A wolf in sheep's clothing.
My second title for #VNNovember was Doki Doki Literature Club, another freeware visual novel. This one initially presents itself as a cliche saccharin-sweet dating sim, but as things progress, you'll realize there's more to it than meets the eye. As this game is highly susceptible to being spoiled, I'll be keeping this review short and relatively vague so that anyone who reads this will still have surprises in store for them when they play the game.
- While the game has certain surprise elements that set it apart, the majority of the time you'll spend with it will be in the form of a classic dating sim. The game's developer absolutely nails the tone, characters, and scenarios of classic 90s PC dating sims. Much to my surprise, before the various twists happen, Doki Doki Literature Club is actually a pretty decent dating sim visual novel in its own right.
- Since the game is about a literature club, the game's main sections involve sharing poems between the protagonist and the various girls in the club (of course the protagonist is the only male member... I told you this is a cliche dating sim). The protagonist's poems are generated by picking a selection of words from a menu. The player never sees the protagonist's completed poems, but the words you choose will affect your dialog with each girl. Reading the girls' poems is more interesting than I expected. The writing in these sections does a good job of giving the characters a little more depth beyond their otherwise trope-laden personas.
- Like the writing, the music also perfectly captures the tone of classic dating sims while lulling the player into a false sense of comfort. Unique instrumentation of the music plays while reading each girl's poems, which is a nice touch. The pleasant soundtrack also distorts appropriately when the twists start coming, which is another little detail I appreciated.
- Without saying what actually happens, when the game finally starts deviating from being a dating sim (you'll know when you get there), it does so in a way that is interesting, but not entirely unique. As someone who has played other indie games that hinge on deceiving the player, I wasn't as shocked by the turn of events as some other players might have been. That being said, some of the twists were very well executed, but I felt that a few were handled a little clumsily.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with Doki Doki Literature Club. The main portion of the game was a pleasant nostalgia trip to my days as a dorky teen playing dating sims on my parents' computer late at night. The post-twist segment, while not completely original in concept, was still effective and stuck with me for a while after playing. If you like dating sims and games that go to strange and dark places, I'd highly recommend Doki Doki Literature Club. If you don't like dating sims, however, you will likely find yourself getting bored long before you get to the twist.
Completion Time: About 5 hours