Here’s your two (and only) warnings: Doki Doki Literature Club is best experienced if you know as little about it as possible – go in blind so to speak. Try to avoid any and all spoilers. Which leads me into your second warning: SPOILERS AHEAD! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I also feel like I have to mention that this review (as well as the game) deals with difficult themes including (but not limited to) depression and suicide. So if you’re not in the frame of mind to cope with that right now, click away.
Doki Doki Literature Club was my first foray into the world of Visual Novels, and fucking hell did I pick a great one!
This visual novel is the perfect metaphor for ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ – and that doesn’t just go for the story and its twists and turns and visuals, but for the actual characters too and even the game itself! It’s all very Meta!
Doki Doki Literature Club is a free game, which is probably one of the reasons why it’s so popular (and why you should go and download it on Steam) and in the description, as well as several times during the beginning of the game warns the player that not all is as it seems here. In the games descriptive tags is the usual tags for the genre, but there’s also a ‘psychological horror’ tag. Now the cutesy anime girls might have you fooled into thinking this is a mistake. However, when you start playing you are warned twice that this game is “Not suitable for children or those easily disturbed” – and no shit! They aren’t kidding.
On the surface, DDLC is an adorably cute, kawaii and typical anime dating simulator. After a short while of the story keeping to the exact plot that you’d expect, such as trying to figure out which one of the girls you want to date (my heart belongs to Yuri!) the pastel-cute veneer drops away and shit gets real quickly. But the visuals (whilst horrific) are interspersed with some really gorgeous artwork.
The plot becomes a twisted and traumatising experience for the characters (and probably some players) exposing themes of hidden agendas, suicide, self-harm and depression. A claustrophobic feel smothers any cutesy feeling you as a player might have had as things go from bad to worse to totally fucked up as you desperately try to unravel the plot and figure out what is going on.
What sets this game and story apart is the interactivity of it all. Firstly there’s the whole concept of having to actually delete character files from the game to continue to play, as well as creepily self-aware characters that can tell you what platform you’re playing on or if you’re streaming your own playing.
But it doesn’t just stop there – the creators have hidden Easter Eggs and further clues to discover the true story to DDLC throughout the game –hidden in code, images needing to be photo-shopped and so on and so forth. It’s all a code for another game within the story –the characters aren’t even from this game! They are from somewhere else! Game Theory did an excellent video on this (and yes, Yuri still has my heart!)
Doki Doki Literature Club is a slow burn start with an explosive middle and end and is best experienced, rather than just read about or watching a Let’s Play on YouTube. I’m so excited for the next game from developers Team Salvato (even if it’s not a Visual Novel).
Go experience this for yourself, but I warn you – brace yourself.
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.