Visual Novel Theatre: Doki Doki Literature Club

Okay everyone! Here’s the deal. Assuming you’re not turned off by the content warnings but don’t even worry about that, I want you to play Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s a free visual novel that takes about three hours of time and is great. But it’s also one of those things were you need to know about the experience in order to be motivated to get it, but you’re going to have a better time the less you know about it when you start it up. So we’re going to do a thing here. If you trust me, just close this now, go download Doki Doki Literature Club, play it, and come here when you’re done. Once again, it’s free.  And it’s amazing.  You have no reason not to.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back. For the rest of you, I’m going to post about the game. We’re going to start very shallow, then get deeper and deeper into what this is the further we go. If at any point you get to thinking you might like to check it out, stop reading this post right there, leave me a comment telling me how amazing I am, then go get the game. Seriously. Try it. It’s good. I promise. Just play it all the way through. I know, I know, it might not be your cup of tea to begin with. Stick with it, though. It will take you places.

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If you get to the end of the post without wanting to give it a try, or you do play through it and find you don’t like it, please submit a complaint that’s as scathing as possible to my official complaint box at theotakujudge.com/about/.

Seriously. Go play it. You won’t regret it. Actually you might but don’t worry about that!

Ok, for those of you who don’t trust me yet, here’s getting into the experience.

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Doki Doki Literature Club is a romance visual novel. About a literature club. Full of beautiful women. Who all think you’re great, and want to spend all sorts of time with you doing that thing you like. Seriously, I don’t even know what you’re into, but this place has got it. You like that super energetic child hood friend budding romance? She’s there. You like to help a shrinking violet come out of her shell with your love? Oh, she’s just waiting for you. You into that girl who looks a bit underdeveloped but is still 18 so you can totally talk about the sex stuff with her without being creepy? All over that. Into the over-achieving class president type who has those challenges no one can see? Well she’s mostly wingman here but she’ll still help you get in with those other girls.

Best part of it is that they all want on your jock. Or maybe you’re a woman. In which case they want on your lady-jock. That’s right, you could get a girlfriend! Just pick who you like. Look, you guys are jerks to each other but you’re friends so it’s all banter with her! She’ll bring you cupcakes, and the way to your heart is through your gullet, right? She’ll give you quiet book time in that cool young librarian way!

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And I guess there is that but don’t worry about that! Look, here’s the president. You don’t get to date her because she’s kind of a tutorial/facilitator but look at the way she smiles at you!

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Her skirt even flips up when she does that, for some reason! Doki Doki, right?!

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Now Playing: The Return

It feels like time for another one of these. Life’s crashing down, but it’s still good to keep in mind how much I’m moving forward. So for those of you who are new here, or aren’t given to remember random minutia about internet stranger’s lives, I’m on a quest. An embarrassingly long time ago, I made the decision to beat, or come as close as I’m capable of, all the games I own, progressing through them grouped roughly by their console generation. Because this was the generation I started being able to make my own purchasing decisions, and the console generation I most filled out in the years following when more powerful consoles came along, I have been stuck in the PS2/GameCube/Xbox on…uh… Original for ages. Like, family members have been born and grown to the point that they can now have weird rambling conversations about cookies with me since I started this era. I have been stuck for far longer than I expected on this console generation. But I am in sight of the end. In fact, it’s my New Year’s Resolution to have this generation conquered by the end of this year. So, let’s take a look at how far I’ve come since our last update.

The Recently Conquered

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

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Last time I covered this, I had positive things to say about it. I’m going to have to walk that back now. Urrrrrrrrrrrrgh did this game outlast my patience for it. Multiple times, I tried to convince myself to quit this game. Maybe I should have. That was a good 50 hours of my life I wasn’t really enjoying. I wouldn’t have bothered, if I hadn’t made it my quest to beat all my games. But can you put a price on overcoming a challenge? Is there any value worth it to you to be less than you actually are? No, I dominated this game like I dominate all things. And I feel good about that.

