Review: Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!
Reviewed on: PC
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Developer: Team Salvato
Available on: PS/XB/NS/PC
I had very little knowledge about what Doki Doki was before being offered it; I’d assumed it was your standard CYOA dating sim, like so many others you can find on Steam. More importantly, it’s not a genre of game I’d normally be interested in. Sure, I like a good CYOA text-based adventure now and again, but the nature of the dating sim always seemed a bit weird and off-putting.
Then I found out it was more than that and that it had elements of horror, which made it a bit more intriguing. So willing to be proved wrong, I set off on my text-based adventure in the hope I’d get some good jump-scares in.
So first off, the animations and artwork are great. I’m not a big manga/anime guy but I can appreciate the artform. The locations and character models are exceptionally good and don’t devolve into overly-sexualised depictions of what the game assures you are over-18s. Furthermore, the music is warm, inviting and light-hearted.
Describing this as a ‘horror’ title with ‘jump-scares', two descriptions you’ll often see attached to this game, is very misleading. This is the game equivalent of a snuff film. I cannot recommend this game in good conscience. It transformed from a linguistic puzzle, in the writing of poems for the literature club, to a manipulative psychological dystopia where the player is blamed and made to feel bad for the truly horrific things that transpire. Let me try to elaborate on this.
One of your fellow club members and lifelong friend and neighbour comes across as a bubbly, trying-too-hard, but somehow quite likeable, individual who wants you to better yourself and make new friends. This character that is built seems to change at the drop of a hat, declaring she suffers from depression, only to do the unthinkable the following day when her romantic desires aren’t reciprocated. There are just so many things wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with emotional manipulation; trying to railroad the player into declaring reciprocal love with the looming threat of what she might do if you don’t is truly gut-wrenching. It was fairly clear by this stage of the game of where it was going, but feeling like the lie might save a life, while the truth might take it just felt so wrong. We of course need to show compassion for those with fragile mental health, but being emotionally manipulated, or emotionally manipulating someone else, is also a dangerous lesson to try and reinforce.
Then there’s the representation of mental health, depression and suicide. Although I imagine there is a subset of people who suffer that have these tendencies to emotionally manipulate under threat of what they’ll do, it seems irresponsible to have this represented. Speaking as someone who has suffered with depression and having experienced a close friend take their own life, I can tell you now that that feeling of regret and ‘what could I have done’ is all too real.
I don’t think the game glamorises suicide in any way, shape or form, but nor does it do this really important issue any justice. It goes from 0-100 in less than 24 in-game hours, and with none of the nuance that is required when dealing with such a topic. Depression and suicide absolutely must be talked about more and better understood – Doki Doki does not do a good job of starting this conversation.
And that is just one of three characters you can interact with. It’s fairly clear from this point on what you should come to expect for the rest of club members, and arguably, it gets so much worse with Yuri's story.
Even more so once you uncover the underlying plot. So I will call it now -
*SPOILER ALERT* - in case you don’t want anything ruined, scroll to bottom for score.
The whole plot was a manipulation by one of the other club members. She was also in love with you. So after being terrorized by the game with the knowledge of “what you did”, it’s all just someone else’s manipulation in an attempt to get rid of people so she could have the player to herself. Rendering the entire game pointless. It’s the gaming equivalent of “and it was all a dream”. There have been great twists on this tried-and-tested formula, Fight Club for example, but DDLC doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with that twist.
Now you may be thinking, “if you’re having this strong a reaction, surely it had a deep impact?” And you’re right – it did. But not in a good way. This topic can be really well covered in media – Ricky Gervais’ ‘After Life’ is the perfect example that springs to mind. However, Doki Doki does an awful job of portraying mental health, depression, suicide, women and so much more that I think it could be really harmful to people in the wrong mindset. The game does warn the player about this, but the marketing of this as a horror game is just so far off the mark, one could mistakenly come across this and be really disturbed.
Lacklustre writing, Jekyll and Hyde characters that change at the drop of a hat, and truly poor handling of the subject matter. Only pick this one up if you’re into snuff films.