I have never played an official dating sim. To me, there is no appeal in a game where the sole purpose is to pick specific behaviors and phrases in order to cause a particular fictional female to fall in love with me. There is certainly a large market for those types of games, and God bless the people who play dating sims. I do, however, love good horror stories. I’ve read plenty of short, scary tales throughout my life, because there is something within me that gets a thrill from the genre. Recently, a friend recommended that Patti (my co-host on the Mutant Musings podcast and love of my life) and I play a game, created by Team Salvato, which is currently available on Steam: Doki Doki Literature Club (“Doki Doki” is Japanese onomatopoeia for “heartbeat”). This friend described it as a dating-sim horror game, so I was a little skeptical, but extremely interested.
When the game begins, it appears very harmless – you name your avatar, who is a high school boy, and quickly meet your clumsy yet loveable friend, Sayori, who begs you to join the literature club. Not given any choice, you are then introduced to the rest of the literature club members and sole remaining characters in the game – Yuri, Natsuki, and Monika. Your character is pretty ordinary and spends plenty of time both talking and listening to the different girls, which allows you to discover and understand their distinct personalities. After a lengthy amount of dialogue, various scenes, mini games involving poetry, and a few decisions that you must make, it should be apparent that you are growing closer to a particular girl, and it is certainly apparent to the other girls in the club. The game makes you comfortable in its elaborate but deliberate setup, and even though there are hints of trouble, it is nonetheless extremely shocking and saddening when the first tragic event occurs.
Without spoiling what actually happens, Doki Doki Literature Club takes a grim turn. Until a certain point, the game is deceivingly bright and colorful, and the music extremely upbeat and cheerful. Since so much time is dedicated to developing the characters, their unique personalities and mannerisms, the disturbing events are intensified as a result. Even after the first tragedy occurs, however, the game is far from over, even though it appears to be. When you think that there is something wrong with your game, trust me, there is not – keep playing.
Doki Doki Literature Club continues to grow weirder and more unsettling as the game progresses. While I expected this to be a somewhat traditional dating sim, where the player must make many choices and pick from multiple lines of dialogue in order to develop a relationship with a particular young lady, Doki Doki Literature Club is aptly described as a visual novel. This game is much more than picking a desirable mate.
As of this writing, Patti and I have played through to the end only one time, and although we spent roughly four or five hours with Doki Doki Literature Club, we still have not seen every scene in the game. I had no idea what to expect, but I am glad that I didn’t spoil any of the game for myself before I played. There are walkthroughs and helpful hints on the internet, but I suggest going into this game blind so you can have a natural, horrifying experience. Even though I now know what happens at the end, I still have a strong desire to play again and make different choices in order to see exactly what can transpire.
Doki Doki Literature Club annihilated my psyche. When the game grew dark, my jaw hung open, I got chills, and even had to hold back tears. During a short period of time when we were certain that the game had glitched and we had lost our saved files, I was ready to scream at the heavens. When Patti and I were finally finished, I curled into a ball on my bed. Since I’m receptive to psychological horror, my reactions to this game shouldn’t be surprising. I am very happy that I was able to have this experience and feel so invested in this game, because I’m certain that Doki Doki Literature Club will not appeal to everyone. However popular this game has proved to be thus far, I hope more people will play, and perhaps writing about my experience will prompt even just one more person to give it a try.
Doki Doki Literature Club correctly warns those who have depression to exercise caution, and it certainly can be triggering for those who have mental health issues. Although this game looks cute and friendly at first, it is not for children. There aren’t many jump scares, and there’s relatively little gore, but Doki Doki Literature Club kept me uncomfortably squirming. However, as depressed as I felt after playing, I want to play again, I want a sequel – I want more…
Everything was normal up until a few days ago…