Great, so now I’m scared of schoolgirls.

This entry is gonna have major spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club. If you don’t know what that combination of words means, you probably won’t care. In short, DDLC is a free to play Steam game that presents as a dating sim, but morphs into a psychological horror. It’s all kinds of twisted. If you’re looking to play (or, like me, would be intrigued enough by that short sentence to give it a try), I might ruin some fun surprises.

Okay, so as I said above, DDLC is a psychological horror game masquerading as a cutesy dating sim. Realistically, you’re playing a story with a few options that can lead to alternate endings. A bunch of people online have figured out ways to maximise plot outcomes, etc. YMMV, but I tend to enjoy the experience more organically. I’m happy to make mistakes and see where it leads, even if I’m not on track for the optimal ending.

The game starts with your best friend Sayori meeting you before school. She’s manipulates you into joining her Literature Club at school. There you meet the three other members: Monika (the Club President), Natsuki (a childish first year obsessed with cute stuff) and Yuri (a demure bookish gal). The game progresses, with the only interactive options being making choices or poetry. The poetry mechanic is just choosing words on a page that correspond to the different girls you’re trying to woo. I accidentally kept getting Yuri options, though I was trying to gun for Monika (she seemed cooler). When you get closer to one of the girls you start getting distinct scenes with them. Yuri started sharing her book with me and we’d read side by side, getting physically closer with each session.

Sayori, my best friend, started getting a little distant, while strangely intense phrases would slip from Yuri’s lips every once in a while. She’d say something eerily haunting or perceptive. Maybe she’d identify a little too strongly with a murderous character or something. Still, my poems kept moving me towards her. I was wondering when the game would get creepy. Hints started flowing. After sharing our poetry with one another, Monika decided we’d do a live reading at our school festival. I was paired up with Yuri to work on decorations. Sayori became quiet and solitary. My character made plans for Yuri to come over and work on the decorations. Sayori freaked out and confessed her feelings for me. Her latest poetry had continued refrain of “get out of my head. Get out of my head” or something of the like. In the morning before Yuri was to come over, I went to her house to find her crying in her bedroom. She admitted that she’d been depressed her whole life and at this point couldn’t handle it. She was breaking down. My character told her he’d be there, he’d help her through it always. He asked if she wanted to come over and help with the decorations, but she declined.

So I made decorations with Yuri. She brought her supplies, involving a strangely ornate knife for cutting ribbon. My character touched the end of the knife to see how sharp it was and accidentally drew blood. Her eyes widened and involuntarily started sucking on the finger. My character was taken aback and a little weirded out. Nevertheless, we made all the decorations and she went home (though not without professing she had a large knife collection). When I went outside, I saw Sayori waiting there. She was having a breakdown and I had the option of confessing my love for her or doing nothing. I figured I might as well see where that would go. She said she felt nothing.

The next day she was late for school. I went back to her place to check on her and walked in on her having hung herself. “THE END” came up onscreen. It was a freaky tonal shift.

The screen glitched out and the game restarted. My saves were gone. The game played through as it had before, except without Sayori in it. Glitches started happening all over the place. Dark dialogue options began occasionally appearing in incongruous font. The music became detuned and unnerving. Monika started giving me warnings about Yuri. Yuri and Natsuki would argue and without Sayori to smooth out the conversations, they got aggressive and threatening. Yuri left to go make tea and after a while I went to check on her. I walked into the hallway to hear a gasp and see her with cuts all down her arm. The game glitched, then rewound. The dialogue reoccurred as if nothing had happened.

Every once in a while, characters would reference actions that’d taken place, but other characters would deny knowledge of them. Yuri became more and more unhinged. Natsuki grew concerned. During one scene the game glitched and Natsuki’s eyes popped straight out of her head with blood trailing behind. Then glitched back to normal. The closer my character got to Natsuki, the more she’d let loose about her knives and love of blood. She confessed her love to me and, after I refused, she stabbed herself right there in the classroom. Her dialogue became gibberish and kept repeating. I set the text to “skip” and it went on and on for minutes, just total nonsense and unreadable characters. The light changed, day turned to night, into day and back again a few times. Natsuki walked into the room and asked if I’d been there all weekend. She saw Yuri’s corpse and vomited. Monika walked in and sighed. She apologised and admitted to tweaking the character’s neuroses in order to make herself seem more appealing. A DOS style text box opened up and she ran code to delete the other characters.

The game restarted once more, but focused solely on Monika. She said she got rid of everybody else so we could be alone. She was staring straight at me and said she was in love with me. Not the character, but me, the player who was playing the game. We were in the club room, but outside the window was nothing but the emptiness of space. Her dialogue options were bizarre and rambling. She mentioned having gone into the local files of the game to alter the code. I checked the local files through Steam and deleted her character, then went back to the game. She screamed and glitched out, cursing me for dooming her to the void, but professing that she still loved me. She restored the other characters. The game reset again.

This time there was no mention of Monika. The other characters were back, but Sayori was class president. She said she knew everything that happened with Monika and intended to stay with me forever and ever.  Monika’s stepped in and said she was sorry for endangering me. The game reset again to a black screen. A young woman’s voice came over the speakers. She said she’d written a song for me and wanted to play it. The game’s theme began playing on piano and she sang along while the credits rolled. She thanked me for playing and professed her eternal love for me. It was weird and sorta sweet, nicely capping off a five or so hour playthrough.

The game was such a breath of fresh air. For one, the format made it feel like there was a lot more choice, but really it was all on rails. I played it until the early hours of the morning and for real, it was pretty goddamn creepy. It’s this kind of stuff that makes me so stoked to see how gaming has evolved from its early days. Indie games are pushing the format onwards to bizarre and wonderful terrain. Even if I have spoiled basically all of it, I’m sure it’d still be a blast to experience. If you have Steam, it’s free. What’s holding you back?

I mean, it is legit terrifying, so there’s that.

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