The following review contains spoilers and sensitive themes that may not be suitable for some. Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel that depicts an innocent Otaku/Anime overlay that deals with real-life complications of Depression and Anxiety. Reader’s discretion is advised.
I’ll admit, the first time I heard about Doki Doki Literature Club, I didn’t get it. Four young girls hanging out at school? It just didn’t appeal to me. But, as the game itself rightly points out early on, looks can be deceiving. So, upon recommendation, I took a punt on Doki Doki Literature Club Plus, the newly released console edition that expands on the existing Steam release. Boy, am I glad I did. If you’re like me and are hearing about this for the first time, Doki Doki Literature Club Plus is a straight up psychological horror game. Developers Team Salvato and publisher Serenity Forge go out of their way to warn you of that before the game begins. This isn’t for children, despite its vibrant opening splash screen, and the dark and at times scary vibes during your playthrough aren’t for those who find it heavy and uncomfortable to experience. It’s a welcome warning, though it does spoil the surprise a tad, so just be wary.
Doki Doki’s colour and cast of characters lure you into a false sense of security, of a typical anime situation full of cute interactions and the humorous escapades of your personally named character and an anime girl cast. You’re quickly introduced to your close friend Sayori, who convinces you with cupcakes to join the Literature Club and its current members: the manga loving Natsuki, the quiet and darkly creative Yuri and club President Monika. After the brief but awkward introductions, you’re tasked with writing a poem to break the ice, which has you choosing from a list of various words that can appeal to the various cast when you present your ‘work’ to them during the following club meeting. Everything seems quite normal and cute, until a meeting to determine various tasks for an upcoming school carnival has each character on edge.
Twisting the tale…
✔️Incredible narrative, full of dark twists and heartfelt moments.
✔️The horror is played effectively, without falling back on cheap scares.
✔️Stellar presentation and wonderful musical score.
❌The main game remains the same as its original, free to play Steam release.
❌Its relatively short, but the new side stories make up for that.
There was a strange sense of foreboding, as if something was about to go down, when my character questioned the sudden change in mood around Sayori that seems, to him, to come out of left field. Up until this point the game plays out rather straight forward, there are no obvious tells that something else is going on, but all the while I could feel an unsettling feeling come over me. What happened next, however, was entirely unexpected and absolutely hit me hard, as it’s revealed that Sayori has been struggling with depression for a long time and isn’t sure about her place in the world anymore.
Again, spoiler warning! With the day of the festival upon the cast, my character decides to check in on Sayori. There’s a few moments where you’ll get to choose how this plays out, altering your interactions with certain characters and scenes you’ll get to see. In my case, my character professed his love for Sayori, something she struggles to comprehend as her emotions continue to darken. That moment itself hit home to me, given some of my own close friends who have struggled with depression and anxiety over the years, but when visiting Sayori’s home that next morning, the game finally reveals its dark, horror filled twist. Sayori has taken her life, my character goes into shock, the music and visuals warp into utter darkness and despair and the game … suddenly ends.
From here on out, everything changes. Doki Doki begins to glitch violently as it tries to reset itself, rebooting into a new game file as if nothing happened except for one key and bone chilling difference: Sayori doesn’t exist anymore. It starts off almost exactly the same way, just with everything about her removed and her portrait deleted from the opening splash screen. It becomes clear that something truly evil lurks within this colourful world, as the game becomes increasingly more glitched and eery in its portrayal of its remaining cast. Yuri suddenly acts more aggressive and nervous, Natsuki argues with her but then promptly forgets it ever happens the next day, and Monika … well, something just doesn’t seem right about Monika. Finally, after an intense confrontation with Yuri that ends with her taking her life too (it’s full on), the game ‘crashes’ and kicks you out into a Windows desktop-like experience.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus is highly recommended. It takes you on an unexpected journey through a ridiculous yet compelling narrative, with twists and turns that are as much about leaving you breathless as they are scaring the crap out of you.
It’s here that the true culprit is revealed. Everything about this caught me entirely by surprise, but at the same time it sold me on how good Doki Doki Literature Club Plus is. Looks really can be deceiving as I delved into the game’s directory, searching through unlocked desktop background images and eventually ‘reloading’ the game, albeit with an entirely different load screen. I won’t reveal this final, all important twist because it’s so well written that it really needs to be played to be understood and appreciated, but you won’t see it coming.
Dark and the Delights...
I was left gobsmacked by all of the story beats I came across, horrific as some may be. There are multiple endings to unlock that can alter your experience, romancing different characters or experiencing their despair and the utter carnage that the game throws at them (and you), but I felt satisfied with my own conclusion and its nicely woven tale of loss, loneliness and love.
I felt for every character, every twist leading me to a greater understanding of their motivations and worries. This Plus edition of Doki Doki includes new side stories that reveal how each character came to be a part of the club, minus the horror undertones that preceded the original story. It’s a nice touch that provides some extra explanations to Sayori, Monika, Yuri and Natsuki’s lives, a welcome layer of heart and soul before the horror that turns everything inside out.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus is highly recommended. It takes you on an unexpected journey through a ridiculous yet compelling narrative, with twists and turns that are as much about leaving you breathless as they are scaring the crap out of you. It’s also incredibly heartfelt, ensuring your love for the cast, making every twist dig a little deeper into your heart. Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss in any language, but the game handles it in a way that you feel every beat, every moment, despite its horror roots.
I lost count the number of times I shouted ‘ah ha’ or ‘what the hell’ as moment after moment dropped, which is a testament to the creativity on display that kept me glued all the way through. I could go on, but instead do yourself a favour and go play this now. It’s absolutely worth the price of admission for both the main game and its enjoyable added content. Trust me, I’m a club member now.
Doki Doki Literature Club! is a 2017 American freeware visual novel developed by Team Salvato for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux. The game was initially distributed through itch.io, and later became available on Steam.