche and partially making fun of it. Which is fun in it's own right. With the warnings at the start and the general direction of what was happening, I saw the suicide coming from a miiiiiiile away. But while that would have been a pretty underwhelming experience overall if it had ended there, or kept going in the same format. It was still free you know? Not so bad.

But maaaan I was so excited when it started glitching out and had it continue on the main menu. The promise of going nuts with the concept of routes and playing with the regular VN format. I was waaaay into it as soon as the game showed it's true colors. And it really delivered! I just kept going and finished it all in one sitting.

Figuring out where the characters were stored and how manipulating that changes the game. Trying to figure out where the story was going with "the dark middle chapter", like if it was supernatural, glitch based or they were somehow actually showing their true colors. The general unease and disturbing imagery throughout. Man that was a good time. It tickled my love for messing with familiar things to create tension. And I really do think it was greatly enhanced on the grounds that I had a ton of prebuilt expectations and knowledge of the things it's a parody of. But it seems like a lot of people enjoy it as an entry level VN as well.

Good shit Doki Doki

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#10 Posted by Bollard (8131 posts) -

Really enjoyed this write up, I'm enjoying seeing people experience Doki Doki for the first time almost as much as I enjoyed it myself. It is a shame you didn't have the "intended" experience regarding deleting Monika's character file. As the game got weirder and weirder every creepy, fourth-wall breaking moment put a bigger and bigger anxious smile on my face. At the point where she said things like "You have no idea how easy it was to just delete their character files from the game directory!" and, "It's a bit harder since you're playing on steam, but you can click browse local files..." I already knew immediately what to do next. I actually think I missed a lot of cool interactions with Monika in her own dimension since I went in pretty quickly after I thought it had looped, and deleted her right away.

Also I know you said you don't enjoy that ARG type stuff much, but I've been following this thread on Reddit about an actual ARG that is inside Doki Doki and well... I'm looking forward to next year.

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#11 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@bollard: As a fan of old-school point and click adventures, I'm a bit disappointed in myself for not picking up those clues, because in retrospect, they're really obvious. But to my credit, no game I've ever played has required me to delete particular files from its library to progress. In any case, it's neat to see there will be continued fringe experiences for this game!

@tobbrobb: That main menu "glitch" was one of the coolest moments of the game, as grotesque as it was. I thought maybe I'd fucked things up with Sayori and needed to start over to right things, but when that popped up, Doki Doki really grabbed my attention. I can definitely get behind this as a recommendation for a first visual novel, though I do think the strong, dark themes are maybe going to be a reach for some with sensitivity towards the subject matter.

@arbitrarywater: I think that sequence is neat, but I didn't quite have the same "oh shit!" experience as you and Zeep. It very well could have been the late hour I was playing it. Conceptually it's neat, but the Monika sequence beyond it annoyed me so much that I just can't see past it. That's definitely on me for not picking up on the hints as to what to do next, but I hate being impeded in an otherwise interesting story's progress.

@theht:From what I understand, yeah, this and imscared share some similarities. I've never played that one, but now I'm intrigued by it. I plan on checking out Nier at some point, but whoo boy, do I have a lot of games to play at the moment.

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#12 Edited by militantfreudian (670 posts) -

Hey, that was a great write-up. It actually helped me process my feelings about the game. I played through most of it yesterday and by the time the credits rolled, I found myself a bit overwhelmed, if nothing else by the sheer number of twists in the second half.

Anyway, I too felt like the fourth-wall breaking aspects of the story ultimately undermined the part where Sayori reveals she's been struggling with depression, which was well-written and fairly affecting. That said, I thought the game sticks the landing by giving Monika a redemptive arc when she decides to completely break the game.

As a side note, for most of the first act, I didn't realize that each character had a set of preferred words that determine whether they'll like your poem or not, so I mostly chose the poem words that stood out to me and I ended up with Yuri (kind of).

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#13 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@militantfreudian: Hey, thanks! Glad you enjoyed the read.

I liked the Monika story arc and found it interesting, but hoop jumping to get to it didn't do much for me and I think it screws with the narrative process too much for me to enjoy. It's conceptually neat but it's a gameplay gimmick in a situation where it really wasn't necessary. Then again, as mentioned (I think), I'm not big into ARG-type things, so maybe that's just me being grumpy. Hah.

