Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! Review: A Hard Game To Talk About
Writing a review of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! somehow feels both vital and also impossible. Usually while I’m playing a game for review, I’m gathering my thoughts, jotting down notes, analyzing the game so I can tell you all what I think. If I don’t do that, I sit down in front of my keyboard and spend an awful lot of time staring at a blank screen.
I didn’t do that with Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! I started to, but it quickly fell by the wayside. There’s too much about this game that’s immediate, that pulls you in and makes you want to hang on every moment. There’s no room for the distance of thinking about how I’m going to put a certain amount of words on a page after I’m done with it.
Should We Even Talk About It?
That’s not even the hardest part of reviewing it, though. The biggest issue is that I have so much to say and want to scream it from the rooftops. I can’t, though. To tell you much of anything about the story of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! would make it a much weaker game. I considered how much to take that into account in this review. The original version came out four years ago, and many players will go in already knowing why that’s the case. I know it’s possible not to, though, because while I had heard there was something to know about this game, I managed to avoid the details all these years. Since those who have played in the past will know if they want to do so again, I decided to keep this as spoiler-free as I can possibly make it. So instead, I have to make you understand how important it is that you play this game which is almost entirely story-based while saying as little as possible about its story. No pressure.
If you’re still reading and haven’t played Doki Doki Literature Club! this is where I strongly advise you to consider hitting your back button. Close the screen. Open another tab. Maybe save the rest of this review for after you’re done. If you’re already pretty sure you want to play this, go do that. If you still need some convincing, though, I’m glad to do it. I can only be so vague, however, and you’ll catch a small hint of what’s to come.
Join This Club
You start the game by naming your character and meeting your best friend, Sayori. She’s been pushing you to get out of your comfort zone, maybe join a club at school. From the title of the game, I hope you can figure out which one you end up joining. Sayori is a member, and you’re soon introduced to the three other members of the club. Natsuki, Yuri, and Monika all have distinct personalities, as does Sayori. As a young man interested in young women, you’re quickly talked into spending your afternoons with four teenage girls. You’ll start making choices to help guide you toward the girl you prefer—all pretty standard stuff for a visual novel.
The closest thing to gameplay here, outside of a few very specific choices, are poetry segments. As part of getting closer to the girls, you’ll write a poem to share with the group each day. Don’t worry; you don’t have to actually be a poet. You choose words from a predetermined menu. Those words don’t create the actual poem. They simply make it more liked by one of the girls in the group. Chibi forms of them cheer you on as you pick words they’ll like. When you get back to the group, you’ll get to hear a new poem from each girl each day. They really help you get to know them. You never get to see your own poems, which is a bit of a shame considering the weird words you’re picking. It all goes toward your character being less of a character and more of a cipher for you to view the world through.
Stick With It
For the first hour or so, this all seems like a very standard visual novel. Not necessarily bad, the girls are likable, and the art’s great. The new HD style for this plus version looks terrific. There’s a nice soundtrack, including 13 new tracks for this version. It would be easy, though, for someone not into this genre to write the game off. It wouldn’t be that hard for someone who is into the genre to do the same either. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s so familiar.
Resist that urge. Things open up in an incredibly unexpected way. Doki Doki Literature Club! ends up toying with some very dark subjects in a way that isn’t always handled perfectly, but feels honest and comes from a personal space. It feels true, and the characters feel true as a result. The game opens with a content warning, and if you have a lot of triggers, this may be a difficult game for you. It also plays with the very form of a video game in some fascinating ways. You’ll open the game on a fake computer, with the developers going out of their way to preserve the form of the original, which was designed around the PC experience. It’s far better for it.
That isn’t to say that it sticks every landing. There are a few issues if I want to nitpick. The game features more than the needed share of fan service. That’s all in favor of feeling familiar, so it can more effectively subvert that familiarity later, but at times it goes further than it needs to and almost feels at odds with the messages that the game is bringing up. I kept expecting it to directly address this at some point, but it never got there. There’s also a series of new side stories created just for this version of the game, and while they’re fine and feature some fun character interactions, I don’t feel they bring a lot to the package. They’re for hardcore fans only.
A strikingly immediate game that covers dark subjects most titles wouldn’t dream of approaching, Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! left my jaw on the floor multiple times. I won’t tell you why, or when. You’ll know when you get there. I was at times happy, sad, and truly horrified. I feel bad even telling you that this game isn’t what it looks like, because even that gives away more than I want you to know going in. This is a game that just keeps opening up as you dig deeper and one that even now I can’t stop thinking about, even if a part of me wishes I could.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC; Publisher: Serenity Forge; Developer: Team Salvato; Players: 1; Released: June 30th, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $14.99 ($29.99 Physical)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! provided by the publisher.