The Doki Doki Literature Club! is an interactive visual novel that allows you to date cute girls from a school’s small literature club that your character reluctantly joins. Rather than just the usual picking of choices, the game allows you to create poems based on keywords which in the end will lead you toward the chosen love interest’s ending. From the title itself, “doki doki” is the onomatopoeia of a heart beating, ideally used when your heart is racing but more often used when a character is in close proximity with someone they like.
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The Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC) is a visual novel that explores psychological horror by concealing itself in a cute anime dating simulation (otome) while poking fun at basic dating sim elements. This is quite similar to another free game called Confess My Love. It is strongly advised that people very sensitive to disturbing content should not play the game. I’ll try my best to give a spoiler-free review to help you decide whether you could try this game or not.
Story & Art
The game makes use of a typical otome/visual novel set-up, having well drawn and well-colored characters with varying reactions, as well as having CG ̷̢̭͔̜̘͈̌̓͘͜ events, which symbolize the progression of a relationship. Everything about the game revolves around the cute theme, from the style of anime to the text box, which is colored pink and decorated with polka dots. The special visual effects used were quite ambitious and very fitting, and greatly enhanced the visual experience.
The story matches well with the theme, as it starts and progresses with slice-of-life and mundane events, such as your anti-social character (which you yourself name) going through school, and being forced to join a club (that isn’t the anime club) by your happy-go-lucky childhood friend, ̶̪͑̑̓̒́̒̽́̏̇̊͛͐̇̾̑̚͘͠Sayori.
I personally got bored in this period and ended up skipping unseen text until I arrived at a choice. More of the gameplay began, and as time went on, there were noticeable changes as you got to know some characters. I think anyone could already tell what was about to happen. Though I already predicted the direction in which the plot would take, the execution did not make it any less disturbing. Perhaps due to the fact of the game’s genre, but the idea in itself is horrific and disturbing enough.
Poetry writing is the biggest factor in picking a girl’s ending. Specific keywords resonate deeper with each of the characters, as each of them have different writing styles and explore specific themes.
Picking a word will result in their chibi character (on the left side) jumping for joy, showing you which girl you are leaning toward. The keywords per girl weren’t difficult to guess, though it took me a while to notice that with each word I chose, one of them would jump.
You’ll find out if you got enough keywords right if in the next time you visit the club, you see CG events or cutscenes with the specific girl. DDLC was created with the Ren’py, so it offers a Save/Load function as well as a History function that allows you to read the dialogue (but not too far back).
The game enjoys occasionally breaking the fourth wall, much like Everlasting Summer, and ̴͓̩̝̖̭͇͉̝̙̜̗̼̻̯̦͈͍̮͈͇͓͚̠̤̰̘͋͑́͐͒͜͠ͅUndertale. One of the more interesting parts of the gameplay for me is: Sometimes the things you need to do are not limited to the game, and sometimes the things you want to do become limited by the game.
A movie/game soundtrack composer once said that when asking for feedback, if the audience does not make comments on the music while they watch or play, it means they’ve done it right.
Of course I’ll have to describe it for you here, but all I have to say is I vividly remember only one specific track. Or more precisely, how it affected me. It means to rattle you, and I knew that. I also have attempted making my own MIDI tracks, so I knew what the aim was. I tried to resist getting scared, but my heart started matching it and frightened me, despite the dialogue being next to normal. The visual at that moment complemented the music well, and again, something I’ve only recently seen with the Ren’py engine. I had to pause a little and just let the default music calm me down again. 😅
The default music matched the cute setting and was not at all annoying if repeated, though there were noticeable cuts in some parts, and smooth transitions in others.
Purchasing the DDLC downloadable content gives you (not limited to) the OST, as well as other tracks not included in the game.
Prior to playing the game, I could not help but worry. I wondered if experiencing the game would trigger something, since that was also a warning. It ended up being no problem for me, but I’m very uncertain about how other people may take it. Though I suppose all otome visual novels are predictable at this point, there are always ̷̢̧̢̡̡̧̢̢̛̛̛̛̟̙̱̺̖̭͎͖̟̥̠͙̰͚͎͖̼͕͔̠̩̺̰̫̠̱̦̩̣̼̱̫̯͓̘̳̣̯͙̫̲͚͐͊͗̃̇̊̾̀͐̀̆̇̐́͂͆̂̄͐̽͂̅́̾̈́̔̈͑͋͑́̿͒̑̈̊͊̈́̊̐̽̆̒̒̊̈́̓̇̀͐̊̃͗̂́͊̀̀̒̎̊̄͊͆̿͌̾̈̈́̆͌͑̽͑͑̐̈́̉̃͂̈̇̔͆͑̈́́̈́̊̐̓͆̽̕͘͘̕̕̚͘͜͜͜͝͝͝͝͝͝͝͠͝͝archetypes and concepts used, as well as some that have seen overuse. But if you are someone who has played dating sims/interactive visual novels before, you know well that’s it’s meant to be played multiple times. Things get crazier from then on.
It was very difficult for me to get a some endings. My only qualms were that my saved progress would disappear (not a game glitch) so it was very frustrating for me to waste time just skipping text I had already seen. Like Undertale, the DDLC has a lot of interesting secrets hidden in their game files. But again, proceed with caution if you want to look them up.
The game’s aim is to creep you out, and psychologically scare you. It even asks for your consent at the start, but do know that its players (including me!) will gladly help you with coping. You can also find it in this link here, if the need arises.
Rating: 8 / 10
Congratulations! You made it through this review without much glitches. You must also know that The Doki Doki Literature Club! is a free game by Team Salvato.