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#14 Posted by elmorales94 (369 posts) -

Can't believe I missed this write-up considering how thoroughly I've been scouring these forums for Doki-Doki talk, but I'm glad it got bumped. This is a very good look a the game, and more thorough than pretty much anything else I've seen written on it. I agree with pretty much all of it, except your thoughts on the ending.

SPOILERS

I'm almost a complete moron when it comes to computers so, even though I recognized that I had to enter the game files, I had no idea how to do so. Those were the most frantic five minutes of Googling and YouTube tutorial-ing I've ever had in my life. I think it was worth it, though I could certainly see the game being as successful in its execution without it.

The game points you there the whole way. The seeds are planted. Monika gestures at having a deeper knowledge of the world, she even tells you to save your game. This particular bit of tutorializing was great on two fronts: it tells you that something meta might be going on, but it also creates a false sense of weight behind your choices by encouraging you to create save states. It makes the loss of the characters so much more impactful. "Oh no, Sayori just died. Should I reload? Should I try to live with it? Can I save everyone?" But then it's all gone, taken away from you. The meta factor does sort of undermine the authenticity of the characters and the immersion of the whole experience, but that doesn't mean that they're not still well-written or that the emotional rollercoaster you ride with them early on is invalidated.

Speaking of the authenticity of the characters... woof. This game hit me hard because these characters felt like people I knew. I've known Sayori, the best friend who's outwardly cheery and inwardly existentially depressed-- who makes it their goal to appease those around them in hopes that it will bring them happiness. I've known Yuri, the quiet intellectual who makes it a point to keep people out-- who rolls up their sleeves whenever someone else walks into the room. I've known A LOT of Yuris. I can't say that I've ever known a real life tsundere (like Natsuki) before, but maybe that's because I kind of am one.

I got caught up just the way the game wanted me to. I had a special affection for all of these characters except for Monika (and not the creepy anime fetish way, either) and I wanted to save them all. I wanted to save Sayori, and so I made the only choices that I thought would do that. I wanted to save Yuri, so I had to try to keep that plate spinning while trying to give Sayori as much attention as possible. I had to weigh the social consequences my actions at each turn, and every time I had to hate myself a little bit for giving Natsuki the short end of the stick.

As for the poetry, I didn't realize until my third or fourth poem that you were supposed to write to appeal to the ladies. I just ended up writing some half-decent abstract verse, which I thought was nice. The girls' poems were also quite good, and they worked well in conjunction with the dialogue in nudging you toward some of the darker themes the story will tackle.

One last touch that I thought was nice: the player character is a huge dickwad at the start of the game. From what little anime I've seen, this seems to be a fairly common trope in slice of life/romance stories, and I hate it. This might be why I connected so much with the girls-- I wanted to see the world from the perspective of any character that wasn't the abrasive, misogynistic vessel I was given. But the way the player character's attitudes transforms over the course of the story (and the way in which that transformation is tied with the meta-narrative) is brilliantly executed.

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#15 Posted by TwoLines (3652 posts) -

If you listen to Monika long enough (about 10 minutes I guess?) she straight up almost tells you what to do next.

She tells you not to delete her character file because that would be bad. And then tells you where the file is located HINT HINT.

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#16 Posted by AlisterCat (8044 posts) -

Much like Steins Gate I feel like the hours of eye rolling cliches and annoying characters are in service of the turn, and make it a better game. Your reaction is how I probably would have reacted, and I wonder how successful something like this can ever truly be because it asks so much from the player. "Suffer through this because, trust me, it's worth it".

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#17 Posted by kuku (105 posts) -

Thank you for your write-up. There are a lot of games breaking the 4th wall lately and I think I had enough of them already.

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#18 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@kiwikuku: Yup, definitely steer clear if you've reached the point of saturation with it. I'd definitely prefer a stronger narrative over fourth-wall breaking stuff, but I can respect the choices made. It's interesting, if not entirely for me.

@alistercat: Steins Gate has come recommended to me before, maybe by @zombiepie. I don't know if it's a game I'll ever get around to playing, but I've heard good things about its narrative. I don't know if I'm up for more lengthy preamble bullshit to get to the good stuff, though.

@twolines: In retrospect, that's probably something I missed, thanks to the late hour I was playing that section for the first time. It's one of those things I definitely should have picked up on.

