Foreword to the review: this will be a review of two parts. A standard review (shorter than usual) for the overall game followed by score and Pros and Cons, all of which will be spoiler free. This will be followed by a more in-depth story-review which I expect to be very spoiler heavy, I will put another warning before the spoilers begin, but you have been warned!
Doki Doki Literature Club by Dan Salvato has a dumb name, but considering that it’s a Japanese dating sim perhaps that’s to be expected. Except that it’s not just any old dating sim…
Loli Loli Book Van is one of those rare games which is particularly difficult to review because I’d say enjoyment of it requires that you go in more or less blind and with no pre-existing expectations. While this can make the decision to play a game difficult when you have very little to go on, allow me to state early on: if you are at all curious about the game then I really do recommend it. At 4-5 hours in length and completely free, there is really the barest minimum of commitment to finding out what all the fuss is about.
For people still on the fence and looking to be persuaded either way, I will do my best to provide a picture of the game’s strengths.
First of all, I would say that one expectation you are allowed to have is that the game does play like any other Japanese visual novel. This means: anime characters, a small selection of background music, the barest minimum of animation between clicks of the mouse, slightly more detailed still-frames for intense moments and LOTS of reading.
All of this is still there, and I personally totally understand if this is a deal-breaker. I have had one experience with visual novels of this type, and while I can appreciate that they can actually often have rather good writing and be very emotionally intense, they do very little for me other than boring me. For me it’s a form of story-telling which would be better as a book, because otherwise I spend the entire time wishing I could speed up through the bloody repetitive and hypnotic click-click-click-click of endless dialogue.
So, I should say that it is a measure of the strength of the story of Waifu Library Fight Club that I not only succeeded in powering through the game, but overall came out seeing it in a positive light.
In the end, it’s the story of the game which is its strongest selling point. Once again I can’t really give too much away without risking spoilers but it genuinely succeeded in not just surprising me but outright stunning me to jaw-dropped silence. It’s extremely emotive and emotional with a few moments making my playing come to a harsh and stone-cold stop.
It’s worth mentioning that while the overall story is actually quite brilliant, with some “high” points that utterly blew me away, it is mostly done in the visual novel style and sometimes the actual writing itself can be a little dull or frustrating. It’s a fairly classic thing with games of this type that dialogue and character interaction can range from being absolutely outlandish, to being absolutely outlandish and also a complete chore.
This brings me to my second recommendation about the game: if you intend to play it, make absolute certain that you play for at least a solid two-plus hours to get past the initial barrier. It is, after all, a game about subverting expectations and so it initially has to set up said expectation and does so by pretending to be one of those numerous visual novel high-school dating simulators in which you pick and choose the girl you want to pursue through a very limited number of choices. I got close to losing patience with this, because this early section just drags on and on and on. I realise it’s partly intentional, but it feels important to say that you really do just have to stick with it and suffer through it to get to good stuff.
Having said this, the game occasionally will switch back to this sort of style at various other points during the later stages and this really does have something of a soporific effect in how quickly it made my eyes glaze over and my attention wander. Again, this is almost certainly intentional, but I came close to missing important stuff a few times simply because I was basically blindly clicking through the dialogue.
When The Change™ comes though I promise you will notice because it hits like an absolute tonne of bricks. It left me stunned to silence with my jaw agape. I streamed the whole game and the early hours were filled with me cracking jokes, my attention somewhat wavering and basically trying to make it fun for myself. Following The Change, I just went quiet, focusing far more on the game than on the fact that I was on camera.
It’s damned impressive and damned unsettling and is quite simply a very excellent example of story-telling. You might have heard the game described as a horror and I personally disagree with that description, but it certainly hits a few psychological notes which were unnerving as fuck to say the very least.
Beyond all this there is not much to say about the game except perhaps that it really is rather clever in a lot of ways. Down to the exceptionally cheery music, which I found myself bobbing my head along to, which then will occasionally just simply vanish when the game wants to hit you the hardest.
The narrative techniques it utilises are also rather intelligent, along with whatever point the game was trying to make (which, naturally, went blissfully over my head like most complex themes do). Rather than any other visual novel, it invites comparisons to another indie darling which seems far more apt due to the way it approaches the player experience.
With the above in mind it’s possibly worth saying that the game doesn’t do anything new precisely, but what it does is undeniably effective and thought-provoking nonetheless.
A final point is that there is perhaps a bit less choice involved in the game than you might expect, with only a few things really causing any branching changes to the story. However, this doesn’t actually seem that important though given the story the game is trying to tell, so is merely a footnote in this review.
