Doki Doki Literature Club!
|Doki Doki Literature Club!|
The cover art of Doki Doki Literature Club!, featuring the four main characters.
Doki Doki Literature Club! is a visual novel developed by Team Salvato. It was released on September 22, 2017 for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux. The story follows a male high school student who joins the school's Literature Club and interacts with its four female members. The game features a mostly linear story, with some alternate scenes and endings depending on the choices the player makes. While it appears at first glance to be a lighthearted dating simulator, it is in fact a psychological horror game that involves heavy use of breaking the fourth wall.
The game was developed in an estimated two-year period by a team led by Dan Salvato, known previously for his modding work for Super Smash Bros. Melee. According to Salvato, the inspiration for the game came from his mixed feelings toward anime, and a fascination for surreal and unsettling experiences. Upon its release, Doki Doki Literature Club! received critical praise for its metafictional and horror elements, with PC Gamer calling it "one of the most surprising games of the year."
Doki Doki Literature Club! is a visual novel, as such, the majority of the gameplay consists of the player reading the game's story with little impact on what direction the plot takes. At certain points in the game the player is prompted to make decisions which may affect how the story progresses. The game also features a poetry writing mechanic as part of the Literature Club. The player is given a list of various words to select from that will make up their poem. Each girl in the Literature Club has different word preferences, and will react when the player picks a word that they like. The player is able to create poems for only three of the four girls, which serves as a plot point in the game. Additional scenes can be unlocked for each girl if the player writes poems targeted at that girl's tastes, and chooses the correct dialogue options. If the player goes through all of the options, they will unlock an alternate ending. At one point in the game, the player is required to access the game's files and delete a specific file in order to progress further; throughout the game, files will be added and deleted automatically from the game.
The protagonist is invited by his childhood friend, Sayori, to join their high school's literature club. The protagonist then meets the other members of the club: Natsuki, Yuri, and the club president Monika. The protagonist starts to participate in the club's activities such as writing and sharing poetry, and grows close to the four girls. Many of the poems written by the four girls foreshadow or hint at their troubled home life, or depressed state.
Whilst preparing for an upcoming school festival, Sayori reveals that she suffers from depression and confesses her love for the protagonist. As the day of the festival approaches, Sayori's usually bittersweet poem is replaced with a dark and morbid note repeatedly telling someone to get out of her head. When Sayori does not answer his text messages, the protagonist leaves the club meeting and rushes to Sayori's home, where he discovers that she has hanged herself. The game begins to glitch, and as the protagonist wonders if they could have saved Sayori, the game abruptly ends.
The player is sent back to the main menu, with all previous save files erased. The game starts as usual, but what used to be Sayori's text and name is replaced with unreadable text. The game suddenly glitches and restarts; however, Sayori is absent, and any previous references to her are either completely removed or replaced by glitches and meshes of portions of other characters' sprites. Monika instead invites the protagonist to the club. Unsettling events begin occurring: the game rewinds after the protagonist finds Yuri cutting herself, features disturbing bad endings such as Natsuki’s neck snapping, and refuses to accept dialog options that do not favor Monika. Yuri becomes increasingly psychotic and obsessive towards the protagonist, brutally insulting Natsuki and Monika and trying to keep the protagonist with her. Just before the festival, Yuri presents the protagonist with a stained, illegible poem, and apparitions of a faceless Natsuki appear. Yuri later confesses her love to the protagonist, then stabs herself to death, out of grief or excitement, depending on whether the protagonist accepted her confession. Due to another glitch, the protagonist unwittingly spends the weekend sitting by her body. On Monday, Natsuki enters, vomits at the sight of Yuri's corpse, and flees. Monika then appears, apologizes, and deletes the "character files" for Yuri and Natsuki, causing the game to restart once again.
