You've probably heard of Doki Doki Literature Club. The anime dating simulator achieved massive popularity largely through word of mouth, and the Switch version — which this review is about, obviously — comes almost four years after its debut, which means you've either already played it, or you've heard about it and not played it, or... well, you know absolutely nothing. And you're in for a treat.
[SPOILER WARNING from this point on — We have kept it to only the vaguest, most minor spoilers, but if you want to go into Doki Doki Literature Club completely blind, then stop here, and play it. To summarise the rest of the review: It's really really good, with some extra content that's nice to have, but the PC version is a slightly 'truer' version of the story.]
Usually, when writing reviews, we can talk about the things that make the game good or bad without spoiling too much of what the plot is about. But with Doki Doki Literature Club, that's a bit harder, and we can't even tell you why. What we can say is that the game begins with a warning: "This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed." You may wonder what could be so terrifying in a candy-coloured dating sim, but we're here to tell you just trust the warning, okay?
Doki Doki Literature Club begins in as generic a setting as any: you are roped into joining the titular Literature Club by your childhood best friend, and despite your reservations about poetry, you decide to go along with it, if only because all the girls in the club are cute. After a few poetry-writing minigames, which provide you with lists of words designed to appeal to one of the three girls, you'll end up getting the attention of at least one.
Sayori, your best friend, is a cheerful and outgoing girl who, more than anything, wants you to be happy. Natsuki is the youngster of the group; in true anime dating sim style, she's the prickly, tsundere one who looks about twelve. Yuri is a dark-haired lover of novels who loves drama, death, and decay — in a literary sense, at least. And, of course, there's Monika, the club president, who's confident and organised, but sadly undateable. Through your poems and your choices, you'll get to know them all — but that's just the pastel candy coating on a chocolate filled with regret and despair.
We know, we know — it's terribly annoying to read a review that keeps hinting at dark things to come and refuses to tell you about them, but trust us: Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the most inventive and creative visual novels we've played. Though the visual novel genre has existed for decades, it's only fairly recently that developers have begun to toy with the metagame — the parts of a game that exist as presentation devices, like menus, interfaces, text logs, and so on. If you've played any of the Zero Escape games, or The House In Fata Morgana, you'll know what we mean: these are games that set up your expectations only to knock them down.
Doki Doki Literature Club came out originally on the PC, and the PC itself is a large part of DDLC's weirdness-twist-meta-genre-breaking-absurdity. Many people, upon seeing that DDLC was coming to Switch, had one main question: How will they manage the [REDACTED]? It's a fair question, because the [REDACTED] is intrinsically tied to the platform.
You'll be glad to know that it's handled pretty well on the Switch. We can't tell you how, because, you know, spoilers, but it seems to us that the PC version doesn't give the game away quite as obviously. It's not a huge problem, of course — the Switch version is a clever adaptation — but if you want the real deal when it comes to the bit of Doki Doki Literature Club that gets weird, you're best off sticking to Steam. It would have been fun to see DDLC playing with the Switch in the same way, but we can understand why that might not have been possible on top of the time and effort that porting takes.
By and large, the Switch version is fantastic, and if you're looking for more metafiction on the hybrid console, then this is one of the best out there. Team Salvato have used a number of smart, creative, and unexpected tools in their arsenal to craft an experience that will constantly leave you surprised, horrified, and nervous. It's hard to imagine how a visual novel can leave you unsettled until it does, repeatedly, and without warning.
What's more, the Switch version is technically called "Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!" which includes concept art, key art, a music player, and "Side Stories", which give you more insight into the four girls before you turned up. The side stories are sweet and bitesized, taking no more than five to ten minutes to read through, and playing them after the events of the main story will flesh out the characters nicely, adding a bittersweet flavour to everything you've learned. The visuals have been revamped to be fully HD, too, and there are thirteen new tracks to listen to.
To turn away from the prose and the [REDACTED], though — because this is a review, after all — there are a few little issues on the Switch version that make it a little difficult to play. The most egregious of these is the text size, which is absolutely minuscule in handheld mode, and not much better docked. The text is white with a black outline on a pale pink background, which is pretty tricky to read, and the options — which allow for text speed, content warnings, and the power to skip dialogue — don't have any settings for size, font, or colour. Good luck if your eyes are any older than the girls in the game; you're going to be squinting for days.
So, is Doki Doki Literature Club good? Without qualifiers and without reservations, the answer is a resounding "yes". If you love visual novels, post-modern narratives, horror, or you're just looking for something a little different to the normal fare, then give DDLC a go. It'll only take you about five hours to play through (if you don't immediately play it again, like we did) and it's a great price for the creepy stamp it'll leave on your brain for days.