Doki-Doki Universe Preview: Give a robot humanity one interaction at a time
A few years ago, a quirky love sim titled Chulip launched for the PlayStation 2. First hitting the scene in Japan in 2002, the game was finally brought over stateside in 2007. Chulip was interesting because it revolved around gaining favor with entire populations of characters with the end goal of receiving adulation from one girl. You performed several tasks to win these characters over, and more often than not, you had to engage in strange activities. But what does Chulip have to do with anything now? Well, in a weird way, it reminds me of Doki-Doki Universe.
The story of Doki-Doki Universe stars a robot named QT3, who was left behind by his family several years ago. Our mechanical protagonist soon discovers that his specific model is being discontinued due to a lack of human traits. QT3 then begins an offbeat quest to meet new people (and animals, and ghosts, and all manner of creatures and things) and connect with them through various means. It's a strange little premise, but there's something inherently endearing about a robot who just wants to live and feel and love. QT3 is almost like the Tin Man, except without the hideously creepy face.
Multiple stages with varying themes act as backdrops for your exploits. Within each stage you'll find characters in need of assistance. Some of them may want to be reunited with their lost loves; others may be finding themselves absolutely devastated following the passing of their cherished ones. Whether you're talking to an adult, a child, or a camel, you're constantly seeking out QT3's humanity by interacting with other characters and addressing their problems.
The reason I brought up Chulip earlier is because, like that game, Doki-Doki Universe is all about the interactions you make. You need to talk to characters, learn what they like, figure out what they hate, and just be a great companion. You build relationships with these characters, and ultimately, you help them with their issues, and they grant you a bit of humanity. There's nothing really traditional about this game, and though it follows some sim and adventure game tropes, it ultimately offers up something unique.
I spent quite a bit of time playing Doki-Doki Universe last month at IndieCade, and I was constantly thrilled by how different each character and interaction was. One human female missed her deceased love, and despite my best efforts, I just couldn't offer her what she needed, and she finally told me to bug off. Meanwhile, her dead love, who was now, a ghost was actually getting along just fine with me. In Doki-Doki Universe, you need to approach different characters in ways that will make them happy; not everyone likes the same things, and they're all very vocal about the things they're not crazy about.
Performing different tasks unlocks seemingly endless amounts of trinkets. These include balloons, flowers, and even piles of poop. You can offer up any one of these items as gifts to characters, but as expected, not everyone likes the same presents. Interacting with characters, learning how their brains function, and discovering what they like ensures that you dish out a present that they'll actually love. As you talk with characters and fulfill their requests, Doki-Doki Universe keeps track of the things they like in a list, eliminating any tedious guesswork.
You won't always have the items these characters want, so walking around the levels, meeting more characters, and unlocking more items through them is absolutely essential to your progression. Each level is populated with a vast quantity of characters, so you can spend large chunks of times just getting to know everyone. Doki-Doki Universe isn't really a game that you rush through. Instead, it's an experience that you take in and just enjoy one step at a time, one interaction at a time, and one new buddy (or sworn enemy) at a time.
Doki-Doki Universe is currently in development by HumaNature Studios, which includes Toejam & Earl creator Greg Johnson, and it's being prepped for release on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita. A free version will be available across all three platforms and mobile devices, offering personality quizzes and messaging features, and the full paid version will expand the experience to give you the offbeat sim gameplay that's the crux of Doki-Doki Universe.
In the end, I wouldn't say this game is entirely like Chulip. It certainly reminded me of that weird title due to its emphasis on performing actions to build relationships, but it's a more inviting experience, and it's thematically different. If you dig colorful lands bursting with strange creatures, cheery art, and unpredictable personalities, Doki-Doki Universe looks like an awesomely odd ride. No release date has been confirmed, but as previously mentioned, the game will hit the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita, so if you're a fan of this sort of thing, you can be excited regardless of which Sony system you own.
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