Developer: HumaNature Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: December 10th, 2013
Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita
Reviewer’s note: I played this game on the Playstation 4. There may be differences between versions.
Some games are about armies fighting each other. Some games have you explore wastelands in search of salvageable treasure and goods. Some games put you in abandoned hospitals and has you escape from monsters. And then there’s Doki-Doki Universe who’s only concerned with making you happy and possibly giving you a bit more understanding about yourself.
Doki-Doki Universe puts you in the role of a robot named QT3 who just found out that his model is going to be scrapped because it’s not human enough. Luckily an alien named Jeff is willing to help him become more human and prove that his model line is worth keeping around. To do this QT3 needs to travel to various planets where he’ll learn something new about humanity. Each planet has a theme both aesthetically and in what you’ll be learning. The planets come in two forms: little and big. The little planets are usually just a group of unrelated missions that you do for the people of it. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what the lesson was supposed to be on most of them, or if they were just filler for the game. It’s the big planets that are more important though. The big planets each have their own little story lines that help teach QT3 a lesson about emotions and humanity. Ranging from topics like jealousy, love, acceptance, and tolerance, Doki-Doki Universe is smart about how it handles all of these things. It’s also never willing to take it self completely seriously and is more than happy to make jokes about itself along the way. It’s smart, and it makes the game come off as genuine and meaningful.
It’s such a shame then that the gameplay can barely hold up. Doki-Doki Universe is best compared to a puzzle game. Each character on each world has likes and dislikes and you can summon one of over 300 objects in an attempt to get them to love or hate you. You can learn character’s loves and hates by talking to them and other characters on each world. Each world also has missions which ask you to summon certain items or to preform specific tasks. Anytime you want to summon an item the game pulls up a list of 20-ish random items and lets you pick one, or shake the controller to get a new list. The problem is if a character wants a very specific item that there’s only one of. While the game usually isn’t bad about pulling up what you need in that 20, sometimes it doesn’t. And if that happens you’re shit out of luck when it comes to finding it any easy way. Prepare to waste time shaking the controller over and over again and hoping it pops up in the random batch. There’s no easy item search feature and it causes the game to just drag when you get to these points.
The worst part about summoning is when the game decides to backfire. At complete random the game can decide that your summoning has “backfired” which means it’ll just summon some random item from the list. There is no purpose to this feature other than to frustrate players and waste time, especially in a game that wants you to take it easy. It’s downright annoying when the game backfires and happens to summon something a character hates when you’re trying your best to get them to love you. There’s also a problem when characters don’t like or don’t hate things that everything makes it seem like they should. Once I had a character who hated everything red. I summoned a red triangle with a hat on it, but for some reason the character liked it because they thought it was funny. It really confused me, especially when funny wasn’t even part of their list of things they loved.
Sometimes characters will ask you to preform some simple actions. The majority are just done by rotating or shaking the right stick in whatever direction the on-screen prompt asks so you can get a painfully slow sequence of QT3 dancing or hugging the character to happen. You also have the ability to pick characters up and drag them places if you need to, but it’s not something you ever need to do outside of a mission. Similarly you can cause the whole world to rumble and tilt by shaking the controller, but if a quest hasn’t asked you to do this then there’s no reason for you to do so. What is useful is your ability to pick up background objects to find presents hidden behind them so you have more things to summon. You could also find decorations for your home planet. At your home you can customize the look of the planet and pick an outfit for QT3 to wear, but there’s little to do there otherwise.
Between planets you can explore the universe and find asteroids that let you take quizzes. The quizzes ask a few questions and wants you to pick between a choice of pictures for each one, and at the end uses it to determine some traits about you. It sort of works, but there are times I couldn’t help but feel that the game was looking far too deeply into choices. Sometimes I’d just pick something because it looked funny, and the game would begin talking about my inner desire to make art. No game, I just thought it was funny. Every now and again you can go back to your home planet and talk to Dr. Therapist who will sum up the choices you made and give some general personality overview. I guess if you were looking to learn more about yourself it’s there for you, but by the end I was just avoiding the asteroids to get to the ending.
Doki-Doki Universe also suffers from its length and padding. After a few planets you’ll find yourself having experienced everything the game is going to throw at you. Yet you’ll be doing it again and again and again. It’s mind numbingly repetitive and with nothing to mix it up the whole game drags itself over the finish line.
It’s really a shame that Doki-Doki Universe’s cute and relatable story isn’t held up by it’s repetitive and bland gameplay. You may be able to learn something about yourself from this game, but all I really got from it was that I didn’t like Doki-Doki Universe much.