Before we continue onward, I would like to first call attention to something. Generally, these articles are aimed at an audience that has already played/seen the attributed work in question. However, as a recommendation list, by comparing games to the main work, the nature of some games become revealed as a consequence. Given the nature of Doki Doki Literature Club, this is a rather important detail.
Out of concern for readers who are wary of spoilers, I will do my best to explain how certain games are applicable to the list and also be intentionally vague, the balance of which will change depending on the necessity to prove similar ideas and themes.
Thus, out of concern for the reader, please do not read this list unless you’ve read Doki Doki Literature Club.
Doki Doki Literature Club is an excellent example of how to subvert an audience’s expectations. By taking the conventions and expectations of the anime and visual novel mediums, Dan Salvato has written, programmed, and composed a surreal horror and romantic comedy, packaged within a metatextual visual novel. He has effectively opened up the niche visual novel medium by first focusing the appeal towards anime/visual novel fans and respectfully creating nuance that allows it to be appreciated by a wider demographic.
Utilizing recognizable character archetypes, a familiar setting, and common ideas, Doki Doki Literature Club masterfully sets the reader up for a fall. This distance created from this fall--this subversion--puts the reader into a surreal setting, once familiar and inviting but now unsettling and foreign.
What you thought you knew has gained new definition, a frightening new depth--one where falling again might yield even more horrors beneath. The stereotypes and biases the reader once held have been expanded upon, addressing reader concerns about unrefined tropes and surface level archetypes.
Everyday life has changed. The line between reality and fiction has not just been blurred but shoved boldly into our faces. Traumatizing events spark this transition, and the beauty and horror of it are: you can no longer distance yourself. Fiction’s comforting embrace, the escape from reality that readers yearn after, clenches its grip and suffocates you.
Themes of human agency and free will, visual depictions of the surreal and horrific, the power of empathetic dialogue, the experience of depression, the vulnerability of losing control, and the 4th wall break that challenges notions of reality and fiction--these elements are the engaging qualities that make your heart pound “Doki Doki!”
The following recommendations will focus either on thematic relevance or gameplay similarities to Doki Doki Literature Club. If you’ve found yourself interested in a specific aspect of the visual novel, then this list will help narrow your search. Regardless of why you enjoy Doki Doki Literature Club, I hope you’ll give one of the listed games a try.
Similar Game to Doki Doki Literature Club
1. Steins;Gate 0
- System: NA: PS4, PS Vita
- Publisher: 5pb. Games, PQube Ltd.
- Developer: 5pb. Games, Nitroplus
- Release Dates: NA: Nov. 25, 2016
The story of Steins;Gate 0 is a “midquel,” one that unfolds during the original visual novel. Having failed the events of Steins;Gate, Okabe Rintarou, a formerly cheerful and eccentric college student, is now crushed by a callous reality.
Lacking the same vibrant colors he once had, Okabe is now a hollow man, his sickly pale face telling the tale of a self-tortured man. His friends worry about him, his mental health clear to those who knew his old self. But he won’t open up. He won’t tell his secret, a truth that...
The people close to him will always die.
The very thing he studies closes off his future. Science unveils a fact he can no longer stand to see, clawing away at his hope for tomorrow. Time traveling is the last thing Okabe wants, but now he’s stuck without a future--stuck as time ticks towards the inevitable.
Welcome to the beta word line.
Steins;Gate 0 is an immersive experience. If what intrigued you about Doki Doki Literature Club was the psychology of its characters, the depictions of depression, the pain that comes from a harsh reality, or comparisons between AI/programming and humanity, then I highly implore you: please read Steins;Gate 0.
Steins;Gate 0 Trailer:
- System: NA: PS4, PS Vita
- Publisher: PQube Ltd.
- Developer: 5pb. Games, Nitroplus
- Release Dates: NA: Oct. 24, 2017
Chaos;Child is the sequel to Chaos;Head and part of the renowned Science Adventure series. Mixing in multiple genres (thriller, mystery, sci-fi, adventure, and bits of horror), this visual novel examines the human condition under stress, oscillating information, and the presence of growing danger.
The main character is Takuru Miyashiro, a survivor of the infamous Shibuya earthquake and self-proclaimed “right-sider,” a term for one who is self-aware of the media and verifies information. Much of the story will chain the reader to Takuru, a decision that forces you to judge Takuru’s worth--how reliable he is as a narrator.
By meshing the occult and science, Chaos;Child creates the perfect environment for a murder mystery. Fact and fiction are disturbingly hard to tell apart, and this element bleeds into the story’s themes.
The nature of humanity and morality, the closeness we have to our creations, the values society places on truth, and the question of human agency are some the story’s themes. Similar to Doki Doki Literature Club, Chaos;Child is masterful at subverting expectations, creating an unsettling atmosphere, and questioning the reader’s perspectives. When fake and realism blend together; chaos ensues.
3. Yume Nikki (Dream Diary)
- System: PC-Windows (Freeware game)
- Publisher: Kikiyama
- Developer: Kikiyama
- Release Dates: JP: Jun. 26, 2004
Yume Nikki is a freeware, RPG maker game created by Japanese developer Kikiyama. Upon its release in 2004, it got a quick English patch that translated the menus and items. As you’ll quickly learn, there’s no dialogue in Yume Nikki, and much of its appeal comes from how open the game is to interpretation, making Dream Diary a very fitting name.
This title has sparked multiple spiritual successors and helped gamers touch upon a surrealistic experience, an interesting portrayal of the dreaming mind. While Yume Nikki’s story is hard to convey--the lack of dialogue adding to this--there are few facts we know.
