Lucia is just a normal high school girl, with normal high school problems. There’s a boy she kind of has a crush on and her group essay assignment is just about the most interesting thing that has happened to her all week. Her life isn’t as rosy as it first seems though. Lucia’s unreasonably perfect older sister Bertha was abducted and murdered a few years ago, leaving their parents permanently overprotective and making it even harder for Lucia to live up to her older sister’s majestic grandness.
The plot is kick started when a group of ‘popular’ girls start bullying Lucia. Not to discount the suffering of bullying victims, but Lucia’s kind of a dope about it. She goes to secluded locations voluntarily just because her bullies ask her to. When they burn her with a cigarette, Lucia hides the burn instead of showing it to her parents/teachers as evidence. She could’ve at least tried… As a result of being bullied, Lucia unintentionally spawns a spirit of vengeance, a ‘doppelganger’, that starts acting out revenge against the bullies (mainly by stabbing them in the face).
Doppelgangers as they appear in this VN are ruthless clones born from a person’s deepest desires. The doppelganger takes over the original’s body once it fulfills the wish that created it, expelling the soul of the original as a lost spirit. These spirits can only be seen by others who’ve spawned a doppelganger in the past (the spirits can still physically interact with the real world whenever they want for some reason). Until the doppelganger takes over its original, the two are connected in a way. This conveniently lets people sense their doppelganger over great distances, but it also means any physical harm done to the doppelganger is mirrored on the original. The remote sensing ability is strangely underused and only brought up when the plot would otherwise stall.
Doppelganger tries pretty hard to be dark and mysterious, but it relies too heavily on storytelling through plot twists; characters constantly turn out to be evil/insane and most have some kind of hidden traumatic past. The plot is already convoluted enough and the constant jumping through time and space for the many, many interludes makes it even more confusing and erratic. Emotional whiplash is a recurring problem as interludes of someone getting murdered are often immediately followed by some slice of life scene with extremely cheerful music. More than once, you learn about some major reveal in an interlude, long before Lucia does, greatly diminishing the mystery/tension. The writer also has an annoying habit of labeling a character as ‘???’ even after they’ve been revealed. At least give them a (temporary) nickname so I know it’s the same ‘???’ as last time.
Nominally, Doppelganger has 29 endings. In reality it has 6 routes with a couple of what-if endings each. You can’t access all routes from the get-go, some are locked until you finish certain other routes. There’s no indication anywhere which routes are locked, you’ll just have to guess. Unlocking one particular route adds an entirely new subplot into the common route — I’m not sure what kind of story sense that’s supposed to make…
Yuri seems like just your average juvenile delinquent, picking fights and generally being a pretty rude dude. Underneath his brash exterior, he’s a genderfluid (yes, that’s an actual word) guy with Klinefelter syndrome who only acts like a tough guy so he’s not bullied. His gender issues are alluded to be caused by his Klinefelter, but it seems an entirely unrelated issue to me — Yuri is just one very confused dude. His route focuses on Yuri’s extremely gender-confused relationship with Lucia’s friend, Jun. In her youth, Jun dressed like a boy, called herself "Ironmonger" and acted like a warrior of justice by roundhouse kicking mean kids. She got better. Oh, and her father beats her if she doesn’t act feminine enough (what the fuck).
As you may have noticed, or not if you haven’t read the spoiler tags, I said nothing about Lucia yet. This is a recurring issue with Doppelganger where Lucia is relegated to a side-role in her own VN. Getting rid of her doppelganger almost feels like an afterthought.
Height of ridiculousness: Yuri’s younger brother Ignatius is some kind of kid genius with his own science lab… with a self-destruct function… that anyone can activate (perhaps not that much of a genius then). As the VN puts it, he gets "destroyed to pieces". No one cares.
Death of a Self-Proclaimed God
Apparently Lucia has a crush on the school basketball team’s star player, Raphael. I say apparently because she really doesn’t act like it until pretty much halfway through the story, then suddenly her affections for Raphael are obvious and common knowledge. At the end of the common route, Raphael gets randomly run over by a car. Lucia’s first thought: "Oh no, he might not be able to play basketball anymore!". Of course that turns out to be the case, but how about you worry about him surviving first.
Besides being a basketball star, Raphael is also secretly a world-famous black hat computer hacker. He’s still only in high school, but apparently he’s been hacking companies for years. When did he start hacking people, age twelve? He certainly acts like a twelve year-old script kiddie with his chat-speak and amazing security practices like hiding files in a folder marked "RPG cheat codes". That’s just utterly ridiculous to anyone with even the least bit of knowledge about computer security.
Height of ridiculousness: Raphael is nearly blown up by a bomb in his laptop, remotely activated by officer Marshall’s heart rate stopping.
The Crimson Tyrant
Lee is Lucia’s doofus male friend who’s so deep into the friend zone he’d need a map to find his way out. Turns out he’s a fucking psycho. He deliberately acts like a dork because he thinks that’s the kind of guy Lucia likes. Oh yeah and he literally tortured his last girlfriend (Chunxiang) to the point of insanity just because she held hands with someone. Dude is nuttier than a pecan pie.
Lee offers to help Lucia with her doppelganger problem. He seems to know a suspicious amount about them, can see lost souls which only people with doppelgangers should be able to. He explains it away by claiming he’s interested in the occult. If only that actually made any sense. Later on, Lee tells Lucia about a magical orb that can cure her but he’ll only give it to her if she agrees to be his girlfriend. What’s neat is that Lucia’s actually willing to lie and pretend until she’s cured.
