This article contains spoilers, which may harm or even completely ruin your playing experience of the games, including but not limited to:
Doki Doki Literature Club!

Proceed at your own risk.

Doki Doki Literature Club!(DDLC) is a free game that has made to Steam around Oct. Despite being a visual novel, a genre which only a minority would enjoy because of its lack of playability, the game received positive critical reviews, scoring a 97% in its over 40k reviews(as of Dec 18, 2017), which is a feat given the reviews are from a larger group of players, rather than a small bunch of loyal fans(like Megadimension Neptunia, it has a 98% positive, but only out of 1.6k reviews).

So let’s dig into it a little bit.

As a galgame(at least it looks like one), DDLC features four cute schoolgirls: Sayori, the outgoing childhood friend, and vice president of the club; Natsuki, a tiny figure who likes baking and watching manga; Yuri, a composed schoolgirl who behaves with maturity; and Monika, president of the club, who is lively and thoughtful. Your goal is to have a great festival with them, and finally, get one of the girl’s heart, as the store page suggests. The story is set in a highschool, so all of the four girls are (probably) underaged, Valve’s inhumane censorship makes publishing a erotic game on Steam pratically a impossibility, but there are still ways, out of Steam.

At least that’s what everybody expected on seeing its download page. Though it says that the game is not for those who are easily disturbed, maybe it’s just too disturbing in a sexual sense. You know, sexy, nudity, common traits of these galgames. Even a game calling itself R18 can make its way onto Steam(but it’s garbage, like some other censored games), so one may assume that Valve is sometimes lenient to these things, which is never the case. Even an all-aged game, Ie no Kagi, was deleted by Valve in suspect of pedophilia. So some just cut it off, like what they do to a minigame in Mugen Souls, which doesn’t hurt much. But for some others where it’s an important part, while the games on Steam are PG, have R18 patches distributed, for free(like those sakura games) or with a price(sold on Denpasoft). So such ecchi elements(oiroke youso in Japanese) is not that unacceptable, but rather, welcome for me.

But it turns out not to be the case for DDLC. Quite the opposite. After witnessing Nekopara’s first person shooter tag, someone might think it’s another joke upon the first sight of the tags of DDLC. However, this time there’s no joke. DDLC, as the tag psychological horror suggests, is actually a story full of scares, revealing a darker side of personality. The same tag for Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, on the other hand, is only a funny reference to the game’s extraordinary difficulty.

Doki-doki school life

The game begins with a cliche VN plot, the main protagonist(the player names him), on an invitation from his childhood friend, Sayori, decides to actually pay a visit to the club she’s in – the literature club. There he meets the other three girls in the club: Natsuki making cupcakes for everyone, Yuri bringing him a book to read and at last, president Monika, regarding the iminnent school festival, proposes that everyone writes a poem, and brings it the second day to share with each other to enhance mutual communication and writing skills.

And here comes the game’s main mechanism. To compose a poem, you need to have 20 words, each of them chosen from 10 words. Every word appeals most to a specific heroine, and the hint is given during the day: Yuri loves something abstract and metaphorical, while cute words like lollipop or kawaii are appealing to Natsuki. And about Sayori, she have an inclination towards human emotion, and is drawn to both words for happiness and ones for sadness, which is made clear in the second day. The girl’s storyline will progress who is the most pleased. There are stickers of the girls showing on the left while making a poem. When a word is chosen, the corresponding girl will jump, making an easy indicator.

The girls react differently to the poems, as one may suppose. That is, if you write a poem that attracts Sayori most, for Natsuki it will be tepid. And if you write a “Yuri” poem on the second day, after Natsuki and Yuri had a quarrel about writing style, Natsuki may even feel sorry for that she has insulted the style of both Yuri and the MC, and runs away. Of course, as a part of the sharing, you will read the poems written by the four girls, and they are mostly identical to their word preference.

The true nature of the game is hidden till now, but clues are given here and there. Monika’s Writing Tips on the second day is a fourth-wall breaking one: save the game when you’re doing an important decision. On the third day, Sayori becomes a bit off, and she’s written a poem, which is really creepy according to the MC:

They were supposed to be for my friends, my friends who aren’t smiling.
They’re all shouting, pleading. Something.
But all I hear is echo, echo, echo, echo, echo
Inside my head

SayoriBottle

The poem managed to take a toll on my sanity. And Yuri’s poem today seems a mite uncanny as well. It tells a story of ‘I’ and a raccoon. ‘I’ feed the raccoon with bread crumbs every day, and as a result the raccoon grows excitement when ‘I’ show the very knife used for cutting bread. In the end of the poem:

A rush of blood. Classic Pavlovian conditioning. I slice the bread.
And I feed myself again.

