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Indie Game Review: Doki Doki Literature Club!

The Indie Series: reviews of the highest rated indie developed games under £10

Cost: Free

Platform: Steam, PC

Reviews: 5,122 reviews with overall rating ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’

Time to complete: 5 hours

Aided originally, no doubt, by its free price tag, Doki Doki Literature Club! has since become a cult phenomenon and introduced thousands of people to the anime-narrative genre of gaming.

When you first fire up the game it is clear that the ‘marketing’ screenshots do not portray the deeper psychological twists in the game, and the developer is keen to warn you of these. Dan Salvato, is explicit that there is disturbing content and the game is not suitable for children. I had to confirm I was over 13 years old.

One of a few warnings before playing the game.

What follows is a masterpiece of expression, depression, poetry and art.

The game is essentially a novel dating simulator, and this is reflected in your ability to influence events. For example, your poetry skills will determine which of the three girls you spend most time with. Generally, however, you are guided in your decisions and most choices ultimately lead to the same ending.

Ultimately, Doki Doki is a psychological thriller. As one review put it:

“after doki doki im not okie dokie”

The music is uplifting and joyful. Using high pitched flutes and major-happy chords. In fact so much so I added three of the songs to my Public Spotify Indie Playlist. There is an uncanny resemblance of the music with Yoshis Island – Flower Garden.

The characters are delightful and what you would expect from a Anime-based narrative game based in a High School, the actions flirtatious and the dialogue suitably mysterious.

One of the delightful features of the game are the easter eggs (secrets) hidden away in the game files. Gamers with a curiousity to go through the backend of the game are rewarded, and in some cases it is necessary to progress the game…

Ultimately, Doki Doki is a psychological thriller. As one reviewer put it:

“after doki doki im not okie dokie”

Steam reviews

However, I will abruptly stop here. There is not much more I can say without ruining what is a very powerful game. Given the £0.00 price tag I can guaranteed you are getting value for your money.

Drawbacks?

I’m a fast reader and found myself speeding through dialogue. There is helpfully an option in the menu settings to speed it up.

The game will also break your heart. For those who are dispositioned to depression and anxiety, it is fair to heed Dan Salvato’s warnings when playing the game. It is not for the faint hearted.

General metacritic scores that are less positive talk about the game being boring with mixed views on the ending, and dialogue that isn’t necessarily engaging. Perhaps my comment above about speeding through the dialogue was less about being a fast reader…

Developer

Dan Salvato is the one man show responsible for the game. An occasional Twitch streamer and keen Super Smash Bro player and modder, he has since built out a team ‘Salvato Studios’ working on the sequel to the game released earlier this year (2021). This time with a £11.39 price tag.

Dan created the original Doki Doki using Ren’Py. A slightly unusual and less heard of game engine, specifically designed for Visual Novels. The word Ren’Py is derived from the Japanese word ‘romantic love’, leading nicely into its core use. The engine utilises Python as the main coding language and is therefore relatively accessible.

Following Doki Doki’s success, Unity brought together an in-house team to help port the game over to their game engine. The result is an ability to add new content and features, but most importantly port the game to multiple devices, such that it is now available on consoles as well as PCs.

A much more explicit display of the ‘psychological horror’ tag in the new game – Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!

For the remake he is very keen to ensure the users are aware that it is a psychological horror game at its core, especially as there is now a price tag.

Dan quotes as having drawn his inspiration from two games Yime Nikki, a surreal adventure game where you meet horror NPCs throughout the experience, and Eversion, a slightly more pop-style video game.

The horror of Yime Nikki, and the glitz of Eversion do certainly seem to come together in Doki Doki.

Yume Nikki, one of the games from which Dan drew inspiration

Most impressively for this writer is the soundtrack, which was independently made by Dan and is incredibly catchy. You can hear it here.

Should there be a sale of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! below £10 we will be sure to review. Until then, GLHF, and be prepared for some twists and turns on the way.