When Doki Doki Literature Club appeared on Steam in 2017 with no advertisement, it would have been very easy to dismiss it as one of the hundreds of anime visual novel/dating sims that seem to flood the store every year. That is, if it weren't for the fact that the first genre tag on the game is "Psychological Horror." This tease, alongside the low, low price of $0 (with no microtransactions), helped this secret horror game explode in popularity and gain a cult following on social media.
Not everyone could get in on the fun, however; Doki Doki released only on PC and Mac by way of Steam, because many facets of the game simply cannot work on consoles. Creator Dan Salvato took initiative to compromise the game in a director's cut so it would work on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch - and while the content of the game remains excellent, the excitement is very much lost.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus begins as an anime-style dating sim visual novel, indistinct from so many others that have come before it. Players will take control of a nameless, bland anime protagonist who is bullied by his annoying yet earnest childhood friend Sayori into joining the school's literature club. There, he meets three additional beautiful girls: Yuri, the quiet one; Natsuki, the tsundere one; and Monika, the responsible and collected Club President. The main character joins the literature club out of guilt and works towards romancing one of the girls by writing poems each night in a style that appeals to them. If this is already boring you, then I've got good news - it is all a ruse.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus opens with a content warning, which you should not ignore. If you are disturbed by any of the following content, you absolutely should not play this game: depression, suicide, self-harm, parental abuse, sexual abuse, gaslighting, and of course blood and gore. Doki Doki's particular brand of psychological horror depends on making players doubt the evidence of their eyes and ears. The visual novel will constantly present you with things that are not normal, that are horrific in nature, and work overtime to convince you that you did not experience them. This is an existential horror that may not sit well with everyone, so be warned.
The actual "gameplay" part of the story consists only of writing poems each night after school to present to your classmates the next day. Players select words out of a word bank that they think will appeal to the specific girl they're trying to romance. Natsuki enjoys cute and warm words, Yuri enjoys dark and melancholy words, and Sayori enjoys emotional and bittersweet words. Outside of these parts, Doki Doki is a straight visual novel. There are no meaningful choices to be made, nor a way to really change the ending. However, this doesn't cushion the constant barrage of hints that something is horribly, horribly wrong in the literature club.
I can't say much more about the story or its content without spoiling the entire concept. There will be times when it appears that the game is over - it is not over. There will be times that the game shuts down on its own - open it back up. There will be times when it glitches out, freezes, or appears to be otherwise malfunctioning - this is part of the game.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus is effectively a director's cut vertrsion of the original game. It contains the base game, unchanged; redrawn 4k images for the backdrops; a music player; unlockable wallpapers and images; and new bonus content that features the main characters but is not canon to the main story. My major issue with the new edition of Doki Doki Literature Club comes in the way it must, by necessity, be presented on consoles. Many of the standout features and moments of the original game were only possible on computers. Salvato and his team have made many compromises to make the transition to console, and almost every one of them detracts from the experience significantly.
Upon booting the game, players are taken to a fake replication of a desktop computer with limited options. Exploring these options even a little gives away immediately some of the surprises that are forthcoming, and would kill the thrilling climax of the story completely. I implore new players not to touch any of the icons presented here and go straight to the "DDLC" option at the top and play the game first. The most horrifying moment of the game, right near the end (veterans will know what I mean), turns from a drop-the-controller moment of terror to an eye-rolling, cringe-worthy attempt.
The compromises made here are certainly the only way this story could have made its way to consoles, and for that reason, I don't think Doki Doki Literature Club should have made its way to consoles at all. The original game is still free on Steam and runs on every potato-quality laptop, PC, or Mac. I would recommend anyone who is able to skip this new Plus edition and play this groundbreaking horror game the way it was originally intended.
It's possible I'm overanalyzing, and new players will be greeted by the same shocking experience I had four years ago regardless of these tells. This is one of the best horror games of all time. The story content of the base game is intact, and I hope players can make it all the way to the twist without getting tipped off by these many compromises. I am all for accessibility and increasing the reach of all games, but when adjustments this intense have to be made... maybe this title was better left alone.
TechRaptor reviewed Doki Doki Literature Club Plus on PC with a key provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
- Existential Horror Like Nothing Else I've Seen
- Catchy Music and Much-Enhanced Visuals
- Extra Content that Fleshes Out the Characters
- Compromises Made to Work on Console Ruin the Game's Climax