YuriThe Raccoon

But to my relief, Yuri seems to be normal, yes, normal, after all, for now. You can even witness her cuteness if you choose to help her out on the fourth day. And she’s like cuuuuuuuuteeeeeeee, the embarassment after her licking your main protagonist’s hurt finger is good. I don’t really think that way. I’m just pretending to be innocent. Unconscious finger licking is just too archetypal for an anime girl, because it can show the girl’s other side of loveliness, in spite of how elegant and composed she might usually be.

So I just root for Natsuki for the weekend event. In this case, you the MC does a Kabedon on Natsuki, but still, the conversations are not as romantic or passionate as one may expect. Everyday stuff with a little teasing, and that’s it. It kind of fits my ideal of a good relationship between a boy and a girl, something of Platonic love. I’m not debasing sexual relationship, but pure love is, to me, more precious given the prevalence of the prior one. Cause Sayori is helping out Monika, you cannot choose to help either of them.

Back to this morning. The welcomed protag decides to visit Sayori before Natsuki/Yuri’s arrival. Sayori reveals that she suffers from heavy depression, and hope that the he just forget about her and get along with other girls. But she also admits her feeling heartbroken seeing his having a good time with them, without actually realizing that it’s out of jealousy. Sayori shows up again, and after Natsuki/Yuri is gone, she confesses her love for our protagonist. Here you have two options: accept it or not. If you choose to accept it, the two of them hugs each other and on and on. If not, Sayori breaks down, with a cry she runs away.

I’m glad I choosed to confess the love in my first run. Hope I’ve brought her some “hxppy thxughts”1.

Either way, on the day of the festival, you’ll see her last poem on the literature club’s pamphlet. Named %, it’s dark and well, a lot creepier than her second poem.

Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of

Get.
Out.
Of.
My.
Head.



Get out of my head before I do what I know is best for you.
Get out of my head before I listen to everything she said to me.
Get out of my head before I show you how much I love you.
Get out of my head before I finish writing this poem.






But a poem is never finished
It just stops moving

Sayori%

The quote comes from Paul Valery, a French poet: A poem is never finished, just abandoned. A poem is never finished, because it’s intrinsic to the poet. It’s a part of the poet themself, whether about their feelings or experiences. In this sense, all poems written by the same people are in fact a continuous flow of the poet’s personal experiences. So a poem can never be finished in this way, it’s just like some underground rivers, some streams seemingly seperated by rocks are in fact connected together. And if this flow just stops moving…think you get the point.

The poem reminds one of everything. Of her creepy one on the third day, of her leave on Friday, of her telling you she’s suffering from heavy depression in the weekend.

No, it can’t be. I keep assuring myself. It’s just a mediocre visual novel, only appealing to those weebs who can’t even stand a non-virgin, easily afraid theres no way Sayori will do something she’s fine just a little depression wont do anything shes fine shes fine shes fine she must be fine god she must be fine

But that feeling can’t go away.

The screen turns black after you enter Sayori’s house. When it goes bright again, Sayori is there.

Her body is there.

And everything speeds from bad to worse henceforth. The game restarts, but this time without Sayori. Her sprite in the title screen is replaced by an amalgam of the other members’ pixels. All previous saves become unloadable(saying you cannot find Sayori’s character file) and then deleted. Then the story unrolls as if Sayori never existed.

Now the game have glitches here and there, and things are exacerbating for Natsuki and Yuri. They have a quarrel on the same day as before, but without Sayori this time, it remains unchecked.

If you’ve triggered Natsuki’s event this day, she’ll faint while talking to the protagonist, which, by Monika, is due to her malnutrition. And Natsuki hints that she’s suffering from home abuse. When it comes to Yuri, she begins to show somewhat excessive obsession with MC. It’s like the first run, but the world is falling apart.

Fear of the unknown may be a little more fundamental than other phobias. One is constantly scared, because what comes next is beyond imagination.

It’s said that prepare for the worst. Ironically, sometimes the same thing applies to our fear, too. The worst thought pops in our mind, usually when it’s most unwanted. Horror games try to exploit this. They don’t scare you all the time, instead they create a ghastly environment, and the player’s mind will do the rest.

But DDLC is not entirely getting at it. Though Salvato, its creater, decided to make something eerie with a sugar coat, there’s something, other than pure horror in the game. Without it, DDLC would be a lot less special.

That’s meta. Sometimes I find my self unable to resist the charm of those self references and fourth-wall breaking stuff.

Beyond the topsy-turvy

You’ve come a long way here, which means about half the plot has been spoiled already. No turning back if you go on reading.
If you do have some interest, why not stop here and play the game right away? It’s free and takes just a couple of hours to go through, definitely worth a try.

And unfortunately, some other innocent games will be spoiled just because they bear some relevance. Amen.

The names of the games aren’t listed here in case of being a spoiler.