This is one of the worst games I’ve played as part of this quest. And given that that’s a list that includes Fur Fighters, you know that’s saying something. I appreciate creativity, I appreciate going outside the box, I appreciate the unusual. But there needs to be some direction to it. The combat system in Star Ocean is a bunch of bad ideas thrown at a wall that don’t really mesh together. The plot devolves until it’s the same thing. Everything about Star Ocean is bad, and the plot is handled so badly that it’s twist, which could be something really interesting handled by someone more competent, ends up making the whole series less worthwhile. I didn’t like it.

Looking at opinion bits online, you run into a lot of people who love this game, and you run into a lot of people like me who thought it was absolute dreck. You don’t run into many people in the middle. And you know, it occurs to me that there’s some things that are designed like that. They appeal to the niche. I don’t know who the niche for this is, people who like complicated combat systems full of features but with simple controls and don’t mind a random happenings plot that has troubles paying off? In any case, the more something is designed for a narrow niche, in general, the less it’s going to appeal to people outside of that. This one doesn’t just target the JRPG fans, it targets JRPG fans with a specific itch. I didn’t have that, but the people who do seem to appreciate it.

Simpsons Hit and Run

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This is a game that should be bad, designed in a way that it could be good, but ends up falling somewhere in between. It’s a lot better than you’d expect a random licensed game to be. Still not great. The engine is solid. Could be great. Definitely competent designers behind it. But they didn’t manage a lot of flaws that really dragged the experience down. Limited load zones, bad pathfindings, reuse of linear designs, artificial difficulty, and really poor final challenges were about the worst of it.

I didn’t actually see the ending on this one. I got to the final mission and struggled through all it’s stupid bullhonky over and over again until the game froze up. I didn’t overpower it, but I did endure longer than it did. That’s a victory on its own.

Devil May Cry

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I deliberately did poorly enough to unlock the easy mode, and played it on that. The internet says that means I was playing it wrong. The internet takes that very personally. Because if I play the game wrong that completely invalidates everyone else’s experience. Well, screw everyone else, I had a much better time playing it on easy than I ever did on normal difficulty. Look. I play my fair share of hard games. I’ve beat Dark Souls, Zelda 2, classic Shin Megami Tensei, the original run of Trauma Center, all sorts of things. Sometimes I play games on hard. Sometimes I play them on easy. It really depends on the game. Some games, I just have a better time going up against something on a lower level, and that ended up being Devil May Cry. Sure, maybe my experience was less ‘pure’ but I had a better time with the easier control scheme and weaker enemies. Some games I like to push me to the edge. Some games, I appreciate being the big man.

I was inspired to pick this up at the time I did by a discussion I came across, referring to this game specifically and questioning how much of your enjoyment of a game comes from playing it in its prime. That had me thinking. Because of this quest, I think I’m almost as immersed in games of this era as it’s possible to be, but even so, I don’t get the full context of this being so different from everything else available at the time. It’s like John Carter of Mars, a lot of what it developed was absorbed into the rest of the medium to the point that what was once original about it became kind of standard, so by the time it comes around again the audience just yawns. It always has felt a bit less than spectacular to me, but I’ve been playing this after I’ve already played games like Bayonetta that take the formula so much farther. Players who played it back in it’s prime enjoy it because they’ve got those good memories of it. But is a game that relies on those memories still a good game? Is it impossible to enjoy some games without those memories?

Evolution Worlds

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This is one of the most disappointing games I’ve played in recent memory. I used to really enjoy it! When I was however old I was when this was new, I played it through several times. This is one of the few games I’ve had where I’ve started a new run as soon as I was done with my first. This time around, though, it just became a clear picture of why people turned against JRPGs so hard at the end of this generation. It felt like I basically just pressed ‘A’ for twenty hours, then called it done. Turn-based combat, without much complexity to it, and a plot I had a hard time caring about, just wasn’t good times.

