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[PAX SOUTH] World Of Horror Is Like A Junji Ito Collection In Style And Substance

A few months ago, I was compiling a list of indie horror games I had missed over the last few years. I was picking my girlfriend’s brain for suggestions, as she’s the kind of nerd that browses the pages of itch.io and actually backs Kickstarter projects. Her number one suggestion was a game called World of Horror. She described it as Junji Ito meets Lovecraft on the Gameboy Advance. The one caveat? It hadn’t been updated in years. It might never be. Being the terrible partner I am, I never downloaded it. I trust her opinions more than I trust my Duracell to keep going and going, but I just didn’t have it in me to fall in love with yet another promising indie project that never sees full release.

So when I saw the announcement that World of Horror would soon be releasing into Early Access, waves of excitement washed over me. I wouldn’t have to be a terrible boyfriend for much longer. I could soon play the game, without fear that it would never be updated. Not a day later, I received another email from the good folks at Ysbryd Games asking me if I wanted to swing by their booth at PAX South and give the game a look. The Dark Gods had spoken. My destiny was clear. It was time to see what awaited me in World of Horror.

For those of you unfamiliar with World of Horror, it’s a “1-bit” horror RPG Roguelite. Well, technically you can add a second bit to change the color scheme. The game takes place in a small seaside town in Japan. Recently, things have been getting fishy with the laws of reality. Strange creatures stalk the night, the dead refuse to stay that way, murmuring cults conduct rituals in secluded mansions, the whole works. You’ll pick one of five characters, and investigate the strange happenings and do your best to make things right. As you complete cases, you’ll unlock event “cards” which add further variance to what you’ll encounter on later playthroughs. Some cards add to each other, opening up entirely new stories and possibilities.

Unfortunately, this event unlocking feature wasn’t available to me in my limited demo. I had access to two investigations, which served as a vertical slice of what to expect in the main game. The first involved completing a ritual to banish a scissor wielding ghost in a school. This is actually available to play in the World of Horror demo on itch.io. The second case involved a young woman attending her grandfather’s funeral. As you can imagine, he does not go peacefully into the great beyond.

While World of Horror opens up into a whole world of horror, the core gameplay loop is actually quite simple. Dropped into unknown peril, your initial options are limited. For the scissor ghost case, you can click a button to search a random room in the school in an attempt to find the supplies for a banishment ritual. Each time you search one of these rooms, a random event triggers. These events either force you to pick one of several options, pass a skill check, or fight a monster. Combat is pretty simple, allowing you to combine a series of attacks, buffs, and defensive maneuvers into a single combo. Each skill you use has a point cost, which can be strung together into anything less than 201. You roll some dice, thwack back and forth, and hopefully make it out alive.

The second scenario involving the dead grandfather was more robust. Upon entering his estate, you are given a map of key locations you can return to at will. The goal is to perform a series of very specific funeral rights. At 9 a.m., pray over the body (bow – clap – bow – clap). At 11, beak for lunch. At 1, burn an unopened letter in the study. At 3, cover a mirror. At 5… maybe sacrifice someone? It gets fuzzy at that point. Each time you explore a new room, it takes an hour of in-game time. You only have so many chances to explore while also sticking to the ritual’s timeline. This means that completing the ritual is up to a significant amount of chance, but don’t worry. This is where I learned that failure in World of Horror doesn’t mean game over. Sometimes, it means a new terrible curse is inflicted on the world.

Overall, the sense I got was that World of Horror is very easy to learn but insanely hard to master. It’s complex, not complicated. The sheer number of events means a lot of trial and error will go into learning all the possible outcomes. Even when you know how it all works, figuring out how the pieces fit together takes some brainpower. Your actions are also always weighty without feeling completely game-breaking. Danger is always just around the corner, but it’s not a boulder waiting to one-shot you. The game punishes you with death by degrees. Combined with the downright terrifying Ito-inspired visuals, World of Horror blends two different kinds of tension into a fantastic new concoction unlike anything that’s tried this before.

There were a number of features I didn’t get to experience in my limited demo. I didn’t level up, or learn how moves like “bow” and “clap” work in combat. Anything beyond the basic combat and events system is still a mystery to me. World of Horror has tabs for spells, allies, town status, and old god, so it’s clear there’s a lot more to it. I’ve heard tell there’s an earlier version of the game that had many of these features, but has been removed to prep for a final polished version. The only question is, when will we get that final version?

While it’s unclear when we might see a 1.0 launch, the game will be available in Early Access on February 20th for $15. This early access release will come with 10 mysteries, each with their own slew of monsters and procedurally generated events. This release will also have the event deck implemented, allowing you to unlock even more events through a variety of achievements. Many fans are hoping that Early Access is an elder sign that the game might be ready for full release in 2020, but hold your chthonian seahorses. World of Horror is being made by just one guy. Just one Polish dark dreamer named Pawel Kozminski. The game will be done when it’s done. So think of this Early Access as an appetizer of what’s to come instead of a soft launch. Plenty of characters, mysteries, and elements need to be added before the game hits 1.0. Still, from what I’ve seen, it’s a glorious omen of a much grander apocalypse. If you want to check it out yourself, head on over to World of Horror’s Steam store page and check it out.

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