From its greek definition, a metagame should be a game about games, or a game beyond games.

It’s nothing new. After all, Shakespeare wrote meta-dramas centuries ago. You can make a game about making games, just like what lightnovel writers have been doing recently. Shion Momone, Masamune Izumi, Hashima Itsuki, all of them. The author of Noucome is working on a new one in this genre, too, and the first volume is interesting.

Sega, near its end of life in the console war, made a game called Segagaga. In this game the player assumes Taro Sega, trying to save Sega by making a great game ,beating the rivaling company DOGMA (a parody of Sony, one of its main competitors back then), and capture as much market share as possible. Ironic jokes and parodies throughout the play make the game a mite different. But it cannot compare to the Seaman, another game published by Sega, in the sense of weirdness. In the game, the player brings up and interact with a man-faced fish.

And the eccentricity also exists in the first parts of DDLC.

Without Sayori, one can say the first act is just about ordinary school life, and in the second act, a horrible one. It’s like Danganronpa, where there’s a chapter of (un)common life and then another about class trial.


Monika
Monika
Monika shows up, and upon entering the classroom, she realizes that she has screwed it all. So she deletes Yuri and Natsuki’s character file and cleans up the mess. And it’s progressing on to Act 3.

The game restarts again, and this time, the protagonistthe player sits with Monika, face to face. But unlike other girls, Monika face right to the screen in the whole gameplay, so it’s always the case.

Møn ka admits that she’s the culprit of all the terrible school life, however, it’s due to her obssession with the player, the only reality in the world of fiction.

All of a sudden, M̶o̶n̶ìką realized all the other members of the literature club were nothing but a piece of code, and their characters were just some archetypes common in Japanese anime, game and stuff. Frantically wanting to be together with the player, she abuses her privilege as the president, forces the player to choose to help her at the weekend, and even interferes with the personality of other girls.

At the price of the game itself.

But deleting the character file of others, and even telling how to do it to the player, who she believes would never betray her, turn out to be her undoings. In this act M    a will talk about some random topics, and some of them are thought provoking. The eternity lasts, until the player deletes her character file.

Being removed leads to Monika reflecting on herself about what she’s done to Sayori, Natsuki, Yuri, and also, the player. She apologizes for ruining the player’s experience as I’m now doing, and admits though fictitious, they’re still her friends. So she decides to restore the world to its initial state. A world the player desires. And a world without Monika.

Everything seems on track at first. Sayori thanks the player for making the other girls happy, and…

And for getting rid of Monika. As the new president of the literature club, Sayori has obtained the ability that is once Monika’s. Trying to use it to be with the player forever, Sayori is stopped short by Monika. In the end, Monika says, the Literature Club is no more than a place of grief and despair, so she decides to disband it.

Then Monika plays her song Your Reality(she picked up the piano for it), while the graphics are displayed. They are removed in the end, along with the game files.

If I don’t know how to love you
I’ll leave you be

From here on, the game won’t start. Instead, a farewell message from Monika is displayed.

If all CGs are seen, there’s an alternative end, where Sayori and the developer thank you and that’s it. That marks the end of the game.

So in its essence, DDLC is a VN, or it tries to be one, but ended up being a melting pot of love, horror, and meta. Though, DDLC isn’t the first one to do that. The first with file manipulation in mind may be the computer tutorials. Also, years ago, there’s a game called OneShot that used similar tricks.

In this game, the sun died out, which has been providing energy to the world. And our protagonist, Niko, wakes up with a lightbulb in hand. They know from the prophet the lightbulb is the new sun, and Niko, the savior. Player’s goal is to guide Niko to the tower and put the new sun into its place.

But it’s not that simple as it seems. During the pilgrimage, some puzzles requires the player to find something on the computer, instead of from inside the game. Yes, at a time the game places some files in your document directory for you to solve the problems in game. And in another situation, it even resets your desktop background for hints. And the ways to solve them, sometimes, also feature the same technique: you may need to drag the game window to reveal the hidden information, or, close it to progress to the next scene.

In the last part of the journey, the player comes to know that the sun needs the savior to operate, that is, if Niko returns the sun to the world, they cannot return to their own home. And if Niko smash the lightbulb, they can return, but at the expense of this world.

And it’s decisive. If Niko sacrifices themself for everybody’s sake, when you restart the game, only the starting room is shown, bathed in light, without Niko’s presence. If you choose the other route, Niko goes back to their home, but the game will fail to start due to the world’s destruction.

You only have one shot.

Don’t know how they managed this in the remake version, but in the original version, the registry of the computer is modified to maintain the state across installations. Games becomes scrupulous when they become commercial(and when they go on Steam), so it may not dare to play with the registry now.

