Author’s Note: In an attempt to minimize spoilers as much as possible, I decided to not include any screenshots in this review. Enjoy!
Doki Doki Literature Club was originally released in 2017. At the time, I was entrenched in visual novels. I had romanced more men and women than Danielle Steel. I got to a point where I was done with the genre entirely. Nowadays, I realize that you need to be in a certain mindset to fully enjoy a visual novel. Unfortunately, that mindset is still mostly absent. I would end up skipping paragraphs of text just to get things over with whenever trying a one. That never happened in Doki Doki Literature Club. I wasn’t keen on the idea of going through yet another VN, but I was finally ready to see what the fuss was about. Other gamers told me to play it ASAP because it’s unlike any other VN out there at the time. And as far as I can tell, it’s still the only one of its kind. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised. Even if you don’t take the twists and turns into account, DDLC is a good visual novel that moves at brisk pace.
The game begins with naming a run-of-the-mill male that represents you. It’s another day before school, and you’re greeted by your childhood friend, Sayori. The two of you walk towards class on a bright, sunny day. Along the way, Sayori urges you to consider joining an afterschool club. While you prefer the routine of going to school and coming straight home, you give in. You’re taken to the Literature Club. The other members of the club are Yuri, Monika, and Natsuki. You find yourself surrounded by cute girls that all have a passion for literature and writing. Obviously, the first day as a member of the literature club goes well. Being surrounded by cute girls that have a passion for literature? It seems too good to be true. For the first club activity, you’re asked to write a poem to share with the other group members. If you write the right poem, then just maybe you’ll be able to get to know one of these girls a bit better. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye in DDLC. Everything starts off innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long to see that the other members of the club have their own demons. The game constantly reminds players that it’s not meant for children or those who are easily disturbed. Triggering issues such as self-harm and domestic violence pop up during what is supposedly another visual novel where you have the opportunity to romance one of four ladies.
Doki Doki Literature Club’s blueprint is standard. If you have any familiarity with a visual novel, then you’ll feel right at home. You’ll often be given choices to make that will help you grow closer to one of the other club members. A unique gameplay feature in DDLC is the poetry mini-game. Here, you’ll choose one word from a massive list. New words will appear afterwards, and you’ll repeat the process until you have chosen twenty words. Each word secretly relates to a specific character. Natsuki loves words that are cutesy or have to do with manga whereas Sayori loves words that deal with romance. You’ll see different story routes depending on which character you appease the most with your word choice. You’ll be writing a lot of poems so it’s important to get a feel for each girl’s preferred word choice.
With so many words available, and with so many poems to write, it’s clear that there’s a lot of variety in Doki Doki Literature Club. It might sound tedious, but trust me when I say that it isn’t. To spice things up further, DDLC is very pretty game. The anime stills, backdrops, and CGs have just enough variety to keep things fresh as the story moves forward. Seeing things to the end can take as little as three hours. Seeing everything in the game can take about 15 hours, but I never grew tired of seeing any of the images. This includes the ones that could be labeled disturbing. There’s something to be said about being able to capture darkness in a way that still retains a sense of innocence. There isn’t any voice acting (thankfully) and the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.
Continuing this review would mean getting into spoiler territory, which I definitely don’t want to do. As much as I appreciated the turns the story took, it didn’t really surprise me as much as the creators intended. Either the hype was too grand, I played too many video games to not be surprised anymore, the delivery was off, or a combination of the three. This isn’t to say that the game is bad. It’s not. It’s a unique visual novel that I think everyone should check out at least once. Since it’s short, I recommend finding it for the cheapest price available. I obtained the platinum trophy (PlayStation 5 version) just shy of 15 hours. Getting 100% completion was still a chore. There was too much reliance on random luck/chance. I have no reason to ever return to it, sadly. I mean, I’ll be listening to the soundtrack for years to come, but that’s about it. I still recommend Doki Doki Literature Club no matter where your fandom level lies for visual novels. It’s a short “read” and it doesn’t take as long as you’d expect to get to the good stuff that has made it so critically acclaimed.
Overall, 8/10: Books. Poems. Cute girls. Psychological horror? Doki Doki Literature Club brings all these together nicely in a one-of-a-kind visual novel.