After being automatically taken to a new file, the protagonist is placed in a room with Monika seated across from them. Monika explains that she is aware that she is a character in a game, and that she is able to manipulate the game's files to alter the other characters' personalities or erase them altogether. She admits to making Sayori "more and more depressed" and "amplifying Yuri's obsessive personality" to make them more unlikable so the player would focus on her instead, having had an identity crisis from not being designed as a potential love interest. She confesses her love directly not to the protagonist, but to the player. Monika will sit and talk to the player indefinitely about various topics until the player manually enters the game's directory and deletes Monika's character file. Upon doing this, the game glitches once more and Monika panics as she is deleted from the game's world. Monika initially lashes out at the player, but after a pause, she confesses that she still loves the player, and expresses regret for everything she has done. Monika then restores the other girls, and removes herself from the game.
Choices the player can make in the playthrough can lead to three possible conclusions.
The first (and default) ending, following Monika's removal from the directory, the game starts over once again with Sayori, Yuri and Natsuki all alive, playing out similarly to the initial playthrough. Shortly after meeting everyone, Sayori tells the player that now that she is the president of the literature club, she knows everything about the game and what happened with Monika, and intends to do the same thing Monika did. Monika immediately intervenes once more via text prompt and deletes Sayori to save the player. Monika then speaks audibly to the player, and sings a song titled "Your Reality" to the player while the credits roll and Monika slowly deletes the game. After the credits, the game displays a note from Monika, stating that she has disbanded the literature club because "there is no happiness" in it.
Another possible ending may take place if Monika's character file is prematurely deleted before starting a new game, resulting in Sayori becoming the default leader of the club. Upon realizing the true nature of the game and her role in it, Sayori will panic and hijack the controls, deletes all the character files, and forcefully closes it. Opening the game again will result to a black end screen followed by an image of Sayori hanging herself, staying with the screen after 10 minutes will reveal a message — "Now everyone can be happy.".
However, an alternate ending may occur if the player has viewed all of the optional scenes in a single playthrough, which requires saving and loading at several points before witnessing Sayori's initial suicide. Sayori instead accepts the nature of her reality and tearfully expresses her gratitude to the player for trying to make all of the girls happy. She bids goodbye, hoping that the player will visit once again sometime and concluding that the girls all love the player before deleting the game herself. After the credits, which also feature "Your Reality", the player is presented with a thank-you note from the game's developer, Dan Salvato.
In all outcomes, further playthroughs require the game to be re-installed or hard reset.
Development and release
Dan Salvato spent an estimated two years working on Doki Doki Literature Club! in secret before releasing it as his first game. Prior to its release, Salvato was known for creating the FrankerFaceZ extension for Twitch.tv, his modding work in the Super Smash Bros scene, and for his custom Super Mario Maker levels.
Doki Doki Literature Club! was first released on September 22, 2017 on itch.io, and was later also released on Steam. The game is available as freeware with an optional pay what you want model. Paying US$10 or more unlocks a bonus "Fan Pack" that includes desktop and mobile wallpapers, the game's official soundtrack, and a digital concept art booklet.
Salvato cited his "love-hate relationship" with anime as inspiration for creating Doki Doki Literature Club!. Discussing the horror elements of the game, Salvato explained that he was inspired by "things that are scary because they make you uncomfortable, not because they shove scary-looking things in your face."
Gita Jackson from Kotaku described Doki Doki Literature Club! as "a truly special game," adding "if you like horror games, especially ones that really get under your skin, please check out Doki Doki Literature Club." GQ's Tom Philip called it "one of the scariest games I have ever played." He went on to praise the game's writing saying it contained "some of the most wickedly inventive narrative techniques I've ever seen," but commented that at times it felt like "a slog, clicking through endless amounts of inane, flirty conversation about poetry."
At IGN's Best of 2017 Awards, the game won the People's Choice Award each for "Best PC Game", "Best Adventure Game" (for which it was also a runner-up), "Best Story", and "Most Innovative". EGMNow ranked the game 16th in their list of the 25 Best Games of 2017. It won the "Matthew Crump Cultural Innovation Award" and was nominated for "Trending Game of the Year" at the 2018 SXSW Gaming Awards.
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