However unsurprisingly, OneShot closes itself in a non-oneshot way. That’s in the solstice update. In this route, things become clear that the world has come to its end already, and the current one is none but a clone, a piece of code running on Player’s machine. But the Entity, the mind of the game itself, is “untamed”(you can interpret it as insensible), and started to self-destruct in order to protect the innocent victim trapped in the game, that is Niko. Now Niko needs to face the Entity to save the virtual world, and, to return home.

At a time you even need to move character files into a folder to transport their figures in the game! Only computer tutorials can force one to do that! Maybe the puzzle of deleting a character file comes out of here, we just don’t know. Let’s just state it as striking similarity.

When it comes to Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi.(The Love Between You, Her, and Her, abbreviated Totono), a visual game published by Nitroplus, I’m more inclined to say DDLC is imitating it, since they bear the same core idea: the heroine(a female character with her own route) being the literal “game changer”, while still inside of it. Although to be exact, Monika doesn’t own a route.

Miyuki Sone is a childhood friend of Shinichi, our protagonist, and she’s also an idol in the school. One can always refer to the game for further details. The point is, first the player is limited to Miyuki’s route, and then, when the player goes down the route of another heroine – Aoi – in its end Miyuki appears, killing Aoi and says the player should be loyal to her and choose her route again and again since the player chose her route in the beginning(yes, she’s aware she is a heroine in a visual novel), before killing Shinichi as well.

After restarting the game, Miyuki has already changed it, rendering it impossible to choose someone other than Miyuki, in the game. So as one may expect, to save the game from this mire, the player needs something out of the game.

To solve it, player needs to call a number that comes with the game package. And the very trick dates back to 1998, when the first Metal Gear Solid game was released, wherein Snake needs to contact Meryl, whose codec frequency is on the CD case. Not a CD in the game, but the CD of the game(it’s on PS1, so no DVD or blu-ray, just to clarify).

By the way, only one of the two heroines can be chosen ultimately, and the consequence is irrevertible unless a reinstallation is done. Yeah, one shot.

(Non-)verdict

Admittedly, Totono comes first, but its influence is limited. Not only because it’s Japanese only, but it’s still a galgame, deep in its core. There are H scenes, the plot mainly talks about the relationship, so on and so forth. However, DDLC is an indie game, its lack of commercial spirit makes a wilder attempt a possibility. The developers don’t care about whether the girls are that appealing, so they can make the girls depressed or abused, mask their eyes with black pixels, let Monika talk about anything in Act 3, leave a bad end only(with a compromised good one). DDLC is special in this sense. And it’s what makes the game appealing, aside from the plot twist.

Like, I would say Monika’s Writing Tips of the day are sometimes very inspiring(despite the fourth-wall breaking ones). Those are unforgettable.

So let’s end it with Monika’s last tip of the day:

Sometimes when I talk to people who are impressed by my writing, they say things like ‘I could never do that’.

It’s really depressing, you know?

As someone who loves more than anything else to share the joy of exploring your passions…

…it pains me when people think that being good just comes naturally.

That’s how it is with everything, not just writing.

When you try something for the first time, you’re probably going to suck at it.

Sometimes, when you finish, you feel really proud of it and even want to share it with everyone.

But maybe after a few weeks you come back to it, and you realize it was never really any good.

That happens to me all the time.

It can be pretty disheartening to put so much time and effort into something, and then you realize it sucks.

But that tends to happen when you’re always comparing yourself to the top professionals.

When you reach right for the stars, they’re always gonna be out of your reach, you know?

The truth is, you have to climb up there, step by step.

And whenever you reach a milestone, first you look back and see how far you’ve gotten…

And then you look ahead and realize how much more there is to go.

So, sometimes it can help to set the bar a little lower…

Try to find something you think is pretty good, but not world-class.

And you can make that your own personal goal.

It’s also really important to understand the scope of what you’re trying to do.

If you jump right into a huge project and you’re still amateur, you’ll never get it done.

So if we’re talking about writing, a novel might be too much at first.

Why not try some short stories?

The great thing about short stories is that you can focus on just one thing that you want to do right.

That goes for small projects in general – you can really focus on the one or two things.

It’s such a good learning experience and stepping stone.

Oh, one more thing…

Writing isn’t something where you just reach into your heart and something beautiful comes out.

Just like drawing and painting, it’s a skill in itself to learn how to express what you have inside.

That means there are methods and guides and basics to it!

Reading up on that stuff can be super eye-opening.

That sort of planning and organization will really help prevent you from getting overwhelmed and giving up.

And before you know it…

You start sucking less and less.

Nothing comes naturally.

Our society, our art, everything – it’s built on thousands of years of human innovation.

So as long as you start on that foundation, and take it step by step…

You, too, can do amazing things.

…That’s my advice for today!

Thanks for listening~