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Review: Doki Doki Universe

By Josué Cardona

Available on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and Playstation Vita, Doki Doki Universe is a game that sets out to teach us about humanity and possibly ourselves. All in a very funny, cute, and repetitive package.

 The Story

DDU stars a robot named Model QT377665 but everyone calls him QT3. His story starts with his family abandoning him on a small asteroid. 32 years later, Alien Jeff swings by and tells QT3 that his family is probably not coming back. And to make things worse, apparently QT3’s model has been recalled and he has to go back to the factory to be decommissioned, unless he can prove that he has humanity.
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QT3 is left behind.

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32 years is a long time.

In order to do that, QT3 must visit different planets, interact with their inhabitants, and then report what he’s learned back to Alien Jeff.

As QT3, you travel to different worlds, meet people, help them, and collect a lot of stuff along the way. Your motivation is not only to prove your humanity and not get scrapped at the robot factory. QT3 is also still hoping to see his owners again, specifically a little girl named Lani.

Can I help you with something?

On your journey to prove your humanity,  here’s what you’ll be doing in DDU

  1. Land on a planet.
  2. Look for hidden presents.
  3. Solve other character’s problems.
  4. Make other characters like you (or hate you) so they’ll give you presents. (Optional)
  5. Go to another planet.

Solving people’s problems involves some very simple puzzle-solving and fetching. Most characters need something that only QT3 can provide. Most of the time you can find what you need on the planet you’re on but sometimes you need something from another planet. When a character needs something, you pull up your list of “summonables” and choose the best option. You often have more than one option to choose from and it’s fun to try less obvious choices. For example, a character may want a new pet and there is only one way to find out if they’ll accept a robot dog, a chicken, or a dragon.

In order to get more presents, which can be decorations for your home planet or more summonables, you will search each planet or get them from other characters. You can easily find out who has presents for you by scanning the planet and viewing their profiles. Then you’ll learn if you have to make the character happy or mad before they give you a present. Show them things they like and they’ll get happier, show them things they dislike and they’ll get mad. You can see their current mood by talking to them or checking their info cards.

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Apparently, Chef Bruno will only give you a present if you show him things he doesn’t like.

The game is very repetitive and the most challenging thing you’ll find is when the summonable you need is not on the planet you’re on. QT3 often seems annoyed the repetition and by how needy everyone is. Sometimes he seems like he just wants to get things over with. One time it felt like QT3 was saying exactly what I was thinking. Those moments when QT3 seems annoyed are funny to watch, unless you feel the same way. But for the most part QT3 seems to be amused and having a good time and so was I.

In order to unlock the final planet in the game you need to complete every goal on every planet. After that you can still collect more summonables, level up, get to know people better by learning all of their likes and dislikes, visit personality test asteroids, and decorate your home planet. There are also additional planets and asteroids available for purchase and a creative messaging tool.

Doctor Therapist is Not a Therapist

Confession: I wanted to play this game for review because it has a character named Doctor Therapist. 

But Doctor Therapist is not a therapist. At all. He is more of a psychologist who specializes in personality testing. In addition to planets, you can also land on asteroids that provide personality questionnaires. This is really you taking the tests and not QT3 since the gameplay changes from controlling QT3 to you answering questions on the screen. 

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Meet Dr. Therapist.

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And nothing else.

Doctor Therapist’s role in the game is to compile all of your personality tests into one big report. You can call Doctor Therapist at any time or visit him on your home planet. 

I am disappointed that they called him Doctor Therapist because he is not a therapist and the confusion regarding the title “therapist” is something that mental health professionals like myself deal with all the time. At least the game makes it clear early on that Doctor Therapist is only here to analyze you.


You can actually play the game without seeing Doctor Therapist except once or twice when prompted and you can also play the game without visiting most of the asteroids but that is honestly half the fun of DDU. You’re are asked all sorts of silly questions like: How do you usually eat watermelon?
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Questions like this…

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Can lead to insights like this.

These may be the most fun personality tests you’ll ever take. They are consistent with the art style and humor of the rest of DDU so it doesn’t feel like a separate game (although the results don’t affect the story). It’s about as accurate as a questionnaire or horoscope you’d find in the back of a magazine but that’s part of the appeal. 

Overall, this part of the game is a lot of fun and you may find yourself caring more about what the game has to say than you would expect.

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The personality tests and Doctor Therapist’s analyses are really about you and not QT3.


A Social and Emotional Learning Tool?

At first, it seems like DDU is going to be a great social and emotional learning tool disguised as a cute, quirky game but it never really commits to that.

On the first planet  I visited, QT3 learned about prejudice. On others he learned about jealousy and bullying. 

Then I visited a planet where I helped Frank become a troll again after someone turned him into a toilet. I don’t remember the lesson on that planet.

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Sometimes you help characters deal with their feelings.

The game encourages you to be nice to people so that they will reward you with presents. This is not really a lesson you want people to learn. Although not every character will give you a present so a takeaway might be “do not to expect presents from people just because you are nice to them.” Fair enough. But then you have many characters who you have to annoy and harass before they’ll give you a present. A character might tell you their deepest fear and you immediately make it come true because you want that present. This is not good social education.
 
After completing all goals on a planet, Alien Jeff comes down and asks QT3 what he’s learned. At least he does sometimes. Eventually he doesn’t seem to care and you get the feeling that he knows less about humanity than QT3. The interactions with Jeff are where you realize that while the game could always wrap up a planet with a lesson, it chooses to mostly be fun instead.

So Doki Doki Universe really isn’t an efficient learning tool. It has hints of one but it doesn’t choose to be one and that’s ok. The game is not designed so that you can review the few parts of the game that could be educational. There is no way to replay a level, recap any of the dialogue, or even search for themes. In fact, once you resolve the issue of prejudice or jealousy on a planet, all traces of it are gone. 

Many games that are not designed to be educational can be. The only way I can see DDU working in that capacity is if you play it with someone and you use what just happened as a conversation starter. But you only get one chance because once it happens in the game, it’s lost unless you start a new game from the beginning and revisit the planet.

As for learning about yourself, as I mentioned previously the game does not include serious, in-depth personality testing or analysis.

Cute, Quirky, Silly Fun

Doki Doki Universe is a fun game with tons of charm and a lot of quirky characters. Some characters have a lot to say but it’s up to you if you want to spend the time to get to know them better. QT3’s story is not really the focus of the game, instead it’s the interactions between characters. QT3 affects the life of everyone he meets, not because he’s so great but because everyone is so needy here and QT3 sees helping them as the only way to ensure his survival.

DDU is not a social and emotional learning tool and actually has more examples of what not to do in real-life. In that respect, it still works as a conversation starter for themes that don’t usually come up explicitly in games such as prejudice and bullying. The personality tests are silly, amusing, good for a laugh, and best of all, optional.

Overall, DDU is a fun game you can pick up for a couple of minutes to do a few different things and then come back later. In addition to the story and personality tests, it also includes a creative messaging system that integrates with Facebook and can still be used after you’ve completed everything in the game.

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