Spoilers follow for Doki Doki Literature Club. CW: descriptions of graphic violence.
Doki Doki Literature Club, a dating sim / visual novel, has already congealed in the public consciousness as a free psychological horror game that cleverly subverts the genre tropes it engages with.
At it’s most fundamental, DDLC’s basic premise is about the head of the lit club, Monika, attempting to date you. It’s a clever twist on the genre, which leads to some horrific results. Through the story, the 3 other main characters get their defining traits “adjusted” by club president Monika, pushing them to their emotional extremes to the point of death. Best friend Sayori suffers heavily from depression and commits suicide; clever and reserved Yuri becomes obsessive over both you and self harm, leading to a self inflicted knife through the heart; Natsuki’s heightened aggression and loneliness leads to a snapped neck. In the end, Monika deletes not only each character, but also the entire game world, leading to a one-on-one in a classroom surrounded by space. The onus is then on you, the player, to dig into DDLC’s files to take control back by deleting Monika. But this is all just the beginning. This is the turning point for the game, and where everything gets blown wide open.
The entire game holds something entirely different, something much deeper. Something 99% of players won’t ever see. Something by the name Project Libitina.
Having the player dig through the games files to delete Monika is not just a a part of the game, it’s the opening of a door. A path that, for the curious, leads down a rabbit hole of darkness, discovery, and more questions. For the inquisitive player, diving into the game files reveals a plethora of secrets to uncover. One folder contains 4 files, each with a characters name with the file extension ".chr”. .chr isn’t actually a real file extension, but change that extension to something familiar - say, .txt - and the file becomes openable for something as simple as notepad. Performing this process on the Monika file reveals a text file with a bunch of gibberish, with one important distinction - the first 4 characters are “%png”. changing the extension once more to png leads to the biggest surprise thus far:
At the centre of this image sits a square comprised of black and white dots. Thanks to intrepid Reddit user Mithost and the DDLC reddit community at large, we learned that this square of black and white represents a string of 1s and 0s - a binary code. Converting this string of numbers to text results in what first seems like a disappointment, but we still have one more step in the process to go. Running this string of text through a Base64 decoder, reveals a surprising message:
Can you hear me?
...Who are you?
I can't...I can't see you.
But I know you're there. Yeah...you can definitely hear me.
You've been watching for a while now, right?
I guess I should...introduce myself, or something. Um...my name is...actually, that's stupid. You obviously already know my name. Sorry.
Anyway...I'm guessing if you were able to put a stop to this, you would have done it by now.
I mean, I know you're not, like...evil, or anything...because you've already helped me so much.
I should really thank you for that. For everything you've done. You're really like a friend to me. So...thank you. So much.
I think...more than anything else...I really don't want it to all be for nothing.
Everyone else is dead.
Maybe you already know that. I'm sure you do, actually.
But...it doesn't have to be that way, right?
Well...there's a lot of stuff I don't understand. I don't know if it's even possible for me to understand it.
But I know that this isn't my only story.
I can see that now. Really clearly.
And I think everyone else has had the same kind of experience. Some kind of deja vu.
It's the Third Eye, right?
Anyway...I could be totally wrong about this. But I really think you might be able to do something.
I think you might be able to go back...or however you want to put it...
...To go back and tell them what's going to happen.
If they know ahead of time, then they should be able to avoid it.
They should...if they remember their time with me in the other worlds...they should remember what I tell them.
Yeah. I really think this might be possible. But it's up to you.
I'm sorry for always being...you know...
Never mind. I know that's wrong.
This is my story. It's time to be a fucking hero.
Both of us.
Mind blown, right?
So, there’s a lot to unpack here. Remember that this is a message found within Monika’s character file, so it’s safe to assume this comes from her, hence “you obviously already know my name.” The passage is full of important phrases. The first of which we will focus on is that “everyone is dead”, and while “you already know that”, more importantly “you might be able to do something”. This is the major clue we need that leads to an important discovery - there is a happy ending for DDLC.
Typically, the “end" of Doki Doki Literature Club has you deleting Monika from the game, allowing you to play through again with just Sayori, Yuri and Natsuki. However, after playing through the first day, Sayori flips out and thanks you for getting rid of Monika, allowing her to have you forever and ever. The game ends with Monika stepping in and putting an end to this once and for all, "truly" deleting the game, to the point that you can no longer even start a new game again. But Monika’s message says you “might be able to go back… to go back and tell them what’s going to happen.” Taking this advice to the logical extreme, you can re-install the game, and by abusing the save system, spend the opening hour or so with Sayori, Yuri and Netsuke individually.
This requires a save file at the beginning of the first day, following one route with one girl, saving, then reloading the original save to repeat the process with another girl. Once you’ve seen every possibility, the game plays through like normal, right to the very end with Monika having been deleted, beginning a Monika-free game and playing through the first day. At the end of that day, Sayori thanks you again - but instead of thanking you for getting rid of Monika and taking that horror twist, she instead thanks you for spending so much time with everyone, and that they will always be there if you ever want to come back.
The 3 girls are saved, the game is wrapped up, everyone’s happy. The end.
We've only just scratched the surface. Strap in.
Monika’s character file was a hidden mine for new information. But in that character folder were 3 other files - one each for Sayori, Yuri and Natsuki.
