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Subverting visual novel conventions with a dark story, September 1, 2018
[Content warning: depicted violence, suicide.]
In Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC), you’re invited to join your neighbour’s tiny after school club, the literature club. Even though your only exposure to literature is reading manga, the club members themselves are each compelling in their own way.
Much has been written about this game, by people who are much more familiar with visual novels than I am, so I won’t feign familiarity with the conventions of the visual novel genre. But judging from this game alone, it seems that visual novels, like parser games, are good at signalling inevitability. Unlike parser games, they can do this with long stretches of dialogue-heavy storytelling without any choices. DDLC uses this to its advantage, using its episodic format to set patterns and break them.
This game is deliberately vague in its advertising about its content warnings, since those are spoilers in themselves. These are big heavy subjects that the game mentions, though, and it’s mostly used as plot point rather than being discussed.
Some gripes, then. Some of the story elements didn’t feel gelled together. In particular the poetry-writing felt like a flimsy justification for the premise. Additionally, the way this story handles mental illness is pretty superficial - more plot point than anything else. This attitude is endemic in horror fiction in general. We can do better.
DDLC is probably more worth playing for seeing how the visual novel format can be subverted than for its actual storyline, and for its questioning of the divide between player-character and player. It displays some clever tricks, but tends to use violence and mental illness as a shock tactic. Lynnea Glasser’s Creatures Such as We also explores such metatextual issues, but far more thoughtfully.