Bonus Round: Super Mario World 2-Yoshi’s Island

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I love how you can re-buy virtual copies of old games now. I stupidly sold my SNES and games when I left for college, and hadn’t been able to get a new version of this one until I got my Wii U and could access a virtual console it was actually on.

I got my original copy of this game as a gift a couple of days after a major turning point in my life. I played this so much as a kid. As a child, it never reminded me of that point, but coming back to it now reminds me so much of that singular moment. Memory’s a weird thing.

Now Playing

Final Fantasy XII

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Here’s a counterpoint to the Devil May Cry question. I played this when it was new, and didn’t like it. I’ve never gotten far into it before, just really didn’t like the mechanics. It’s a 3d system, but to fight I just select an option and wait? Wasn’t for me.

Now though, years after its original release, now that I’ve played more games that use a similar battle system like Dragon Age, Knights of the Old Republic, etc., I’m enjoying this game a lot more. I’m enjoying it a lot more out of its original context than I did within it.

Planescape: Torment – Still

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I’ve progressed on this since our last check-in, but still don’t think I’m close to beating it. It’s not grabbing me yet. It’s getting close, but I think I’m still just barely out of the rough beginning, so I only find myself playing it every once in a while. I hate everything about the Baldur’s Gate engine. It’s a pain to move around and it’s a pain to fight. I think I’m coming to the end of the rough parts. It’s been a while since the game’s forced me into combat, and I no longer have to walk through every single area to get to where I’m going. The plot and well-written sidequests are moving at a faster pace, and you know, I’m seeing signs of the brilliance everyone else says is there. I still need it to sell me on it, but I’m finding I’m looking forward to when it does.

The Soon to Fall

Valkyrie Profile 2

Shadow of the Colossus

Psychonauts

Beyond Good and Evil

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaake Eaterrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mortal Kombat Armageddon

Soul Calibur II

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

X-Men Legends

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Snap Judgments: Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, and measures of fun in general I guess

Years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and the casters were asked something along the lines of “What’s the worst thing a game designer can do?”  They came to the conclusion that the worst thing was to make a game that’s not fun.  I took issue with that.  I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a lot of ways to get value out of an experience.  With video games, fun is the most common thing, but a game that’s not fun can still be worthwhile.  Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a perfect example to that.

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Bennett Foddy is the guy who made QWOP.  Do you know QWOP?  Good, that will give you good standing for the rest of this post.  Getting Over It is an homage to what Foddy calls B games (amateur releases made from public domain or ripped assets generally created more for the experience of creating than to actually make a good game) in general and Sexy Hiking in particular.  In this game, you control a man stuck in a cauldron, or more accurately, that head of that man’s yosimite hammer, dragging, throwing, and pushing him up a mountain.  It is brutal.  It controls very differently from nearly anything you’ve played before, the physics are nonintuitive and feel a bit random, the obstacles are design to take advantage of the limits of your abilities, and at any point, it’s possible to fall off the mountain, setting yourself back possibly to the very beginning of the game.  All the while you have Bennett Foddy himself narrating about this game or game design in general, and offering encouragement when you have some particularly bad falls.

It is not a fun game.  It is deliberately not a fun game.  In fact, whereas other of Foddy’s past games, QWOP as an excellent example, also had very nonintuitive and painful control schemes, you could pull some fun out of learning to utilize them.  I don’t think you can with Getting Over It.  It is designed to not be fun.  And yet, you go on the internet, you can find lots of people who are loving it.  It’s even been put up for awards.

That’s because the game is designed around one particular thing: frustration.  Every part of it is built to deliver that frustration.  And then it goes even further.  It examines frustration.  It makes you feel a feeling, than holds the mirror up to you and talks about it.  It navel-gazes at it.  It is clear that a lot of thought and intent in this game went into dealing and dealing with that frustration.

