- Day after day, in this desolate village, I take care of my dolls. They are my family. The people here wouldn't understand. But you're not like them.
If I tell you my secret... you won't be afraid.
The Doll Shop is a free adventure game written and designed by Atelier Sentô, using point and click and visual novel elements. The plot is described by the author to be part romance, part horror.
In a small rural village in the Japanese countryside, there lives a doll maker who goes about his daily life selling dolls and repairing the dolls of the village's residents. His isolated life is interrupted in the middle of winter by the arrival of a childhood friend, a beautiful young lady who's the granddaughter of Mrs. Sato, one of his clients. At the same time, he begins finding mysterious doll pieces around the village, and the player soon learns that not everything is as it seems with the doll maker...
Setting the game apart from others of its kind are the beautiful illustrations, which were hand-painted with watercolors, as well as a subdued soundtrack that conveys an unsettling winter atmosphere. Although not terribly long, The Doll Shop is free to download and play here, and has multiple endings depending on player choice.
The Doll Shop contains examples of:
- Alone with the Psycho: The childhood friend when she visits the dollmaker on the last day and learns that he was the one who kidnapped and murdered the missing girl. This can lead to her getting killed, herself.
- Anti-Frustration Features: After playing through the whole game, subsequent playthroughs cut down on retreading the same scenes by allowing the player to skip to the days where they can branch out the story.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: The doll maker doesn't usually raise his voice and can be quite isolated from the other villagers, and he's the one who kidnapped and murder the little girl prior to the events of the game.
- Bittersweet Ending: The best ending, where the doll maker gains his childhood friend's trust and after inviting her to his backroom, lets her go. The doll maker's secret is discovered and the childhood friend escapes, but the little girl's family will have to accept that their daughter is dead and the doll maker himself will likely be killed for his crimes.
- Blue Is Heroic: The blue butterfly, the latest in the doll maker's collection, is associated with the childhood friend (who is herself wearing blue.) The childhood friend is quickly revealed to be the more heroic of the two leads.
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Butterflies flutter about freely in the best ending where the doll maker's friend survives, which is also the ending where the doll maker's secret is brought to light. Notably, these butterflies were the ones in his collection, which should already be dead.
- Childhood Friends: The plot is kicked off by the doll maker meeting with someone he knew back in school. She's only referred to as his childhood friend, although how close friends they actually were is debatable.
- Creepy Doll: The dolls themselves. Although they are quite pretty, there's also something unsettling about them, and as well about how seriously the doll maker himself takes them.
- Downer Ending:
- The ending wherein the doll maker gains his childhood friend's trust and, after bringing her to his backroom and showing her his "doll", kills her when she tries to run away. The bonus content you receive after completing all the endings makes it worse, as it's an epilogue to this ending wherein the doll maker kills his childhood friend's grandmother so she can join their "family" as well.
- Although to a lesser extent, the ending where the doll maker upsets the childhood friend and she leaves town. She visually transforms into a "shadow" as she tells him goodbye, now like all of the doll maker's other neighbors that he isn't close with. He goes back home alone to talk to his doll, clearly lonely and suffering from further isolation. And the missing girl will remain missing.
- Foreshadowing: The player can collect several posters of a missing child around the town. The doll maker has even put one up in his shop for the parents' sake, but admits that he has "no illusions." The doll maker kidnapped the child himself.
- Genre Savvy: The childhood friend, learning of the doll maker's unusual attachment to dolls and then his hobby of killing and pinning up butterflies (after "getting to know them" first,) she admits he seems like somebody out of a horror movie. She's right that he's a horror character.
- Identical Stranger: The child-sized porcelain doll that the doll maker keeps in his backroom looks eerily similar to the missing girl. Ending B and C reveals that it's the missing girl herself, who was kidnapped and murdered by the doll maker.
- Irony: The doll maker isn't fond of horror movies, but is a horror character himself. It makes sense considering his warp sense of reality.
- Kids Are Cruel: The childhood friend relates to an incident in town where a schoolgirl was held prisoner and then killed by her own classmates.
- Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: The doll maker and his childhood friend have this dynamic.
- Mind Screw: Downplayed, but at times it's difficult to tell what, exactly, is going on due to the game being through the doll maker's perspective. Particularly puzzling is the ending where you kill the childhood friend, which has you "put her face back together" by using the doll shards you found throughout the game... before her actual death.
- Multiple Endings: The game ends three different ways depending on whether you gain your childhood friend's trust and what choice you make on the last day.
- No Name Given: The doll maker is never given a name, and neither is his childhood friend (although her surname is likely "Sato".)
- Opposites Attract: It's one-sided with the meeker and quiet doll maker for his outgoing and assertive childhood friend.
- Sempai/Kohai: The doll maker and his childhood friend were two years apart back in school.
- Through the Eyes of Madness:
- The doll maker is repeatedly shown talking to a beautiful porcelain doll in his backroom. When he introduces the doll to his childhood friend, the player finally sees it the way it really is—as the desiccated, eyeless corpse of a little girl.
- Similarly, the childhood friend's corpse in the bad ending is shown as being a doll with its face smashed in that the doll maker can put back together, though the player never gets to see how it really looks.
- Wham Shot: The endings where the childhood friend doesn't leave town. After she's introduced to the doll maker's favorite doll, it changes from a beautiful porcelain doll to a withered corpse.