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Game Info:

Doki Doki Literature Club! 
Developed by: Team Salvato
Published by: Team Salvato
Release date: September 22, 2017
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
Genre: Dating Sim
Number of players: Single player
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price: Free

As a visual novel/dating sim, this game is most unique in the areas most prone to being spoiled. I will spoil no plot, but the less you read about it, the more this game will be able to have its intended effect. This is a short and carefully-crafted narrative unlike any other. It's available for free through Steam and the developer's website, though it's not for kids. If that's enough for you, play it now. If not, read on.

"Doki doki" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a heartbeat, such as a middle school boy might feel when confronted with a cute girl or a bloody knife. Depending on your inclinations, Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC) will earn every part of its title, including the exclamation point. The player-named protagonist is invited to join the high school Literature Club by his next-door neighbor female friend whom he has known since childhood. That day he goes to the club and meets the three other club members. If you guessed that they are also female, then you’ve probably played a dating sim before. If you further adduced that the four girls range from shy yet deep to hyperactive yet insecure, all the better. Your expectations will let you ignore the growing chill in your spine just a little bit longer.

The player is inexplicably attractive to each of the girls, but naturally, you have the choice of who you want to get close to. This is primarily done by composing poetry that you think your personal best girl will enjoy. In gameplay terms, you pick words from lists like “cloud, slipper, corpse, cake, kiss,” and the game lets you know which girl will like that word the most. It's a simple minigame to determine which girl you focus on. The writing, not the gameplay, is the star of the show--except insofar as the game plays you.

Doki Doki Literature Club!
Highlights:

Strong Points: Strong writing; effective music;  avoids sexual imagery typical of dating sims; foreshadowing adds appreciation to replays
Weak Points: Not a typical dating sim, and knowing that weakens the effect already
Moral Warnings: F***, s***, d***, b****, God's name in vain, and more; graphic blood, death, and self-harm; a reference to masturbation in dialogue; themes of depression and abuse

 

Do you tend to forget that choices have consequences? DDLC will remind you. Every day, you swap poems with each of the other club members and receive feedback. Each girl has a distinctive style of writing, and the poems they produce are well-written and insightful in their own right. Whichever girl most enjoys your poem will start to spend more time with you, typically in scenes alone with her. Said scenes are light and playful for a while, and there is no sexual activity or even kissing. There is, however, a reference to masturbation in dialogue.

DDLC comes with standard visual novel quality-of-life features like variable text speed, a save/load system, and the ability to skip over previously-seen dialogue. You can skip almost any dialogue by changing a setting, making experimentation with different choices much easier. The game is text-only aside from certain noises I'd rather forget and a very catchy credits song. Actually, all the music that isn’t distorted and dissonant is quite catchy. By the way, remember that DDLC is not over until the credits roll.

Doki Doki Literature Club!
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 58%
Violence - 3/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

Graphical design is likewise exceptional. The environments tell more stories than you will understand on your first time through the game. The designs of the girls are full of detail and expression. The very paper and handwriting through which the poetry is conveyed give almost as much insight into the characters as their faces do. The eventual heavy swearing adds additional flavor.

The messages of DDLC are more bright than one might expect from a dating sim. Again, there are no sex scenes or explicit sexual imagery. Instead, DDLC tells a story of dealing with loneliness, rejection, and depression. A thoughtful handling of these topics demands sad moments, small rays of light, and, in retrospect, several subtle indications of the issues experienced by the girls. A thoughtful handling does not demand detailed and colorful drawings of violence, death, and self-harm, so consider those a bonus.

I recognize that I have not been entirely upfront with you in this review. To be fair, DDLC was not entirely upfront with me. If you have been at all intrigued as to how, then play the game. It is a dating sim with multiple endings. It teaches lessons about friendship, depression, and helplessness. It is best experienced late at night, alone, and can be finished in about four hours. Experiences of its kind will probably become old hat soon, but today, you still have a chance to dig into something unique in this game. You’ll be the freshest victim DDLC has ever played.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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