Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Feature Entry: Doki Doki Literature Club

I think the most accurate explanation of this game was the title of a ZAM article: it's the Cabin in the Woods of dating sims. This is not going to be a happy-go-lucky blog entry, because this game was not happy-go-lucky.

But first, let me get this out of the way:

If there is even the slightest chance you are interested in playing a visual novel/dating simulator that both excels at being its genre and also picks it apart and makes itself into a psychological horror game... then I sincerely urge you to STOP READING. Having played the game after carefully avoiding spoilers, it is well worth your while to give it a shot. The game is free on the Steam store.

BUT ALSO: If you are prone to depression, very sensitive, or easily disturbed... do NOT play this game. You don't need the kind of emotional mindset this game hedges you into. You might not even want to read the rest of this blog entry. Bad things happen. The language and violence is very adult.

That's all the warning you get -- moving on!

I went into playing this game with the scant knowledge that it would become dark and turn into a game unlike its packaging denotes. And for the first hour (for others it was only 30 minutes) it really felt like just another dating simulator game with anime girls and their varying archetypes. Your best friend next door, Sayori, convinces you (the male protagonist) to stop by the Literature Club because she may have promised the others she was bringing someone with her. Feeling guilted, and apparently being a decent-ish person, you agree. With tongue-in-cheek commentary about selling your soul for a cupcake you've been promised at the club, you meet the rest of the girls.

Natsuki, Monika, and Yuri are all very different from each other, and the game makes you hyper-aware of what their archetypes are by how they interact and how they respond to you. You're just along for the ride in this first encounter. Eventually, Monika makes the decision that everyone will write a poem and share it with the rest of the club the next day. (The good news is that you don't actually have to write a poem.)

When you sit down to write your poem, what you're given is a word bank. You click on a word -- and over on the left side of the screen a chibi version of one of the girls will jump, indicating you chose a word that meshes with that girl. Choose enough words for any particular girl and you'll set yourself up for a unique encounter with them the following day. In the interest of playing through the game quickly, I tried to choose words that would span the full range of the girls so I wouldn't have a favorite.

Even though I have zero interest in dating sim games, the dialogue between my protagonist and the girls was captivating. The developers really loaded each girl with a generous helping of unique personality, so as you learn secrets about them it really pulls you into their world. So when one of them commits suicide, it's something you kind of saw coming but didn't expect -- especially not in the intense way the game throws it at you. Your protagonist has a logical response -- he's devastated and inconsolable. You think this is when the game ends, because 'End' pops up on the screen. But if you wait, you are suddenly back at the main menu. The girl who committed suicide is replaced with one of the other girls in the menu art. You start a new game.

The deceased girl has been written out of the script this time, with the game appearing to be pixelated or glitching out where she would have been. This is when everything starts to dive right into darkness. The emotions of the remaining girls go from 1 on the Richter scale to a full-blown 9. The nice dialogue becomes punctuated with cussing and complaints as you play through the seemingly exact same scenario as before. Depending on how you were interacting with the girls, you end up with another dark death -- violent and gory. 

Lo and behold, the one girl you weren't given the opportunity to truly interact with is the one who made things go wrong. Monika, the Club President, is apparently aware that she is a character in a game, and it was driving her mad to see the others get to have time with you. So she drives one to suicide, then tweaks the character files of the other two until they are corrupted and she is forced to delete them. Then... then there is only Monika. ONLY MONIKA.

I know I said this entry was full of spoilers, but I won't spoil the ending of the game for you. I can't bring myself to do it! I will tell you that it involves manipulating the files in your Steam folder. (I hope you know how to do that. But if not, it's okay -- the game really breaks that fourth wall soundly and helps you out.) My only advice is this: The game isn't over until you get scrolling end credits.

There's even merchandise available at the Team Salvato Store if you enjoyed this game as much as I did. Let me know in the comments if you have played it or have questions before you take the plunge! And as always, please help me be a hero for kids if you enjoyed reading!

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Delay: Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear to Tread

Due to unplanned life events in the last week or so, my Feature entry has been delayed. I finished the full play-through of the game this afternoon and could--quite convincingly--write my blog entry with the remaining time I have today.

     If you had played the game I just did, however, you would know 
     that my mind needs time to process what I have experienced. 

Come back in a day or two for the Feature entry if you want to understand, or simply go play Doki Doki Literature Club for yourself. DO NOT Google it or look up videos. DO NOT tarnish this absolute gem by spoiling the story before you play it!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February Feature Forecast

Wait just a moment. Don't roll your eyes! Yeah, it looks like a cutesy, date-all-the-anime-girls visual novel. It's that, but it's also a psychological horror game. People who hate visual novels and manga have positively reviewed this game on Steam. You can't complain -- this was a poll result, after all!

Check back on the 18th for this month's feature entry, or sign up to have it delivered to your e-mail when it's posted!