There’s more to this game than just what it intentionally let’s itself seem. Feeding into a good mix of stereotypical visual novel and dating sim with a simple yet fascinating twist.
With archetypal characters that bait you into your preferred school girl, you get sucked into dating sim muscle memory: choose the girl you find a slight interest in, and play the game to date her.
You play as a reserved high school student who loves anime and gaming. You struggle at socialising and so, Sayori, a childhood friend, asks you to join her club: the Literature Club.
A witty game of diction
You meet Monika, Natsuki, Yuri the founder, and members of the Literature Club. Once you join the club, you are then asked to write poems. You foster the attention and affection of the girls by choosing their word preferences and using it in your poem.
Most of the words you choose from are straightforward and obvious. The game repeats the same set of words throughout the game so it sets up the comfort of replay value.
It is definitely not your typical visual novel dating sim. The game sets you up so well with light chipper music, hints of replay ability, and charismatic characters. The poems each character presents you are relentlessly honest.
Doki Doki Literature Club! uses this genre to its advantage by conditioning you to suspend your disbelief through it. And, as you progress further into the game, you find a palpable shift in dynamic. You encounter mixed signals, strange hints, and questionable moods. As you grow closer to the characters, you uncover dark and unsettling topics.
More than just jump scares
Doki Doki Literature Club! lets you question your control, but it does more than that. In a sense, the game gives you control over the outcome and by doing that, appropriately plays out set chain reactions. It builds a false sense of control, takes it away, and by the time you get to choose, you don’t feel like having any of it.
There are intentional glitches that pop up in the game that stress how everything is not fine: demented statements, shattered images, and dead silences. At first it’ll drop little clues in the background or just strange statements, but it eventually turns into outright mayhem.
When playing any visual novel dating sim, choice is the essential aspect that lures people in. The genre presents options for you to learn more and more about each character and to work towards getting what you want. This is precisely what Doki Doki Literature Club! does well — simply to effectively build up to the unsettling point of the game where the consequences of your first play carries over to the next.
Eases you into a valid perspective
In many ways, Doki Doki Literature Club! isn’t just haunting by the series of events that slowly seeps into the game. It reels you in with the familiar only to drop it with metafictional elements. Replaying this game is part of the experience. There are events that unfold in the first play that pushes the player enough to play to the game’s advantage and redo the game.
This is intentional and is how you progress into discovering what the game is really about. How it carries over the dramatic end to the first play is through sudden shifts in music and deliberate glitches. The game adequately depicts a sense of free will, only to slap the upsetting reality of limitations of circumstance and results beyond control. In the end, it’s a game you play that ends up playing with you.