Once upon a time, there was a robot called QT377665 (or QT3 for short) who was abandoned by his family on a small asteroid with a red floating balloon. The poor robot waited for thousands of days before an alien called Alien Jeff came to inform him he was due to be destroyed by the factory. But Alien Jeff has a way to save the poor robot. He just needs to learn to have more humanity! To do this, QT3 and Balloon head to the Home planet and set out on an adventure to learn more about humanity.
This is the premise of Doki-Doki Universe, one of the weirdest and quirkiest games I have ever played. There’s no doubt that going on an adventure to learn about humanity should be weird, but it’s the fact that the learning happens through solving social misunderstandings in a totally non-violent way by providing a solution to everyone’s problems. It is in no way a psychological game; it’s really all adventure, and the puzzles are non-existent. You take on the role of QT3 in his travel around the universe. You will visit planets with different settings and themes, and you will need to solve a crisis on each of them. Your goal is to learn about humanity, so you will encounter jealousy, pride, love, and other human emotions. Each planet keeps to one theme alone. You will talk to people, monsters, robots, animals, aliens, and other life forms. You will dance with them, hug, blow kisses, wave, or bow to them. You will summon things that they want to solve their problems. Those summoned objects come from presents hidden on the planets or are given to you by NPCs (Non Playable Character) when they like or dislike you.
You will also collect decorations for the Home planet to make it to your taste. You’ll have fun using your rumble and tilt power to shake them and make them fall. They will either love you for it or hate you, not counting when you make them fly or fling them around. That love and hate relationship can be seen through a handy meter, and they will react differently depending on their attitude toward you. Someone that hates you won’t talk or interact with you, and you’ll have to gain back their favor to help them out or get information. Someone that loves you will give you precious information about themselves and others, which will help you make everyone love or hate you. There are also the asteroids. They contain a single NPC which will give you a personality test. They’re simple and short. You have to select an answer for each question, and no answers are wrong. At the end of each little test, it tells you what you are. If you are truthful to yourself, you will see that it’s strangely accurate for the most part, but it become more so at the end when you’ve answered everything. They generate a complete report that will give you more information on your personality, like your interests, your creativity (or lack thereof), and different attributes you have like being a shy romantic or a natural leader.
As tedious as those simple interactions sounds, it’s nothing boring. If you pay attention to what is being discussed and what is happening in each situation, you will see that, behind all the quirkiness and the eccentric humor, a warm and emotional message is being transmitted to you. You might even end up learning a thing or two about yourself at the same time. You will also notice that the situations might resonate quite well with yourself, as they touch on aspects of life that everyone experiences. While the game’s method of solving these problems might sound ridiculous (after all, it’s not like we can summon a demon to make someone afraid or summon a robot to battle the demon), you might find that it leaves you with a sense of what you should do if that situation arises.
All this is presented with 2D graphics that would make any elementary school students proud. The graphics are just appropriate for the type of humor transmitted throughout the game, and it grows quickly on you while you play. It also holds a certain charm that games like modern ultra-realistic shooters lack. Instead of using a spaceship to travel to other planets, you have a steed that can be various things. After all, what better way to explore the universe than on a giant whale or Swiss cheese with wings? There’s also the more primal humor using poop at its center. The game also has a unique mail feature, which lets you send mail from inside the game to your friends on Facebook, whether they own the game or not. This mail can also be sent cross-platform (the game is currently on the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4) so they will receive it. You can use pictograms instead of all words, and you can even let the game decide which pictogram to use based on the words. It’s an interesting feature that the game uses as well, and from time to time you’ll receive message from the various life forms you encountered during your travels.
Doki-Doki Universe has music that changes for each planet you visit, and it always fits the planet’s setting very well. There’s no voice over in the game, so be prepared for a lot of reading. It’s done through speech bubbles, so you’ll be pressing X a lot when it’s not simply pictogram, which can sometimes be a bit more confusing. Everything is animated and (unless it’s one of the background instruments) you’ll see them moving around, but the animation isn’t that energetic. That includes your summons, which have different animations based on what they are. With all the collecting you’ll be doing to help you help others, you’ll most likely gain a few trophies as well. While there’s quite a few, they are relatively easy to gain and can be done easily in your first playthrough. The game doesn’t offer any type of replayability otherwise, and there’s no online or multiplayer mode either save for that mail service. The only mode available is the rather short story, which is not at all difficult.
So why would you pick this game, you might ask? The price tag for it is the same as other short indie games, and you can even have every DLC for much less than what they would cost individually with their Limited Edition bundle. What more, it’s only in the downloadable format and unlocks for all platforms when you purchase it. It also means that you’ll have another PlayStation 4 game in your library. Most of all, it is an experience that will make you smile. You’ll understand things about yourself that you might not have known already, and you will see simple solutions to common problems in everyone’s lives. This game is really not about the gameplay, but all about the journey and the experience behind it.
This review is based on Doki-Doki Universe downloaded for the PlayStation 4. The game is also available on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.