Height of ridiculousness: Lee’s torture of Chunxiang. How does he get away with torturing people?
White Moon Reminiscence
Another route where Lucia is more or less a bystander. This one also focuses on a romance; this time between Clifford (a lost soul) and Shuang (Lee’s wheelchair-bound cousin). It becomes obvious very early on their romance was forcibly broken up by interference from Shuang’s butler, but it takes Clifford and Shuang forever to realize.
We’re also formally introduced to another way of getting rid of a doppelganger. You tell them you don’t need them anymore and say "I hereby declare you do not exist" and they just melt away. That’s… really anticlimactic. It’s certainly a lot easier than using the once-a-generation magical orb. That one just transports you to a magical world where you can harm the doppelganger without harming yourself. When Lucia uses it she also gets a magic gun (what?). Clifford only gets a handsaw (and his doppelganger gets one too).
Height of ridiculousness: An extremely convoluted plan by Clifford to let Lucia sneak out of her apartment turns out to be completely useless. Clifford (who’s invisible and can move through walls) only wanted to talk to her.
Fairly pointless route. It gives us some additional (unnecessary) back story for the leader of the girls bullying Lucia. The majority of your time is spent hanging out with irrelevant character Blake, Lucia’s classmate and teenage popstar. She’s forced to work with him on the group essay because his management bribed the school (they want him to appear to do well academically). Accepting bribes is one thing (and already pretty stupid), openly telling students about it is another…
I don’t have much else to say about this route other than "where the hell do those doppelgangers keep getting handguns from?" Seriously, they’re clones of high-schoolers — how did they get so well armed?
Height of ridiculousness: In the epilogue, we’re told Paul the never before mentioned school janitor is Blake’s biological father.
End of the Inverted Soul
The final route attempts to tie everything together. Unfortunately that also means it contains a lot of repeated content from the other routes. As it builds up to the final confrontation, the crazy is turned up to eleven:
- We’re told why Rico’s doppelganger took over his body before fulfilling Rico’s wish: it took over Rico’s body to fulfill Rico’s wish so it could get Rico’s body… yeah…
- Rico’s disembodied spirit stops a bullet and he dies… err, double dies?
- ???/Neo/Marshall gives Lucia a handgun which she takes to the public park for some practice shots. SHE’S FIRING A HANDGUN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD IN A PUBLIC PARK. At least she asked her dad to help her. Wait, WHAT?
- Raphael reveals himself to be an irredeemable bastard and he blows up Neo’s house with a remote controlled bomb. Where the fuck did he get one of those?
The final fight drags on for too long. Just as the tension is winding down after defeating the ‘big bad’, another one pops up to take its place. I was getting really tired of all the plot twists by that point.
In a 15 hour long freeware VN, the occasional typo is to be expected. Doppelganger messes up in some pretty embarrassing ways though. On the second screen of the VN, it misspells the name of the group that made it as "Momento Mori". The various spellings of Noob_Rouge/Noob_Rogue/n00b_rogue (sometimes within the same screen of text) make me wonder what all those proofreaders mentioned in the credits were doing.
The sprites are perhaps a bit too shiny, but generally of decent quality and the different characters are easily distinguishable despite the huge (20+ character) cast. No pose changes, although most characters do have an alternate outfit. Event CG are also in ample supply (80+). Unfortunately, the large number of images seems to have had an adverse effect on their quality. They’re not all bad, but almost all are somewhere between meh and just plain bad. Some emotional moments can be disrupted by a particularly goofy looking CG.
Backgrounds seem to be all stock art, much of which I’ve seen before. A lot of stock art (especially the free kind) only goes up to 800×600 and many backgrounds in Doppelganger show clear signs of being upscaled to its 1024×768 resolution. The result is blurry backgrounds which clash with the much sharper character art.
Music is also stock, but as with the sprites and event CG, there’s lots and lots of it (around 60-70 tracks total). I was pleasantly surprised by how good the music was. Usually stock music means lazily grabbed together from a single source… I’m not entirely convinced every track is used with proper permission though (it’s hard to be sure since the music sources aren’t properly credited). At least one artist’s songs are CC-BY-NC-ND and therefore aren’t allowed to be included even if they had been properly credited. While most of the music itself is quite good, the way it’s put into the VN has some room for improvement. Little effort was made to get the music to loop properly, often leading to a jarring hiccup when the end of a song is reached and it restarts. Audio quality is also quite poor (112 kbps CBR MP3).
A lot of sound effects are extremely loud to the point of becoming horribly distorted/clipped. Scream sound effects are sometimes used when a character is in mortal danger. These screams are hilariously over the top and make me laugh every time I hear them (I don’t think that was intended). Doppelganger also has two opening video’s and an ending video. The second OP is kinda shitty (40 seconds of nothing but character introductions), but the other two are surprisingly decent.
Switches between ADV/NVL text often has the new textbox fading in, then disappearing, then reappearing. Small graphical flaws like that are fairly common, but otherwise the user interface is perfectly functional. There are even some extras like an image gallery, music room, ending list, etc.
Erratic, unpolished and too long for its own good. All the crazy plot twists are amusing at first, but lose their effectiveness the fifth time someone turns out to secretly be a lunatic. Doppelganger is still fairly entertaining, but it could’ve really benefited from a good editor to focus the story and cut out the parts that don’t work.