Full disclosure: I recommend checking this game out on your own instead of reading this review. This particular game is much better experienced at face value, so that the surprises included within aren’t ruined for you. It’s best enjoyed going in blind. Thus, this review is intentionally a bit “bare bones”.
I gotta be honest; I do not enjoy visual novels. I’ve tried time and time again to enjoy them, but I just can’t. Even the more ridiculous ones like Hatoful Boyfriend just don’t hold my attention. That isn’t to say I think they are bad. It’s just not something for me. So when I was asked to review a visual novel titled “Doki Doki Literature Club”, I exhaled and thought “Once more into the breach”. That feeling quickly changed after a quick Google search of the title. “Shocking twist” and “Secretly a horror game” are the lines I was seeing. So as to avoid spoilers, I close the window, and dived in.
Loading up the game you’re welcomed by a pseudo-desktop view of a basic computer operating system. Requiring you to launch the “game” within the game itself is a technique that already does so much to create an atmosphere of being transported to a different world. Once the game loads, you’re greeted with what could be any other visual novel I’ve seen hundreds of times in my life. Cute anime girls in skirts with unrealistic hair and shapely button-up shirts. I get the appeal, but man is it overdone. Starting to regret my decision, I started the main story.
The game begins with the standard visual novel outline. You play an unnamed protagonist asked to join a literature club by your childhood friend and neighbor who also just happens to be a cute anime girl. And of course, the club also contains cute anime girls as members. The typical stereotypes are represented here, and it feels almost uninspired in terms of setting itself apart from the genre. The first hour or so maintains this atmosphere, while you find yourself composing poems. But while you may disagree, the horror has yet to happen.
While I really don’t want to get into details about how things begin to change in the game, I will say it’s easily one of the most interesting and well done descent into madness I’ve seen in recent memory. The game slowly peels away the cute shell, and degrades into legitimate terror, bit by bit. While this may sound like pure shock value, the developers were extremely smart about it. It maintains the narrative, and feels like a genuine tonal shift, rather than being spooky for the sake of the spookies.
The game really shines when you begin to go back and read a bit deeper into the “normal” sections, having now experienced where the story goes. It’s filled with tiny hints of something beneath the surface, and that’s what really shows the genius of this story. They manage to twist and corrupt what appears to be a happy-go-lucky story, without seeming forced. It’s something I really appreciate, especially when compared to most “twists” in video games.
I know I haven’t really delved much into the content of the game, but it’s frankly much better experienced than read about. The game is filled with gruesome visuals, creepy ‘glitches’, and loads of 4th wall breaking moments that will leave you a bit taken aback. Imagine if you took all the borderline horror elements you find in a Kojima game, and shoved it into a world of cute anime girls, with a slice of life setting. In terms of the ‘plus’ aspect of this visual, it’s referring to the new side stories, artwork, and music included.
Overall, Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! is something I would recommenced everyone experience at least once. The smart use of surprise horror and genre-breaking ideas make for a wonderful breath of fresh air. It manages to bring something truly unique to an otherwise stagnate genre. If you’re a lover of horror or visual novels; give this one a look.