@elmorales94:Hmmm. I didn't quite have that response to the main character, but that's a fascinating take on him. At best, I think I was fairly ambivalent to him - or me, or whatever the game wants to have you think - simply because of that first third. The horror would have been a bit more poignant if it had happened to a character with less of a douchebag personality, but I get the sentiment of liking his changes throughout the game.

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#19 Edited by Quid_Pro_Bono (1128 posts) -

I'm going to just spoiler block my entire post because it's 100% post-game and arg stuff.

I wouldn't say so much that the MC's attitude changes so much as the MC is superseded by the player after Sayori's suicide. Act 2 is more about Monika attempting to drive the player away from Yuri and Natsuki, so the MC is no longer a focus. The MC slowly stops having dialogue and MC choices (the long white text boxes) are gradually replaced by the UI level pop-up choices directed towards the player. The game is slowly stripping away the text of the game as Monika gets more and more desperate to convince the player to love her.

I wouldn't really say the story is a rote AI awareness/4th wall breaking thing. It's more about how Monika deals with the knowledge that she's alive in a video game. She doesn't want to hurt people or anything, she just loves you and wants to be with you. She expresses a lot of confusion about her circumstances and regrets deleting the other girls. In the bad ending she even saves the player from Sayori and attempts to "kill the game" so no one else can be hurt or sucked in to the madness. If you try to restore Monika's .chr file during Act 4 (as I did) you get a pop-up saying "Please don't play with my heart. I don't want to come back." and she deletes herself again. Poor Monika.

I personally think that the normal ending that people call the "bad ending" is really the good ending - there was obviously no happy ending for any of the characters with the Third Eye present, and the "good ending" that occurs if you get every exclusive scene with all 3 girls seems more to me like everyone is trapped in the fantasy of the game with Sayori retaining the Third Eye.

Speaking of the Third Eye... it seems to me that it's some sort of "seeing through the matrix" curse that is bestowed upon the current president of the literature club. Monika has it in Act 1 through Act 3, and Sayori gets it when she becomes president in Act 4. Proximity to the presidency of the club also seems to affect the sanity of the members, as the vice president is Sayori in Act 1 and Yuri is vice president in Act 2 and Act 3. Natsuki is the only character who is never more than just a club member and she definitely retains most of her sanity, even if there are a few scenes of her getting corrupted/trying to scare you when Monika is manipulating the girls' behavior more directly.

I'm not trying to gush endlessly over the game, I recognize it's not for everyone but I did really enjoy it, and I think the story is a bit more deep than some give it credit for. It has a liberal dollop of gimmicks on top of it but the actual story is meticulous and well-executed. It's really fun!

PS I respected Monika's wishes and squirreled a copy of monika.chr away in a folder on my PC.

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#20 Posted by blackcat0158 (73 posts) -

It's about 4:30 in the morning, I've been up for more than 24 hours at this point.

Sure, I "went to bed" about 5 hours ago. I couldn't sleep, so I thought, "Hey, there was that write up by Sparky about that weird game mentioned by Zombiepie. I made it about 2 paragraphs in to the write-up. Maybe I'll check that out for a bit, and fall asleep ..."

I saw the warnings. Pfft, It's been a bit since I've played one of these. It can't be any rougher than Katawa Shoujo.

Damn duders, you know what I didn't need to help me fall asleep? Two of the worst bad-ends I've seen in a while that hit me out of nowhere, and a self-aware character calling me by my actual goddamn name pleading with me to stay with them in their universe where nothing but them exist...

Now if you'll excuse me, APPARENTLY I'm going to attempt another playthrough to get the alternate end.

@sparky_buzzsaw This is all your fault, and I thank you for it.

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#21 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8773 posts) -

@blackcat0158: Hah, you're very welcome. Also, DDLC makes for the trippiest "I need sleep and HOLY SHIT WHAT?" game of 2017.

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#22 Edited by Turambar (8251 posts) -

It's interesting that I had the opposite, but similarly negative reaction to the Monika's room ending. I actually thought the repeated statements from Monika about the specific location of her character file when I closed and restarted the game made the action I was meant to take a bit too obvious. While this helped me know exactly what I needed to do to proceed forwards, it certainly took me out of the story the game was telling for that scene. That said, what occurs after that act managed to pull me back in.

Also, sorry to disappoint (maybe?), but unfortunately it has been stated during a Reddit AMA that Team Salvato's next project will be another VN that will be much more traditional in terms of mechanics.

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