Overall, I enjoyed Baka N-Nani Weeb Simulator for its truly excellent narrative, but at the same time this was only just enough to overcome my inherent dislike of the visual novel style. Even towards the end, parts of it just felt like a real slog when I feel like all aspects of that boredom should have been left to the beginning. For this I’ll give it a lower score than most, simply because for me it was hamstrung at the gate. However, at the same time I do not regret playing it and still do recommend it simply to satisfy the curiosity.
|· Intense and emotional story-telling which absolutely subverts expectations and will leave you anything from shocked to broken-hearted
· Totally, 100%, free (and not fake free like other games which slap you with microtransactions down the line)
|· It’s still a visual novel and has all the MANY issues associated with that
· Initial barrier for entry (the first 1-2 hours) is extremely tedious
· Repeatedly lulls you back into a false sense of security by boring you to fucking tears once more
· I know that the game in a sense is actually critiquing visual novel dating sims, but the dialogue still just grates on my soul…
DDLC Story Review
Here is your second and final warning! From here on this WILL INCLUDE SPOILERS for DDLC and is more for discussion of the game with others who have played it.
So how about that bit where Sayori kills herself? Man did that come out of nowhere or what?!
On a more serious note, I would say that as always you shouldn’t expect the most in-depth of literary analyses here. Symbolism and metaphor flies over my head unless it’s particularly in your face, so most of my interpretation of various forms of art is exactly what I can see. No game has actually proved this quite as rapidly as Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru did when during the early “weabo” segments with poems, I more or less understood absolutely none of the meaning behind the poetry… And then I get bloody irritated when someone else points out that actually you have to find meaning beyond just what the words say.
I can already feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it… This is why poetry sucks!
Anyway, I digress…
If it wasn’t abundantly clear from the main review, the game that I believe is most comparable to DDLC is Undertale, and it doesn’t sound completely outlandish to me that DDLC might well have taken some fair amount of inspiration from the game that somehow dared to be considered for GotY when the Witcher 3 was also in the running.
I say this primarily because of the similarities with save files changing, the absolute destruction of the 4th wall and what I perceived as being the overall message of DDLC.
For posterity, it seems to me that the game was trying once again to make a point about the line between games and gamers. About how we are just as trapped by the limits of a game’s choices as those who “dwell” within them. It also may have been trying to critique Japanese dating sims as a style, pointing out the flaws with going into a game and expecting to be able to pick and choose your woman as if from a buffet, and how this could backfire in real life. Not that I expect this latter to really have much impact in Japan because I understand most of them prefer 2D girls to 3D ones.
I say this in order to segue into another reason that I gave DDLC such a comparatively low score, much like I did Undertale. Perhaps due to my own dislike of seeing deeper meaning in things, when games like these try to start making these high-minded points I usually just find it pretentious or uninteresting. Oooo! The game made a point that it’s actually just a game and everything in it will be over when it’s closed! OOOooooo MORALITY!
No. I’m sorry, it just annoys me. Worse in fact, it somewhat kills it for me. Look, I can get behind breaking the 4th wall, The Stanley Parable remains an absolute favourite of mine for the way it handled it. But when a game starts getting all up its own butt because I had the nerve to try and enjoy a video game, I am going to start getting irritated and think “well I could actually be having fun playing a video game instead of getting lectured right now”. Don’t try and make me feel guilty for playing games, game, I promise you it just ends up boring me!
Other aspects were a lot better though. The spooky segments legitimately spooped me at least once or twice and the intensity of the suicides and obsession of the characters genuinely had me on edge with how uncomfortable it was. Frankly, despite the fact it’s been done before, I also enjoyed the whole save-file manipulation thing. Incidentally, that was a good example of breaking the 4th wall.
One aspect I remain uncertain about is the game’s look into depression and mental health. I mean, on one side I’m not sure the game was really trying to say anything about it and was merely using it as a narrative tool, but at the same time I felt that Sayori’s story was particularly harrowing because of how many notes it hit with what I know of depression. The sleeping in, the self-loathing, the attempts to make the other characters happy, it all just set me on edge with how accurate it felt. I know that in the end this was all Monika’s will corrupting Sayori, but it still felt like an extremely powerful representation of mental health, made all the more harrowing by the sheer knowledge that nothing you can do can save her.
At the end of the day, DDLC is a game which I think is elevated to interesting heights by its story. If it can make me push my chair away from my desk due to how unnerved I’m feeling and make me cringe in horror, then I think it deserves praise for the emotive depth of the writing. Regardless, I still do not think that it’s quite as amazing as everyone else seems to insist, but I admit to knowing that this style of game is quite simply not aimed at me.