Also available on Linux and OSX
I'm being 100% serious right now - this game will psychologically destroy you. The disclaimer at the start of the game is totally legit - if you suffer from depression or anxiety, DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME. I wish I had listened. This is, however, dedicated to Josh and Tiarra for being my online support during this game.
"Hey, have you played Doki Doki Literature Club?" I legit heard that from at least thirty different people over the past few months. Figuring that my friends know me pretty well and, therefore, this must be a good game for this many to recommend it, I decided to give it a go. I like cute visual novels and dating sims, and this looks like that. Plus it's free. Who can beat free? I'm now questioning the validity all of my friendships. Why would someone who cares about me tell me to play something like this? I'm not questioning my friendships in any serious, literal way, of course, but...this is not a "fun" game.
Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel, but it's not at all what it first appears to be. At first, it appears to be your run-of-the-mill neckbeard harem VN. After about an hour (depending on your reading speed), though, you how far from the truth that is. This is not a dating sim; this is the most severe psychological horror game that has perhaps ever been released. I've played a lot of really screwed up and will-screw-you-up games in the past few years - Spec Ops: The Line, The Last of Us, PT, SOMA, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, etc - and none of them even begin to approach Doki Doki Literature Club. Everything about this game is masterfully crafted, and because the entire game is so well made, you cannot overstate the psychological damage it will do to the player.
Most folks will probably brush all that off as hyperbole - exactly like I did - and play it anyway, and for those who aren't dealing with mental illness, that might be fine. For those of us who are, however, and who do spend every day fighting our own inner demons, that's a mistake. Doki Doki Literature Club does things to you emotionally that a game shouldn't be able to do - especially a free visual novel. I have never had any medium - not film, not books, not music - ever affect me as deeply and profoundly as this game did. It's like that VHS tape in The Ring; it's not *just* a game. At the very least, it's so psychologically...well, for lack of a better phrase, fucked up....that it feels like it's not just a game.
The next paragraph is going to deal with my personal experience with the game and will include major spoilers, so skip the next paragraph and pick up at "OKAY SPOILERS OVER" if you haven't played and think you might.
The game's story involves a high school literature club that you're kind of pressed into joining. There are four girls in the club - Sayori, your happy(?)-go-lucky childhood friend; Natsuki, a super tsundere girl who's hella into manga; Yuri, an extremely intelligent but socially inept girl; and Monika, an acquaintance of yours who never really plays a major role in the choices...at first. You do your typical dating sim stuff, picking a waifu and trying to get closer to her...and then it hits. Sayori, whom you've known since early childhood, acts a bit off one day. Naturally, you're concerned, but you let it go when she says that it's nothing. Shortly thereafter, you walk next door to check on her, and her dialogue...describes every day of the past 13 years of my life that was crippling. Truthfully the only word I can think of is "triggered." The computer screen became a mirror as I saw in this adorable anime girl the entire latter half of my life. The lack of motivation to do anything except wait for oblivion. The feeling of complete and utter worthlessness, of being nothing but a burden to those you love. The desire to see your friends happy because you're literally not good for anything. The all consuming numbness interrupted only by pain. Then it ends the way that, deep down, you always knew it would. "You really left Sayori hanging this morning." Suddenly I'm not looking in a mirror but a window to the realization of how my mental illness could have ended and what I'm terrified to acknowledge part of me still yearns for. And that's just one character. That's not even touching on the obsessive psychosis, the self-mutilation, the abuse, the dependency, and the fatal manipulation of other characters.
OKAY SPOILERS OVER. Doki Doki Literature Club was developed over the course of two years by a team although the credits lead me to believe it was largely "this one guy and some helpers." It is, at its root, a metafictional and psychological horror commentary on mental illness and some of the exceptionally unhealthy characterizations and tropes common in dating sims. Given my love for Hyperdimension Neptunia, I'm no stranger to characters who break the fourth wall, but this game makes Nep look straight up strict in that regard. Whatever you think a game can do to break the fourth wall is tame in comparison. It may sound like I have a negative opinion of this game because of the inundation of negative emotions it brought, but I was actually extraordinarily impressed with this game in all regards. The music is lovely but otherwise doesn't stand out as particularly noteworthy...at first. The farther you get into the game, the more you realize just how much thought and attention to detail went into the music and especially so with regards to its timing with what's going on in the game.
The thing about Doki Doki Literature Club is that it's almost TOO well written. When you get a couple hours into it, it stops feeling like a game. The whole thing is written to feel real - too real. I can't stress that enough - the game's handling of mental illness feels entirely too real if you've dealt with it personally. For those lucky enough to have "normal" mental health, it's an important and all too accurate look into the reality of these illnesses. Yeah, it shows the extreme, and they aren't the same for everyone, but can help people who think that depression is just "I feel sad sometimes" or that anxiety is "Stuff makes me nervous" see how much deeper and truly crippling these afflictions can be.
Doki Doki Literature Club is a masterpiece. It's a masterpiece that I NEVER want to experience again, but it's a masterpiece nonetheless. Never before have I experienced a game so brilliantly written that I found myself crying in a ball on the floor of my closet because I couldn't handle how REAL it felt. This game is not for the faint of heart, and it's not to be played alone. You need emotional support for this game. It's a very worthwhile experience, but at the end of that experience, you'll be hurting and emotionally raw, and it will take you time to process what you feel and think about the game. It's...an experience unlike any other. I will say, though, that I cannot in good conscience recommend this to people who suffer from mental illness. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, what have you, and you insist on playing this, please make sure that you have a close, trusted friend with you. This game's emotional impact is not to be underestimated.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.