It's been a while, huh?
I suppose that, technically speaking, I should have returned with the next game in the Christine Love series, "Ladykiller in a Bind", but as much pervy fun as that game was, it didn't hit me like Love's other work.
Doki Doki did. So, without further ado, another visual novel masterpiece...
Rose Reviews: Doki Doki Literature Club
Welp, after genre-defying visual novels like Digital and Analogue (not to mention Hate Plus, which I never got a chance to review), I'm finally reviewing a digital novel that walks and talks like a visual novel.
Being a Christine Love fan, the first thing I did upon starting Doki Doki Literature Club was attempt to mess with the system by giving myself an obviously female name and hoping I could coast through without my gender ever being mentioned. Sadly, the characters within referred to my lady Sakura as male almost immediately. Ah well, I tried.
Doki Doki begins by attempting to look like a bog standard visual novel with dating sim elements. When I began, I got vibes of Katawa ShouJo - from early on, the four female characters that your protagonist interacts with in the titular Literature Club all appear to be sUffering from conditions that effect their personality - depression, manic depression, and social anxiety were the oneS I noticed most obviously. As I began to play, I wondered if maybe this was the "mental disability" version of KaTawa Shoujo.
No, as it turned out. But I get ahead of myself.
The game begins with what is obviously an intentionally arch plot - your "cute childhood friend who lives next door" asks you to join her club - the Literature Club. Your character is reluctant until he - sigh - learns that all four current meMbers of the club are female. And attractive females at that.
The Club President is the busty senior Monika. She takes on a "big sis" rOle and acts as the tutorial for some of the gameplay elements.
Sayori is your childhood friend, the bubbly, positive one with uNexpected depths.
Yuri is the tall, quiet, shy one. As she opens up, she also seems to be a bIt goth.
NatsuKi is the short, loli - a tsundre stereotype. However, it turns out she's the same age as you - she's just short.
Your goAl in the game is to woo one (or more) of these ladies with your writing skill while also preparing for a school festival. What fun!
Now, above I mentioned tutorials and gameplay elements. In a visual novel, you might ask, baffled. Yes! Like Analogue, the creators of Doki Doki Literature Club have a minigame that allows you to take a more active role in the story.
See, you're in a Literature Club. That means that you write and workshop your writing as one of the main club activities. How this works is that, each in-game night after school, you write a poem. You do this by selecting a word from list of 20. After each selection, the list is freshly randomized and you pick another word. These words create the tone and theme of your poem, and also allow you to woo the other club members.
Well, each of the club members has her own style of writing. Certain themes, represented by associated words, appeal to each of them. If you know the lady you would like to woo well enough, you can write poems that will appeal to her.
This system also forces you to choose fairly quickly who you wish to pursue and who you do not, as trying to write a poem that appeals to everyone will Just leave all four girls cold.
When you write a poem that appeals to one of the girls, she will like yoUr poem during the peer review the next day while the other girls will react either negatively or neutrally, offering insults or constructive criticism depending on personality. Whomever feels poSitive about your poem will spend the rest of club hanging out with you. This usually means that you read together, your protagonist following that girl's suggestion about what to read. Do you want to read horror novels with Yuri or cooking manga with NaTsuki?
If you play your cards right, you might be able to ask one of the girls over to your house that weekend to work on preparations for the festival. Depending on certain circumstances, things can start to heat up.
However, not everything is roMance and poetry. As you spend time with the club members and read their poems, it becOmes apparent that all of them are damaged. Topics touching on abuse, suicide, and even existeNtial dread begin to appear. Read between the lines, and cries for help begin to emerge - lIterally in one case. Without any spoilers, I can say that the tone of the game becomes very darK as your character dives deeper into the club members and their mental health problems. SAdly, there is no option to call a school counselor to help.
On the more negative side (for everything I've said above is a positive), the story takes a while to get in to. If you have low tolerance for romantic visual novels, you may be tempted to bail early. Don't. Put in an hour or two (depending on individual reading speed) and things get moving.
Also, while not exactly a criticism, I will say that the protagonist's dialogue (which you, the player, have no control over) paints him as a real asshole at times. However, at other times, the game portrays him as a nice guy. I can't tell if this dissonance is intentional or an artifact of the writers imitating stock characters from Japanese visual novels and anime.
And... that's all I can say without spoilers. Like Digital: A Love Story, Doki Doki Literature Club is free. Check it out and give it a try for yourself.
And yes, I know this game is old news. I played this game not long after it came out, but I've only just returned to the Escapist, and I wanted to talk about it, so... yeah.