This would be the type of game that, much like with environmental narratives and the typical ‘art game’ is going to cause a lot of division when people are discussing it.  You’d pretty much have to appreciate both a game that derives its delivered fulfillment from something very atypical and a game that is way navel-gazey about it’s subject matter.  I think it does help a lot that the creator is really clear and up front that this game is not for everyone, rather than what’s expected from a whole lot of creators.  In all the advertising for the game, he says that this is made for a certain type of person, and even in the opening narrative he says you have to be in a certain type of mood to enjoy it.

I wasn’t in that mood when I played it.  In fact, I only gave it twenty minutes before deciding it wasn’t for me right now and sending it back to the abyss of my Steam list.  I do appreciate that it’s out there.  And it did get me thinking about the nature of games once again, which I guess was it’s intended purpose.  It wasn’t fun for me in the least.  But it did deliver a worthwhile experience, for what I gave to it.

Night of the Living Fallout

So last time… actually, you know what? You remember last time. I know you do. Let’s not worry about the usual intro here.

What? Ok, there’s that guy, over there. He doesn’t remember what happened last time. Do you believe it? What a jerk. But yeah, I guess we need to include him to. So here’s for that guy. Last time on Athena and the Lost Souls, our master thief had finally discovered her most solid lead as to the location of the water chip yet. The Water Merchants in the Hub suspected that the folks of nearby The Necropolis, which is sure to be a friendly and happy place, had their own source of water and most probably would have a water chip of some kind around. In pursuit of salvation for her people, Athena treks all day across the waste until she crosses some ruined signs from an ancient age claiming she’s entering Bakersfield, California.

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It’s a little worse for wear. But she’s here. The Necropolis.

Immediately on entering town, Athena notes that there’s no life to be seen and the stench of death pervades the air. Just like the modern Bakersfield, California that we all know, am I right? (Seriously, am I right in saying that? I’ve never been to Bakersfield.) She does spot a group of locals in the distance, and approaches them.

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There’s something a little off there. They’re not very talkative. But they are very ugly. And punchy.

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Not that they do anything, though. The ghoul beats its fists limply against Athena’s metal armor.

Athena’s gun does slightly more damage than that. Blows it away in a single shot. In fact, Athena and Tycho mop up that whole group before Dogmeat even gets close enough to attach. No problem.

There’s another group of these feral ghouls a bit further up north. They’re stronger. Not strong enough to pose a problem, but strong enough that it takes more than one hit to bring them down. So, you know, Athena has to spend a bit more ammo dealing with them. That’s about it.

Then we run into a problem. See, the place we entered town? Completely surrounded by debris. Athena tries going to the north. Can’t get anywhere. She tries going to the west. Nothing doing. East and south only lead out of town. In fact, the only options available to her are to leave and… no.

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Athena finds a manhole cover, leading into the sewers, that looks like it was used recently and begins to wonder if saving the lives of everyone she’s ever known or loved is really all that worth it. I mean, sure, on the one hand, that’s thousands of lives lost in a horrible tragedy if she doesn’t secure that water chip. On the other hand, there’s poop down there.

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Oneshot

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What’s this, Aether? Yet another RPG Maker-created indie adventurish game? And this one doesn’t even seem that spooky. You’ve been on a real kick with those, haven’t you, Aether?

Well, sort of. Thanks to my friend and yours, Red Metal, I had the chance to try this game out. I hadn’t heard of this game before. Knew absolutely nothing about it. Yet it ended up being the kind of thing that absolutely vibes with what I look for and enjoy about video games. This is an experience.

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In a sentence, Oneshot is a game with the art style of Cave Story set in an Undertale-esque world mired in the tone from Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine as played through an RPG Maker puzzle adventure, with a fun and unique twist. And it all comes together, and it works, and it’s good. The game feels like something special, like a real labor of love.

