Doki Doki Literature Club was the masterpiece that NO ONE saw coming this year.
When Doki Doki Literature Club was released on September 22nd, 2017, no one really thought much of it. It was the debut project from Team Salvato, and appeared to all just to be another run-of-the-mill visual novel.
Oh how wrong we were.
Doki Doki Literature Club flew under the radar until people started to play the game and saw the truth. It quickly went viral, jumping into the highest-recommended list on Steam.
It has even managed to become a staple series for Let’s Players and streamers for its content. People are clamouring to watch internet personalities experience this fantastic game.
Today, I am going to talk about what makes Doki Doki Literature Club the smash-hit it has become. As always, we are going into the spoiler-zone, but I would strongly recommend everyone to PLAY THIS GAME FIRST!
You won’t regret it.
Doki Doki Literature Club redefines subversion of expectation.
As our resident tsundere Natsuki advises the protagonist – “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”
Doki Doki Literature Club is all about playing off the audience’s expectation, and it does this perfectly. It goes out of its way to spend large chunks of the game building assumptions before shattering them.
First off, the genre and tone of the game. Everything about this game screams cutesy and harmless – from the art style to the music. Even the download page plays up this front!
But the game completely shifts, utterly destroying its own facade and quite literally corrupting itself and its characters. It has been designed to confuse and unnerve the player, and drive them forward out of sheer curiosity.
And then there are the characters themselves. They are all designed from traditional visual novel stereotypes, at least at face value. Well, that holds true for most of them…
The previously mentioned Natsuki acts as the hostile and distant ball of aggression. Yuri fits the quiet and lonely girl, and Sayori is the eternally cheerful girl-next-door type. But then we have Monika – the driving force of the story.
For those well versed in visual novels like this, she fires off warning signals fairly quickly. Not only is she not romance-able like the other girls, but she is the only character not to fit a stereotype.
Doki Doki Literature Club completely manipulates any assumptions the player might make about the game, and in doing this creates a unique and surreal experience that we never knew we needed.
This game portrays its characters’ flaws almost disturbingly well.
As I said before, the characters of Doki Doki Literature Club slot into traditional archetypes, but only to a certain extent. Once more, the game turns on its head as they reveal their true natures.
Natsuki, being the angry and sarcastic loudmouth that she is, has probably the tamest narrative arc of the bunch. She reveals that she is a fan of manga, particularly ‘moe’ series’.
But later, after the game takes its first major tonal shift, we see more of her. Through Monika’s interference, she reveals that her father beats her at home. There are also small implications of an eating disorder that she enables through her baking.
Yuri is the most disturbing shift in character. She appears to just be the quiet, bookish student. She opens up to the player by showing him a book she loves, but she gets a lot stranger after that.
Yuri reveals that she is a knife lover with a collection. She has very controlling tendencies that lash out from time to time. She also has a fascination with blood and wounds, licking a cut the protagonist gives himself. Most alarmingly, she uses her knives to self harm, but rather than out of depression, does this for a stimulating, possibly sexual high.
Sayori has the saddest narrative. The bundle of cheer and happiness loves taking care of everyone and keeping them from fighting, but her reason for this is the first twist of the game.
Sayori reveals to the player that she has fought with depression her whole life. Her constant tardiness, her last minute poems, her refusal to do chores. These are all due to her apathy for doing anything and feelings of worthlessness. At the climax of the first half of the game, she causes the first big shock of the game by taking her own life.
But all of these arcs in Doki Doki Literature Club are not just for show, they have a purpose … and an instigator.
Doki Doki Literature Club‘s narrative and twists are not just for shock value.
All of the twists and turns that Doki Doki Literature Club take have all been driven forward by one person – Monika.
Monika, as the founder and president of the Literature Club, has become sentient of her existence in a game. She has become frustrated that while she shares the trait of having feelings for the player, she has not been programmed to have a romance with them.
Monika decides to work behind the scenes and directly edit the character files of her fellow club members. She causes the changes in their demeanour by accentuating their flaws. Her goal is to make them so unlikable that the player will be unable to fall in love with them.
However, she is not proficient at coding, and unintentionally causes glitches in the game. She gets increasingly frustrated and changes her friends even more. She goes as far as to drive both Sayori and Yuri to kill themselves in the game.
Monika then decides to ultimately delete them from the game and restart, leaving only her and the player to talk. Until the player decides to delete her too, that is.
After an outburst of rage, she realises what she has done. She admits that her feelings for the player were as genuine as the others’, and brings everything back to the start, except without her.
The game then reveals that it is the position of club president that grants self-awareness, and transfers to the resurrected Sayori. The last remnants of Monika realise this and corrupts the game beyond repair to end the cycle.
Team Salvato absolutely nailed it with Doki Doki Literature Club.
Doki Doki Literature Club is a narrative masterpiece. It completely subverts the tropes and archetypes of its genre to create something completely new and immersive.
Doki Doki Literature Club even goes as far as to break the trope of narratives as a whole – no character is actually the villain in the end.
It spends most of its time building Monika as a puppet master behind the scenes. That is, until Monika breaks down and truly expresses her feelings. She then realises who the real villain of the game is.
The game itself.
The game forces whoever is the club president to experience a “hellish epiphany” as she calls it. They realise their own existence is manufactured, and in turn, its futility.
THIS. IS. GENIUS.
Painting the game’s existence as the villain of its characters is an incredibly novel concept. It is an absolute credit to Dan Salvato as the lead writer of Team Salvato that this game has become so successful.
It absolutely deserves the IGN People’s Choice Award for Best PC Game of 2017 that it has won.
Even more to the credit of Team Salvato that they released this game for free, only accepting payments as donations. They even give out benefits for payment milestones!
If you haven’t played Doki Doki Literature Club yet (you shouldn’t be reading this!!!), PLEASE DO IT!