This article is not a review of Doki Doki Literature Club!, a visual novel/dating sim by Team Salvato. It is not a review, because I did not complete the game, and really have no right to call this article a "review".
If you are the sort to be concerned about spoilers, now is your chance to go over here and play it for yourself first for free. It really is its own experience.
Otherwise, or if you have played it, carry own downwards.
I will mention that, if you are concerned about porn in your video games, Doki Doki Literature Club! is lacking in such (according to the Internet) I'm not sure why Steam believes it has such content, but apparently that's the fault of players tagging it wrong. ???
What it does contain is... disturbing things.
They seriously aren't kidding.
Like the game itself, there is another layer to this review. The actual title of this not-review is actually...
Cute Girls and Calvinist Suicide
Doki Doki Literature Club, henceforth DDLC, is in fact a horror game. Underneath the veneer of flirting with cute girls and writing poems is the dark reality of mental illness. A reality done quite well, except in one critical point.
Like your average dating sim, there are a number of prospective romantic partners, with whom you engage with by a multiple choice system. (Many rag on the entire concept of a dating sim, but if you call it a choose-your-own-adventure romance novel, it sounds far more reasonable, no?)
The writer of this CYOA virtual romance novel is skilled, and rather than farce or an excuse for fanservice or even an H-Game, the writing is plausible and well-written. The main character, whom I whimsically named Joe in my one run, is actually a decent guy.
But in either brilliance or extreme parody of the genre, this is not really about dating (or so I can only assume) but a cross between Volunteer Peer Counselor: the Game, and a Choose Your Own Misadventure horror novel.
A misadventure such as making the wrong choices such that Sayori, one of the aforementioned Cute Girls, commits suicide. Calvinistically.
The scene where she does so is so disturbing that it put DDLC in that rare category of games that actually caused me to lose sleep. And not because I wanted to keep playing it to 3 AM.
I'm not going back and screencapping that scene. I may be crazy, but I am not insane.
If that was their intent--to achieve an 11 out of 10 on my personal disturbing scale--they succeeded.
What they did not succeed in, however, was to make a realistic depiction of suicide.
As I mentioned, Team Salvato, or at least the writer thereof, has depicted mental illness quite realistically. For this I laud them. But the reason, aside from wanting to sleep in the future, that I did not continue playing was that it depicted suicide wrongly.
It's not that either the (disturbing) suicide note or the (disturbing) hanging are implausible. Far from it.
It's not even the survivor's guilt of the main character (a.k.a. you) depicted before the harsh Game Over. Once again, it is well done.
It's still not even that the game pretends to corrupt itself, to give the illusion of finality (the manual instructs you on how to reset it.) As far as I know, no one has been deleted from existence post suicide, but we can give the creators credit.
No. The problem is that you control whether or not Sayori kills herself.
Like the creations of the God of the Calvinists, Sayori has no free will. Take this action, set this flag, and Sayori chooses death. Presumably, another set of actions, which I did not take, and will now never discover, will cause Sayori choose life. Her fate is entirely in your hands.
But God is no Calvinist, and that is simply not how suicide is. It is a choice by the individual. Influenced, perhaps, by the actions of others, but ultimately the blame for suicide cannot be laid at the feet of anyone else but he who chooses it.
I don't know what other choices in-game I could have made to change the fate of Sayori--but that's besides the point. If it was a realistic depiction, no choice would have ultimately mattered, only the free will of Sayori herself.
(As an aside, the choices I made that apparently caused this Calvinist suicide were simply choosing a different girl than Sayori. While I have no doubt that people have killed themselves over romance, the idea of choosing a girl simply so she won't commit suicide is bizarre, and no basis for a healthy relationship. Indeed, everything that the main character said by my direction seemed quite reasonable in my eyes. But perhaps that is through the lens of virtual bitterness.)
Is it possible to create a dating sim, visual novel, or what-have-you, where suicide is depicted correctly? I don't know. But this didn't succeed, in such a way that I, who have attempted suicide in the past, do not want to continue. I suspect there is yet another layer of horror beneath the merely possible, into the meta-fictional.
But I won't know. I have only played enough to be too disturbed to continue.
That, and I dislike Calvinism. SO THERE.