Quirky, colourful and endlessly ego-boosting – the free-to-play Doki-Doki Universe offers you the whole world, if you’ll only advance past the paywall. Brenna finds she didn’t really need a whole galaxy of personality quizzes.
Taking personality quizzes is a sort of psychological masturbation. But after a little while, the fun starts to wear off and you either need to lay off for a while, cultivate more unusual habits, or go do something more worthwhile such as have a conversation with another human being. In this analogy, that last one stands for sex. Just spelling it out.
“Doki-doki” is a term familiar to (recovering) anime weaboos like myself; it’s a Japanese phrase meant to represent the frantic beating of an excited heart, as when you catch sight of sempai striding through the corridors of the school with sparkles trailing from his eyes.
Doki-Doki Universe is cleverly named, because it’s all about the quickening of a heart. QT3 (“Cutie”, I assume) is abandoned by a regretful but determined family, and is rescued after 32 years of patient waiting by an alien who claims to hail from the robot factory. QT3’s model is out of favour, and if he can’t prove he has enough “humanity”, he’ll be permanently decommissioned. What follows is a gently humorous adventure through a quaint universe packed with interesting characters, delightfully charming art, and positive messages which carefully avoid preachiness.
Doesn’t that sound exactly like the sort of thing VG247’s Brenna Hillier will write 1,500 carefully chosen words on and spend the next six months attempting to sell to every acquaintance, even when they start hastily exiting the room on her approach?
Don’t get me wrong, Doki-Doki Universe is cute as a row of ducklings and I don’t regret the $12 I forked out for the full game (I choose not to mess about with free-to-play if there is a sensible alternative). But despite the fact that it’s been in the works for over 18 months and isn’t necessarily a hugely ambitious project, Doki-Doki Universe really needed a little extra time in the oven.
Although there are lots of things you can do in Doki-Doki Universe, such as fly around on a giant cheese, send animated emails to your Facebook friends, decorate your home planet, and track down collectibles, there are really only two activities that matter in any way to your progress.
The first of these is taking personality quizzes. Now, guys, let’s be frank a minute – taking personality quizzes is a sort of psychological masturbation. You think about yourself a lot and then you’re given a result that reinforces your flattering opinions. It’s compelling. But after a little while, the fun starts to wear off and you either need to lay off for a while, cultivate more unusual habits, or go do something more worthwhile such as have a conversation with another human being. In this analogy, that last one stands for sex. Just spelling it out.
The second is solving tasks for characters in the game. A collection of varied and interesting planets dots your little galaxy, and wandering about on them and chatting to people unlocks quests. Unfortunately, all these quests are solved in the same way – by a rare touchpad “mini-game”, or by summoning a particular object.
Here the game had potential to be really interesting, because figuring out what objects characters will like or dislike, and learning which kinds of items will generate the set you want from the initial random assortment, is fun. Unfortunately, every quest can be solved with the summoning items you start with or find on that very planet, which means you’ll have at most 30 contenders to choose from. The puzzles are simple enough to solve with your eyes shut and there are multiple solutions, too, so it’s very hard to fail. Without any challenge, the fun soon wears thin.
That’s two instances of the fun just trickling away. Add to this the clunkiness of controls – especially the rear touch pad stuff – and small annoyances like crashes or slow loading times, and you’ve got an experience which is just plain delightful for the first 30 minutes and a right pain shortly thereafter.
The pay off for persisting just doesn’t seem worth it. Every five or six quizzes you take in Doki-Doki Universe results in a phone call from your therapist. You can then make a visit to the couch and hear some more reports about yourself, all of which are flattering or, at worst, gently admonitory about your lack of direction. This seems to be the whole point, apart from the gentle, plodding story of Alien Jeff, QT3, and their many friends. I could get as much by taking OKCupid quizzes, and I wouldn’t have to sit through HumaNature’s wearisome animated logo splash every time the game crashes, either.
Doki-Doki Universe is best enjoyed in short bursts, making it admirably suited to the Vita, but even if carefully and slowly doled out the novelty will wear probably wear off quickly. I don’t know where the paywall rests on Doki-Doki Universe because I threw my money down immediately; I believe very strongly in this kind of experimentation and creation, even when it doesn’t actually work so well. But for those of you eager to try before you buy, I warn you that with the whole universe as your disposal rather than locked up behind premium content labels you’ll soon find yourself with no desire to get through the whole lot of it.