I’ve enjoyed the works of Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft–evident inspirations for World of Horror–for some time now. And in a way, I can also say I’ve enjoyed World of Horror for a while as well. The game first arrived on Steam back in 2020 in early access. I’ve also played multiple builds annually at PAX East, to the point where it almost became its own ritual.
I say this because World of Horror is all about rituals. The pixelated roguelike horror has a variety of horrific events that can happen each playthrough. However, the core conceit always remains the same. An eldritch god plagues the town of Shiokawa, Japan. And it’s up to you to investigate occult happenings in order to put a stop to the summoning ritual. It’s a simple premise, but the devil–or eldritch abomination–is in the details.
Developed by Paweł Koźmiński–just one person–World of Horror has taken time to arrive. And with all the storylines the game has, one can eventually see why. Each time you boot up World of Horror, the game selects five supernatural mysteries for the player to investigate, culminating in a showdown involving the summoning ritual.
Playing a few run-throughs, I found myself struck by how long it took before I repeated a mystery. And when cases I’d previously investigated did come up again, I would often get entirely new resolutions. Even now, I’m still not sure if I’ve seen every mystery in the game. World of Horror heavily encourages replay value, which is great since each mystery takes about 15 minutes. This means that a typical run lasts around an hour. Well, assuming you don’t die or lose your mind, that is.
Keep Calm and Regain Sanity
As a role-playing game, World of Horror gives players a number of stats to keep track of, such as strength, dexterity, and knowledge. Their immediate pass/fail implementation in randomized scenarios reminded me of tabletop games like Betrayal at House on the Hill or Escape the Dark Castle. However, the most relevant of the stats are stamina and reason. Should either of those reach zero, it’s game over.
As such, it’s a good thing that runs don’t last too long since dying means having to start from scratch. But it can be rewarding to try something new out, see it fail, and then start over, having learned from one’s mistake. The game isn’t too punishing. Players can go back to their character’s home between cases to take a bath, rest, and recharge. This allows chances for regaining lost stamina or reason and boosting certain stats to help out in the future.
I often found that on harder runs, sticking to stamina and reason made the most sense. But occasionally, if I could spare it, I’d dip into some of the other stats to see their occasional benefits. For example, one can increase charisma for a higher chance of bringing companions.
When There’s Something Strange in Your Small Japanese Fishing Village
I had a similar experience with combat in that it allows for experimentation but encourages tried and true methods. Combat in World of Horror consists of filling up a bar with a number of moves and then executing said combo to carry out an attack. Here the game has a host of choices to select, from regular kicks, to using a weapon (or trying to find a makeshift one), to conducting a ritual with claps and bows to dispel a spirit, and other offensive, defensive, and evasive actions.
Mostly, I stuck to just attacking with a weapon or my limbs. However, I did try out the ritual mode of combat for a couple of battles. Each time you select a sequence of bows and claps to fill out your combat bar, the game tells you how many were successful. The idea is that through trial and error, players can uncover the proper sequence and banish the spirit. When I succeeded during one fight, it felt rewarding.
That said, I’ll admit that the crapshoot nature of the gambit can waste time. As such, I found it more efficient to whittle down an enemy’s health than attempt this Hail Mary. But the idea that you could feasibly one-hit KO an enemy is a fun one to consider.
Nevertheless, the standard melee attacks can see augmentation through equipping a weapon. These sometimes appear throughout mysteries, but players can buy new weapons and items at a shop run by an adorable dog. Aside from giving combat a bit more strategy, it’s eccentric moments like these that give World of Horror a delightful charm even if most of them are more horrific than wholesome.
The Wide World of Horror
If the combat tends to keep one on the beaten path, the story allows players to explore the dark unknowns. At the start of a run, the five cases will appear on a bulletin board, giving players the freedom to investigate in any order. In drawing from the weird horror of Ito and Lovecraft, the stories of the mysteries range from the supernatural to the scientific, and from the macabre to the mundane. You could go from investigating an addictive ramen shop in one to uncovering a colony of carnivorous eels in the next.
These stories and the various alternate routes and secrets within them kept me coming back. Variety also comes from the various gods, characters, and backstories that players can randomize or select on harder difficulties. World of Horror does have a kind of tutorial, an introductory mystery entitled “Spine-Chilling Story of School Scissors.” Aside from being suitably creepy, it works as a way to introduce characters to the various mechanics that could come up in mysteries, teasing a little bit of combat, puzzle-solving, and branching choice.
In a typical run, some mysteries may lean more towards combat or more towards puzzle-solving. Additionally, some have a couple of different resolutions, while others contain myriad ways of wrapping things up. As such, not all are created equal. But the ones that are lesser are usually that way since they involve linear clicking from one location to the next. Therefore, they don’t last long. The more involved ones tend to be the most enjoyable. And, of course, the horrors encountered can make a mystery more memorable as well.
A Sight for Cursed Eyes
Because with a game inspired by Junji Ito and H.P Lovecraft, known for their cosmic designs–or at least descriptions of them–visuals can go a long way. World of Horror has a retro 80s look, much of which Koźmiński designed in MS Paint. But it works. It gives World of Horror an old-school feel, yet doesn’t stop the macabre moments from looking suitably grotesque. The game even has an option at the start for players to select from 1-bit or 2-bit presentations or choose a color palette. All of the visual variety and a kickass chiptune soundtrack help sell the ambiance of this horrific world.
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World of Horror
Drawing from horror authors and their creations, World of Horror builds its own web of eldritch beings and cosmic occurrences. The roguelike nature of mysteries in the game ensures that no two runs remain the same. Though certain mechanics rise above others, World of Horror keeps things fresh with creepy visuals, multiple plot resolutions, and degrees of customization, even as its coastal town falls into decay.
- Unsettling visuals inspired by Japanese folklore and various horror authors.
- Variety of missions ranging from the occult to the absurd.
- A high level of replayability.
- Not all stories or game mechanics are created equal.
- World of Horror