One guilty pleasure game genre I enjoy playing/watching when I'm not engrossed in an RPG is Horror (usually psychological horror). There's something captivating about the story and music that draws me in unwilling, forcing me to stay with the game until the end (whether there's a happy or frightening ending). When I saw Doki Doki Literature Club! pop up on my YouTube recommended list earlier this month, I thought about giving it a shot. It wasn't until several days ago that I finally checked DDLC out. Well, I am both pleased and have full regrets about my actions, so I'm here to review this lovely soundtrack to curb my inability to sleep right now.
I'd never heard of Dan Salvato before this game (much like not hearing about Yuki Hayashi in my Alice Order OST review). With a little research, I discovered that he is a retired professional Super Smash Bros. Melee player (playing the best character, of course: Link). Other than that, Doki Doki Literature Club! looks like his first major mark as both lead developer and composer. That's welcoming news since I generally have been enjoying music from those who take those two roles!
Greeting us with a heartwarming intro track is the self-titled track "Doki Doki Literature Club!," an adorably pleasant piece with chipper flutes, happy piano playing, frolicsome clarinet (if my ears heard correctly), yummy synth, and playful pizzicato strings. Salvato nails that cutesy atmosphere incredibly well, especially when the words "Doki Doki" are heard at 0:07. With lovely music like this, there's no way anything can go amiss!
I want to jump over to "Okay, Everyone!" because there are a lot of great things happening here that get highlighted in the variations of this piece on Disc 2, tracks 2-5. You might recognize this theme during the poem sharing portion of the game. Musically, it's another enjoyable track that carries the same carefree atmosphere as the other pieces. There's rhythmic string strumming, song-like piano playing, orderly orchestral string playing peppered with other instruments (I love the glockenspiel playing).
When you pass over to disc 2, you get to hear each girl's version of the track, appropriately named "Okay, Everyone! (girl's name)" for each character. Monika's version, as you would expect, is dominantly piano, which makes sense when you discover she's teaching herself to play before club activities. Yuri's variation has a little pomp, with orchestral strings, pizzicato playing, and what I believe is harp as well. Sayori's arrangement is very relaxed and chill (especially with what I think is a ukulele playing), which reflects her happy external personality well. However, Natsuki's version is my favorite, simply because of its elementary school sound, with xylophone and what may be a recorder playing, which would make sense since I believe she's the youngest in the group.
Of course, if you already listened to Doki Doki Literature Club! OST or played the game, then you're well aware something menacing is afoot. It's very clear when track 10, "Sayo-nara," plays that this cutesy game is not for the faint of heart. The distorted intro, dissonant percussion, and chilling singing while the lonely piano plays simple arpeggios sent the hairs on the back of my neck standing. Just writing that sentence gave me chills (stop doing your job so well, Salvato!). If "Sayo-nara" didn't convince you something is terribly wrong, then "Just Monika." might do the trick. I won't spoil when, and especially where, this plays, but the ominous sounds and synth playing the notes D and Db (minor second) throughout the track do not spell out happy times.
Surprisingly, those two tracks were the only disturbing tracks on the soundtrack. That's a shame because Dan Salvato does a great job distorting and utilizing great effects with the music during gameplay. I would have liked some of those effects on the soundtrack, but I understand that they may not have been soundtrack-friendly, as they were probably short audio samples/effects.
I want to shine a spotlight on two bonus tracks that are too head-boppingly catchy not to talk about. The first is shoji's percussively dance-like piece, "Poems are Forever," which enlivens the soundtrack with fresh synth and bouncy xylophone. I love what shoji did with the themes from "Dreams Of Love and Literature" and the main melody of "Doki Doki Literature Club!," while injecting his creativity to bring a stunning track to DDLC's OST. Wonderful job! Nick (Varien) Kaelar slams it out of the park with "Doki Doki." This delicious track is electronically tantalizing, so much so that I'd like to share the full track directly from Team Salvato's YouTube page:
Before we wrap up, I also want to say kudos to both Dan Salvato for a job well done on "Your Reality" and Jillian Ashcraft for lending her vocals to this lovely piece. Even after all the events that take place in the game, things are a little bittersweet with regards to Monika, and that's captured well in "Your Reality" in the lyrics. It's a very pretty piece, with the piano and acoustic guitar playing wonderfully together and other instruments entering later on. This was one of my favorite tracks on here, and I think that might be true for some of you out there as well.
What makes Doki Doki Literature Club! OST very appealing isn't just its carefree and playful sound, but also its deceptive nature. Both discs are filled with pleasant, upbeat, and relaxing music that calms you while putting you in a joyous mood. In fact, if you were to remove tracks 10 and 11 from Disc 1, then you could sell someone on this being a happy game without them thinking otherwise. However, those two tracks exist and they best represent what this game really is about. Dan Salvato did a great job with Doki Doki Literature Club! OST, and I highly recommend it, even if you haven't played the game. Had I listened to the OST first, I would have steered clear from watching this game...maybe.