Games that are more than they pretend to be is almost a whole genre of games these days. I think The Stanley Parable did this the best, with the narrator speaking directly to you (at first guiding you until you realize you don’t have to listen), the game shifts from a Half-Life looking explorer into a broader exploration of free will and game design. Pony Island also pretends to be a speed running platformer before revealing itself to be a much deeper and more interesting game. Undertale also presents itself as a simple RPG but transcends that genre too in its final section. Into this post-modern realm comes Doki Doki Literature Club which takes the (sometimes nauseating) genre of relationship simulator and does something really interesting. And dark. Super dark.
Like all genre-breakers, it’s difficult to say much about Doki Doki Literature Club without giving away what makes it cool. That’s unfortunate because Doki Doki is not likely to attract the audience of people who would like it. The game itself is a relationship simulator in which you play a nice enough guy who gets swept into an all-girl literature club with four attractive females. The girls all have distinct personalities and your character is free to pursue whichever one you like in a couple of ways. First, each club member writes poetry for each meeting and you can tailor your poem for specific club members to try to attract them. Second, there are also some choices you can make in club meetings that help you build relationships. It’s all pretty innocent and nice to start with, but trust me, it gets weird.
Doki Doki starts extremely innocently and stays that way for quite a while; I played about two hours before things got dark. And they do get dark. While Doki Doki never lets you get into the risque elements that some relationship sims provide but it is still pretty NSFW. Take the game’s word for it when it tells you that some of the images can be disturbing (mostly because they appear pretty abruptly). If, like me, you don’t play a lot of relationship simulators, you’ll need a bit of patience to get through the slower start of the game. These literature meetings can be a little dry and all the characters are extremely innocent. Again, try to be patient, the game builds in these patterns to subvert them later. Think of it like the slow build on the way up the roller coaster. Once you reach the top, that’s when the game really begins.
THE BEST PARTS
The game’s latter portions are very well done and memorable, well worth the initial investment. Plus the game is FREE.
THE WORST PARTS
It’s a little slow to start but trust that the game is setting the table for some darker portions later.
OVERALL: BUY IT
You should play through this game. It’s creepy, interesting, and FREE. If you have four hours (and a bit of patience), this can be a memorable experience.