Review: Doki Doki Literature Club

The October tradition of horror game reviews continues! This time I’m taking a short break from the PSX era games to review a modern title: Doki Doki Literature Club… Wait. That doesn’t sound like a horror game! It certainly doesn’t look like one either. Well… it’s not. At least not in the traditional sense. There’s no jump scares, zombies, horrifying monsters or any of that. Instead, what we have here is a game that shakes and rattles you mentally when you least expect it.  That being said, if you have not experienced this game and you think you might want to, it might actually be in your best interests to stop reading now. This game is truly best experienced blind. You should go into this game with as little information about it as possible to obtain the best experience.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel game. This is a genre that I’ve not really talked about on this site before, but one that I do enjoy. These days, most visual novels are romance/anime style games. They are filled with cutesy characters and more often then not, the goal of the game is to “meet your future waifu”. The creators of Doki Doki take this expectation and build a game that smacks the unassuming player in the face with a cold dose of shock and anguish.

The game starts off just like any other stereotypical Visual Novel. You play as a young, socially awkward school boy who is unexpectedly forced to associate with a handful of adorable school girls. Depending on the choices you make in the game, one of these girls will slowly start to take a liking to you. You continue to play in attempt to develop this relationship, while juggling your duties to the other characters in the game. Each character has their own quirks and backstory, and these become more apparent as you continue to play. Then, out of nowhere the game takes a very unexpected turn. I won’t go into specifics or there would be no point in playing the game for yourself. But, as if this twist was not enough – you soon begin to discover that everything you thought you knew about the game is completely wrong. How do I put it? You’re not really playing a game. Instead, this game is playing you.

At this point, some players might suspect that something is wrong with their computer or that somehow their game has become corrupted. But, sharp players will realize exactly what is going on and will feel extremely satisfied with the experience.  It’s difficult to discuss in a review without giving away too many spoilers. But, let me just say that in all my years of gaming, I have never had an experience that made we want to sit back and clap my hands in salute to a developer until now. This game completely exploits the players expectations and trolls them to levels unseen previously. It’s simply masterful in its execution.

One of the first things you will see when you start the game is a warning regarding the game’s disturbing content and imagery. This warning is very true. It might take you two hours or more before you encounter this type of content, but once it starts it doesn’t stop.

The disturbing content in Doki Doki Literature Club is more mental than anything else. If you are a person that truly suffers from anxiety or depression, it might seriously be a good idea to skip this title. That’s no a joke. This game will put you in a state of mind that you were not expecting to find yourself in. You have been warned.

That being said, if you are looking for a unique gaming experience that will kick-start your Halloween, this is certainly a title to consider. Look past the J-Pop and busty anime babes and give this game an honest chance. You will be surprised at what you find.

Difficulty: Easy–  As a visual novel there’s really no level of skill needed to play the game. However, unlike most games of this type – if you mess up and don’t get the result you want from the story, it’s not quite as easy to quit and reload your previous save as you might think…

Story: The storyline here is the main focus of the game, and it’s very well done. However, if you play through to completion you’ll realize there’s even MORE going on than the scenario presented in the game itself. You’ll get even MORE out of it if you try to play through a second time. Try it, you’ll see.

Originality: This title is probably one of the most original and refreshing gaming experiences I’ve had a long time. It takes an established genre and exploits the players expectations to a point I’ve never seen before. Sure, many games offer twist endings or try to surprise you in one way or another. But this game takes it to a new level.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is perky and cute. Typical of most Japanese style visual novels. I found the music to be oddly appropriate, but also a little repetitive and annoying after a while.

Fun: I wouldn’t really call this game “fun”. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. This game, if anything, seems to be a bit of a social experiment. It is certainly worth your attention and it’s an experience you are not likely to forget anytime soon. Overall, for me the takeaway was very positive. But this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Graphics: Typical Visual Novel flair. The game has colorful, anime style visuals. It’s very “kawaii” and well done. 

Playcontrol: No issues. Point and click 100%.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Disturbing imagery, adult themes, sexual content, violence.

Value:  This game is available to all at no cost. It’s 100% free.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is very unique. I recommend it. Don’t be fooled by it’s outward appearance. This is not your typically sex-driven anime VN. This is a psychological horror experience wrapped in a cutesy interface. It defies labels. Players looking for something different will find what they are looking for here if they have the patience to see it through.

Available on: Steam

Review: DreadOut

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Halloween is finally here, and with it comes my annual “scary game review”. Unlike last year, I was only able to fit in one game instead of a slew of horror-themed titles. But, have no fear, DreadOut is no slouch. This title fits the mood perfectly.

If you’re not familiar with this title, don’t feel bad. DreadOut is a rather obscure game from a small Indonesian developer: Digital Happiness. It’s an exploration/survival horror title that’s reminiscent to the popular Fatal Frame series. In many ways, DreadOut is similar to other horror titles, but what makes this game unique is that many of the ghosts and monsters in the game are based on Indonesian folklore. So, for western players, there’s a lot concepts here that will seem unfamiliar.