Madotsuki is the main character, a girl who’s unwilling to physically leave her room. Upon going to bed, she “wakes up” in an alternate version of her room, one where her door can access other worlds. These worlds vary between peaceful and beautiful to disturbingly unsettling. The non-linear game structure allows players to wander the dreamscapes of Madotsuki’s mind. By doing so, they can connect different ideas and rationalize the surreal nature of the game.
Dan Salvato, the creator of Doki Doki Literature Club, has also expressed his appreciation for Yume Nikki and its influences. In a Reddit post aimed at answering fan questions, he states, “DDLC was mostly influenced by non-VN games, such as Yume Nikki and Eversion. I’ve played Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, Steins;Gate, 999, and portions of various other games like Umineko, Clannad, and some others.”
While the similarities between Yume Nikki and Doki Doki Literature Club aren’t the easiest to define, the surreal line isn’t either. Some similarities between the games are the atmosphere, the blurring sense of reality, the malleable nature of the unknown, and the reward for continued player intrigue and investigation. If your interest in Doki Doki Literature Club comes from aforementioned aspects or if you’re just curious about how Yume Nikki has inspired Dan Salvato, this game is worth your time.
Any Game Like Doki Doki Literature Club?
4. Irisu Syndrome
- System: PC-Windows (Freeware game)
- Publisher: Tetsu
- Developer: Tetsu
- Release Dates: JP: Oct. 2, 2008
In the same vein as Yume Nikki, Irisu Syndrome is another freeware game that got an English patch. Focusing on another side of the surreal, Irisu Syndrome is a seemingly innocuous puzzle game that rewards players for accumulating enough points by the end of 6 game cycles. By gaining enough points, players are allowed to see the story behind the game’s main character, Irisu Kyouko, the overseer of the player’s progress.
The mechanics aren’t explained, but the game is easily figured out: manipulate colored shapes to hit other shapes of the same color, illuminating them in a glow. After hitting a color, players are not penalized for combo-ing different colors into each other--one simply needs to eventually hit at least two matching colors before the colored shapes hit the ground, rewarding you with points or taking away your life bar if you fail to meet requirements.
Despite the simplicity of its mechanics, this is just meant to focus your attention. The reason, I’ll leave to your imagination. The melancholic piano and the atmosphere that echoes from it help lull players into a sense of calmness, and as endings are revealed, players will know the truth behind everything.
I’ve been deliberately vague about this game, and players in the know will understand why. I’ll name only a few similarities with Doki Doki Literature Club, hopefully, enough to convince people to try this short 1 - 2-hour game. If you played Doki Doki Literature Club for its surreal atmosphere, game mechanics that breach boundaries, or the unsettling sense of the unknown, Irisu Syndrome is for you.
- System: PC-Steam
- Publisher: Degica
- Developer: Little Cat Feet
- Release Dates: NA: Dec. 8, 2016
OneShot is a surrealistic, puzzle, adventure game that openly acknowledges you as the player and your existence--this premise is openly celebrated as the game’s appeal. Your job is to guide Niko, the messiah of a decaying world. By transporting the “sun” to the top of the tower, the hope for a new tomorrow will begin.
During your journey, you will encounter a mysterious being that contacts the player. During these segments, players will solve unique puzzles that require you to think outside of the game--sometimes quite literally.
Game conventions are shattered and borders are breached. It’s up to the player to decide how much is real to them, and in doing so, a new level of immersion and recognition of the player’s role emerges. If you enjoyed Doki Doki Literature Club for its interactive mechanics, its surreal nature that meshes reality and fiction, or the way it subverts common ideas within video games, then OneShot should be given its due.
6. Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi
- System: PC-Windows
- Publisher: Nitroplus
- Developer: Nitroplus
- Release Dates: JP: Aug. 30, 2013 (Regular edition)
Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi (simplified as “Totono”) was originally marketed as a “pure love” and “alternative adventure” visual novel. Totono is published and developed solely by Nitroplus, a Japanese VN company that has influenced the industry with its dark and gritty stories.
The initial confusion was understandable. Fans were baffled by this reversal of expectations, betrayed even. In a medium already swarmed with romance stories, Nitroplus was relinquishing its original appeal, seemingly conforming to the standard. But then marketing continued, and fans realized that something rested beneath the surface. If you understand Japanese and are at least the age of 18, I would say jump into this adult visual novel with no more knowledge. Stop here and read no further.
If I somehow can’t convince you, then let me say Totono is the most relevant game on this list. Its awareness of visual novel conventions and romance archetypes sound awfully familiar. The expectations it sets up, as hinted before, are alluding to something more.
Totono is an introspective look at the mechanics of visual novels. By asking you to participate in them, it makes you question your acceptance of VN conventions, and as a result, makes you examine yourself. This short, 15-hour visual novel personalizes your experience; it makes your choices matter--really, really matter. While this game is not easily accessible, for those that appreciate Doki Doki Literature Club, this story should be your next visual novel.
The video below is the 2nd promotional video, released to help ease the uneasy and intrigue the skeptical fan. Nitroplus deliberately revealed a particular scene during its marketing, one that helped spark discussion before its release. If my descriptions above have not intrigued you, then this is the final step. The same revealing video that Nitroplus marketed, I present to you.
The choice is yours.
Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi Trailer:
Throughout this article, there was this really odd sense of balance I had to do. By comparing Doki Doki Literature Club to other games, I realized I had to dance around the nature of certain works while other games required me to illuminate its relevance. I think for games that break the 4th wall, there is this delicate balance of immersion and contemplation, a balance where too many details may ruin the experience more than it does for conventional works. The article was a difficult task, but it helped me appreciate these games even more. If my efforts have helped you, I’d love to read your comments below.