So the big selling point behind Oneshot, the headlining factor that makes it stand out from the rest of the market, is that Oneshot is a game that does its best to make you believe it’s not really a game. You play as yourself, an incredibly sexy warbeast named Aether (or, you know, whoever you are, although I don’t know why you’d want to play as anyone else), who has discovered a piece of software on your computer that allows you to interact with and guide a single catperson, Niko, themselves a stranger in a dying world. You are revered as a deity in that world, much as I am in this one, while Niko turns out to be a sort of messiah, tasked with delivering a light bulb that illuminates whenever he touches it to a tower, where it will serve as the worlds new sun after the last one burned out a while ago.

This game will mess with your computer, and you’ll need to look outside the game itself to solve some of the challenges it presents you with. Puzzle solutions will wind up in your documents, on your desktop, in mysterious programs you don’t remember putting on your computer, etc. The game says in the beginning it’s best played in windowed mode, and that’s true, because sometimes you’ll need to play around with something on your computer or the game window itself to figure out something or other.

That’s the gimmick, and it’s used really creatively throughout, but rarely in a way that you’ll be lost without outside help. After you’ve got the logic of how the game works down, you can usually follow along pretty easily.

It’s not just that alone that comes into play, though, as far as the immersion factor goes. You’re constantly referred to, Niko will chat with you and you have your own dialogue options, and a few characters will bypass Niko and address you directly. If you’re into immersion, few can match this game.

Of course, all the immersion in the world doesn’t matter if the game itself isn’t good. And Oneshot is good. It’s the type of good that’s completely reliant on characterization and storytelling and a lot of things that are way more subjective than the already subjective gameplay-mechanics, so of course, your mileage may vary, but if you’re into the types of things I’ll be talking about here, you’ll probably find the game very solid as well.

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Characterization is really strong, here. Niko, the character you interact with this world through, is one of the few that’s around long enough to get any real depth to them, but he/she is quite interesting. A child, passed from a happy life into a world seeing its sunset years and tasked with being its one ray of hope, they often get overwhelmed, or don’t know how to handle the situations before them, but keep trucking on. They’re decidedly human, as well. They have very understandable desires and impulses, and though they are childlike and a catperson, they’re very relatable.

The other characters you come across are a little different. It’s clear from the outset that you and Niko are very different from the rest of them. And although you can easily find plenty of characters who go beyond the shallow level, you always get the feeling that there’s something a bit off about them. That they’re playing by a set of rules you can barely penetrate and have no hope of ever fully understanding. There’s a point to that. You and Niko both may be one of a billion in your world (unless you’re playing as me, in which case even then, you stand apart), but here, you are something completely unique. The plot takes it from there, but the ways all the characters interact with you keep hammering the point home.

There are puzzles in this game. Again, no real stumpers, even though they do require a lot of outside the box thinking. I think there was one I needed to consult a guide on, and a few I needed to get some mental distance on, take some time away and come back to, but most of the rest I just cruised through easily. It does occasionally work on cartoon physics, but when you get used to how they work, they’ll work pretty well. This would be a very individualized experience, but for me, they generally hit the sweet spot where it takes a bit of thought but not so much that you’re getting frustrated or wasting a lot of your precious gametime retracing steps over and over again.

The plot is one of the stronger parts of the game. It’s one of those good indie-style plots, not a lot of moving parts but what is there is well done and thought provoking. I love a story that lies to you, and Oneshot is playing off your expectations from the moment it drops that title. Even with that in place, though, the story is simple enough to be relatable, and peppered with enough Earthbound-esque surreal humor to keep the dark story from going full on sad. It controls the tension, the bits you may remember from the classic Freytag’s pyramid, very well, going on a slow burn through most of the opening, reaching the climax and having a good denouement, then breaking out the intensity once you’re on the path to the true ending.

Oneshot feels like a special experience. I find myself staying vague with quite a bit of things about it, just because it’s the type of game that’s really best experienced in a vacuum, in a quiet room by yourself. I don’t think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, it delivers like none other. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a try. I know I haven’t found much else quite like it.