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The storyline of DreadOut is quite simple. Several students embark on a field trip with their teacher. However, along the way they stumble upon a forgotten ghost town. A handful of the students run off to explore, forcing the teacher to pursue them. Eventually, the group discovers an abandoned school house. After one of the students goes missing, our protagonist, Linda finds herself accidentally separated from the rest of the group. The game itself consists of controlling Linda as she wanders the grounds of the school, searching for her classmates and warding off evil spirits. The whole time, the secrets of the school and abandoned city slowly start to unravel.

Most of the game is simple exploration and puzzle solving. Combat against the spirits is restricted to taking photographs of them with a camera phone. Many ghosts in the game can only be viewed directly through the lens of the camera as well. When exploring, the majority of the game is played in the third-person view. However, when using the phone, the perspective is changed to first person. This only serves to deepen the realism and amp up the anxiety of the player.

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All of the standard horror game tricks can be found here. Dark environments, creepy ambient sounds, etc. But, even though you may have played games like this before, DreadOut manages to do a great job keeping things fresh. Again, I feel that is due partly to the unfamiliarity of Indonesian culture that most players will encounter. Also, having the lead character be an innocent and vulnerable school girl helps quite a bit as well. So despite seeming like just another “fish in the sea” of horror games, DreadOut manages to keep a unique air about it.

With all of that in mind, the game is certainly not perfect. It’s rather short, and sometimes buggy/quirky. But I didn’t encounter anything game-breaking. The low-budget and indie roots of the game are very obvious. But despite that, it holds up well in my opinion even when put against some of the well established titles in the genre. Since it’s release, the developers have added two additional playable chapters at no extra cost. This is always a welcome sight.  – Recommendation: when playing for the first time, Start with Act 1.  Play Act 0 once you have beaten the original game.

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Difficulty: Easy–  In terms of actual gameplay difficulty, DreadOut is pretty simple. If you are overtaken by a spirit your character will wake up in “Limbo” and can follow the light back to the real world. There is no limit to this really, so you essentially have infinite tries to complete whatever obstacle you are facing. Also in most instances, even boss battles do not reset when returning from the dead making them fairly easy to complete. You do have some control on the difficulty, however. You can also turn on/off visual queues that alert you when you are in the presence of either helpful items or ghostly encounters. This can make things a bit trickier.

Story: The story here is pretty basic on the surface: students lost in an abandoned city. But, observant players will soon be able to piece together bits of the backstory that are scattered about the game. By doing so, you’ll learn that this is actually a pretty in-depth game in terms of storyline.

Originality: For a large part, there’s really nothing new here. Survival horror games are a dime a dozen these days. Not to mention the whole camera/investigative thing has been done before with titles like Fatal Frame and Spirit Camera. What makes this game unique is the Indonesian cultural twist. This seems to be just enough to make DreadOut stand out from the competition.

Soundtrack: The game features a very basic and minimal score. It’s quite effective at building tension, and it suits the game very well. But it’s nothing particularly notable. The voice acting in the game is fair to good, but not outstanding.

Fun: I was surprised by this title. I’ve seen other games like this in the past, so I figured it would end up with a “been there, done that” feeling. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I had a really enjoyable time with this title. To make the most of this game, play it late at night, in a dark quiet room…

Graphics: For an independent title, the graphics are surprisingly good. However, compared to most other games out there, they are a bit subpar. Regardless, most of the game takes place in dark, dimly lit environments so the graphics are not really that big of a deal. Regardless, the graphical style works well for this title.

Playcontrol: If you have the option, playing DreadOut with a controller would be my recommendation. The game has built-in controller support and it works very well. The keyboard controls are a bit clunky and non-intuitive. But, they are not that hard to get the hang of in the long run.

Mature Content: Horror-based suspense. Frightening imaginary. Minor language.

Value:  DreadOut is an inexpensive game it usually sells for around $15.00 but it’s often on sale for $5.00 or less. If you can catch it at a low price it’s a no brainer. But even at full price, it’s well worth it if you’re a fan of the genre.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This title does have some shortcomings.  But overall, the quality of the game is fairly solid. That, combined with its originality, frequent updates and obvious TLC from the developers- I find myself giving it an above average score. DreadOut is the perfect game for late autumn nights.

Available on: PC

October is coming…

Autumn is here! This is probably my favorite time of year. I love the crisp air, the falling leaves, the pumpkin spice everything… I also like spooky things. Creepy stories, scary movies and of course horror games.

Last year was a bit lacksluster on the blog here. For October I played and reviewed Blood and Blood II on the PC. In 2012, I was a bit more ambitious. I attempted to play every Castlevania title. I made a pretty good effort, but I did run out of time. My Castlevania marathon extended all the way into December.

This year, I plan to something similar. Starting today, almost all other games are on hold. I’m going to focus on a number of horror-themed games from now until the end of the October. If it goes well, and the mood still feels right I may extend it into the first part of November.

There’s so many to choose from that I’m not really sure where to begin. To start, I think I’m going to go a bit casual and kick it off with Zombie U. Next up, I may actually tackle Castlevania: Lords of Shadow II.

Below is a list of some of my horror-themed games, if there’s anything on the list that you would like to see reviewed, please feel free to comment or reach out to me through another method. (Many of you seem to like tweeting me):

Potential Spooky Games For October:

Slender: The Arrival
Silent Hill
Resident Evil
Fatal Frame
Corpse Party
Amnesia
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Walking Dead

Also accepting suggestions