Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC) is unlike any horror game that I have ever played. The game takes place in a very cliché cutesy anime school setting, very unassuming for a horror game, especially one that has rave reviews. What starts off similar to a dating simulator with four girls, Natsuki, Sayori, Monika, and Yuri slowly devolves into a psychological horror game with the entire world and game literally breaking down. The game should be interpreted as a visual novel, which explains the 1% gameplay and 99% reading/clicking through text. The main gameplay revolves around selecting 20 words out of 200 to formulate a poem, with each of the words “favoring” one girl the most. Whichever girl the poem favors the most will change the storyline but will most likely lead to the same ending. The game ultimately “ends” when the player interacts with the game folder and deletes the Monika character file which is hinted at throughout the game.
The game takes an interesting spin on the concept of a horror game and haunted media as a whole. The slow start to the game in conjunction with the endless text is actually a very deceitful tactic, as it lulls the player into thinking the game is nothing out of the ordinary. However, when random events start to occur (such as Yuri’s eye drifting off the screen, the mouse being forced to choose a certain option, etc.) and the music gets faster, the player is caught off guard because the perfect world that the player once thought starts to slowly show signs of breaking down. The soundtrack actually plays a key role in both instilling calmness followed by fear. Then when characters start to suicide, it is clear that the game is not what it appears to be. This has a certain appeal to one’s fear of the unknown because they are unable to predict what is about to happen next because of the worldbuilding the game does and the randomness of certain events. In a seemingly perfect world; even the most gruesome and graphic events can occur. This was a genius idea on Dan Salvato’s part as he is able to drop subliminal messages throughout the game. He creates a sort of bait and switch tactic by making the player let their guard down before slowly unveiling the dark horror behind the game.
DDLC takes haunted to another level through the use of files within the game folder; not only is the game haunted but the computer it is being played on is haunted. The game is revolutionary in that it was one of the first of its kind to have the player delete files and actually break the game, which seems counterintuitive but that is how it was designed. It also has files appear in the folder throughout the gameplay, often cryptic messages that can be decoded through methods such as base64. Although they are optional and add nothing to the gameplay, it develops a sense of community because players who are engrossed in the game would want to uncover every easter egg and find every message. What adds onto this is the randomness of events, which makes every playthrough slightly different from the last. Furthermore, pictures such as a comic Sayori hanging herself appear within the folder; it is best to play the game with the game folder open to the side. The game breaking down makes the computer seem haunted with the screen sometimes violently shaking and the text appearing as illegible characters. One can delve deep into the game if they would like or they can simply play the game as is which is unique about DDLC. The player can interact with the game folder as much as they would like to, a true innovation.
The game breaking down on itself makes the once Euclidean world reveal itself as non-Euclidean. It breaks down the fourth wall between computer and game, blurring the lines between the two, sometimes making it seem as if the computer is haunted. DDLC appears as more than just a game, it is a “choose your own adventure novel”, a psychological horror, dating simulator, and a revolutionary “game-breaking design”. The ingenious behind the worldbuilding and storytelling portrays the game as a forked path with multiple paths, but it is more of a loop back/loop along until the Monika file is deleted. It is also interesting to note that Monika has a Western name as opposed to the other characters, throwing a hint about her outcast role in the game. A subtlety in DDLC is that the player has to choose their own name, which makes it seem as though the characters are actually talking to the player, tearing down the fourth wall and making one more engrossed. The non-Euclidean aspect of DDLC successfully portrays the device being played on as a haunted medium. This is achieved through the similar endings that are reached despite different renditions of the playthrough aspect. A shortcut to the game can be achieved by deleting the Monika file before playing DDLC, making the world appear normal. The haunting of Monika has a further reach than just the game, it reaches the vessel (computer) and therefore the player. It is relatively lifelike and has a similar effect to watching found footage because it gives the sense of “discovery” in finding the haunted aspect of the game.
Doki Doki Literature Club was very innovative in how it created a new way to interact with horror. The haunted medium, the breaking of the fourth wall, the unambiguous setting all have an additive effect on the horror of the game. It is definitely a game worth checking out.