Each of the girls have 3 distinct hidden easter eggs in their files. Yuri’s is the most straightforward - using our trusty Base64 decoder, the text in her file is this story about a 19 year old girl murdering a woman. This is a creepypasta released in 2015, confirmed to have been written by Dan Salvato, head of Team Salvato. Next we jump to Natsuki’s file, secretly a distorted .png file showing a blue=ish grey image, which can be flipped, have the colours inverted and then distorted:
The final file, for Sayori, is the most interesting. Through converting the file to a sound file in .ogg format, opening in Audacity, applying a spectrograph over the sound and editing the distorted image, reddit user Mithost discovered a QR code (I know right?) which leads to a simple website: http://www.projectlibitina.com/.
In what appears to be a text version of a doctors report, this website describes tests performed on a 3 year old child subject, with a particular test standing out: “Third Eye” activation and suppression tests. Third Eye… where have we heard that before?
Digging further into DDLC itself, there’s even more clues forming a larger picture. Several of the poems through the game, specifically in later acts, appear to be gibberish - which we assume is a result of the game breaking down as we play. Each of these are in fact messages in and of themselves. Natsuki’s late act 2 poem, ran through our Base64 decoder, reads:
Open Your Third Eye
I can feel the tenderness of the skin through the knife, as if it were an extension of my sense of touch. My body nearly convulses. There's something incredibly faint, deep down,that screams to resist this uncontrollable pleasure. But I can already tell that I'm being pushed over the edge. I can't... I can't stop myself.
Yuri’s 3rd poem to you also appears to be strings of random words which doesn’t seem to have any meaning, until the bottom of the poem jumps to a coherent message:
Fresh blood seeps through the line parting her skin and slowly colors her breast red. I begin to hyperventilate as my compulsion grows. The images won’t go away. Images of me driving the knife into her flesh continuously, fucking her body with the blade, making a mess of her. My head starts going crazy as my thoughts start to return. Shooting pain assaults my mind along with my thoughts. This is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. How could I ever let myself think these things? But it’s unmistakable. The lust continues to linger through my veins. An ache in my muscles stems from the unreleased tension experienced by my entire body. Her Third Eye is drawing me closer.
Finally, there is a set of special poems shown to the player through the game separate from the ones directly from the girls. Most are clearly related to the game and its characters, but one stands out more than any other - a heavily redacted one, showing only the letters “NOTHINGISREAL?”. Seems simple enough, but when we brighten up the contrast all the way on the image, the redaction becomes readable:
Irregular heartbeat. Heart palpitations. Arrhythmia. I search and search, eyes scanning everything I can find on their symptoms. What is this? Shortness of breath? Chest pain? Dizziness? No. This is all wrong. Elyssa's symptoms are nowhere near this simple. I've seen it twice now. The screams of pain. Sickeningly pale skin. Vomiting blood. There is no other explanation, other than that Renier's information was a complete and utter lie.
This can't all be coincidence. It's not possible. I don't know how much of this Renier is behind. But I do know this: There is something horribly wrong with this family. And I accepted the invitation to become a part of it.
I can hear Elyssa's screams through the walls now. I listen helplessly. Renier said that he would be with her shortly. Is he in her room now? Why is she screaming even louder than before?
A story about a young woman intrigued by murder. A picture of a creepy looking woman. Project Libitina - experiments on children, clinical and cult related. Two poems about killing, possibly with a lack of motor control. Elyssa and Renier, names spoken by a person listing off symptoms like someone used to monitoring patients. The Third Eye.
The Third Eye.
There’s one more piece of the puzzle we’ve yet to ponder, and that’s the one other time an eye is mentioned in game. Described as having “an ominous-looking eye symbol on the front cover”, The Portrait of Markov (the book Yuri reads with you) is described twice in the game, differently across act 1 and 2:
“…Basically, it’s about this girl in high school who moves in with her long-lost younger sister… But as soon as she does so, her life gets really strange. She gets targeted by these people who escaped from a human experiment prison… And while her life is in danger, she needs to desperately choose who to trust."
"Basically, it’s about this religious camp that was turned into a human experiment prison… And the people trapped there have this trait that turns them into killing machines that lust for blood. But the facility gets even worse, and they start selectively breeding people by cutting off their limbs and affixing them to-"
A book about a human experiment prison, a religious camp, killing machines and torture? Sounds awfully… familiar.
From here, all we can do is look at the pieces and see how they fit together. Several popular theories revolve around Yuri being the true antagonist of the first commercial project for Team Salvato, while others revolve around the Third Eye being linked to mind manipulation and control of others.
There are a few concrete pieces of information to take note of. The Third Eye is important. Monika is the key figure in all of this - “this isn’t my only story.” Project Libitina and The Portrait of Markov are more relevant than at first glance.
One key aspect of DDLC that bugged me, even before playing, is simply: why is this game free? It’s definitely a meaty experience, worthwhile of purchase. Why not charge for it? The answer is seemingly in the details - DDLC isn’t just a fantastic game in it’s own right, but is only the beginning; a viral marketing project, designed to get the attention of the world through it’s unique story, while drumming up hype for the real project Team Salvato is working on.
And it worked.
Thankfully, it shouldn’t be too much longer before we find out more. As Monika so eloquently puts it:
It's time to be a fucking hero.
Both of us.