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Beneath the rustic surface of small-town Shiokawa, something’s stirring. Madmen, ghosts, and ancient horrors stalk the streets, ready to tear back the veil between our world and theirs. Only you know what’s lurking in the shadows – only you can save us. And you’ll do it again. And again. And again.
You’ll solve mystery after mystery, vanquish cult after cult; you’ll stop one old god’s arrival just in time for the next. And that’s the scariest part of WORLD OF HORROR: the slow, insidious way monstrosity melts into the fabric of everyday life.
But watching the characters grow numb to the cycle, it’s hard not to start feeling a little desensitized yourself.
WORLD OF HORROR is, at its most basic, a turn-based rogue-lite role-playing game. The key to a successful run is resource management. You have to maintain your character’s Stamina and Reason stats while enemies, random events, and skill checks threaten to drain them.
But it isn’t just surviving you need to worry about. You’re in a race against the clock. Every action you take in the overworld will cause a Doom meter to slowly tick up, and when that hits 100, it’s game over. The cultists you’ve been hunting will summon their Lovecraftian god, and unspeakable horror will consume the Earth.
As a result, you’re faced with a balancing act. Investigating, defeating enemies, and finishing bonus objectives will grant you experience that you can use to level up, in turn unlocking powerful perks and increasing your stats. But the longer you take, the more that Doom meter’s going to climb, and the more you’ll be veering towards oblivion. It’s a compelling foundation, and what’s built on top of it is solid and engaging.
Like all good RPGs, the combat comes down to the action economy. Each weapon operates off of a specific stat; the more points you have in that stat, the faster you’ll be, enabling you to make more attacks. The great thing about WORLD OF HORROR, though, is that it rewards prep-work and fighting dirty. Throwing objects and casting spells are free actions in combat, and unlike the normal attacks, they have no chance of missing. In other words, pelting vampires with junk you found off the sidewalk is an effective, legitimate strategy, albeit one that’ll eat into your limited inventory space. At the start of each run, you’ll pick a character, a background, and an old god (or randomize them if you pick choose play).
Characters have different starting stats, plus their own unique perks which you can access on level-up. Most of the perks are powerful; some are downright broken and create strategies that’re next to impossible to lose with. That’s the biggest flaw in WORLD OF HORROR’s otherwise well-balanced, lethal gameplay.
As for backgrounds, the game further modifies the, already diverse, array of starts offered by character selection. Begin with extra money but be incapable of recruiting allies; start with bonus EXP but be extra susceptible to injury. All of them are double-edged swords – save for the ones that are strictly negative.
Last but not least are the old gods. Each brings their own unique challenge (or twist) to your run. Maybe you take extra damage during fights; or maybe you’re unable to flee fights, or casting spells raises your Doom meter. While some are easier to contend with than others, the variety still adds an extra degree of replayability. And that’s the key to WORLD OF HORROR: replayability. The more you play the game, the more content you can unlock through hidden achievements. You can get new characters, new backgrounds, and new gods, but also new items, events, and mysteries. Overall, that makes for a lot of content. But quantity isn’t everything.
Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?
Does WORLD OF HORROR really have a story? It’s hard to say. It has a premise: the end is nigh. You arrive in Shiokawa, Japan in the year 198X to stop the impending apocalypse, and you do it by solving a string of seemingly unrelated mysteries, which lead you to the summoning site of one of several eldritch gods. When it comes to the playable roster, it’s got a really good selection of characters. Many are based on familiar archetypes, but they all have depth and nuance that make them hard to forget. And the game accomplishes this with only the barest essentials, characterizing them purely through their designs, unique perks, and a few brief special events.
It even has full self-contained narratives. Every mystery you investigate has its own linear plot, explored through a series of vignettes as you move about the town. Most have several different endings, and some even connect to each other in surprising, unexpected ways. The problem, though, is that as a rogue-lite, you’ll be replaying these mysteries a lot. And despite efforts from the developer to spice up the routine, with certain cases pulling the player outside Shiokawa or introducing special mechanics, the loop is ultimately the same every time. You click on the area it tells you to investigate. Your character investigates. You receive a randomized event that can help or hinder you, maybe even running into an enemy and entering combat. Then the game tells you the next location to investigate; rinse and repeat while being drip-fed bits of narration, until finally you reach the end and (usually) fight a boss.
This pattern is fun for a good while. The first ten or so hours of gameplay are WORLD OF HORROR at its best: the mysteries are genuinely creepy and engaging, the town is thoroughly unpredictable, and the rush of discovering new strategies and secrets is exhilarating. But that old adage about ‘fear of the unknown’ proves to be its downfall. Once you learn the ins-and-outs of the game, it loses both its terror and its charm. There is admittedly a dread in the cyclical, unending torment of Shiokawa: something abjectly and uncomfortably horrible about watching your chosen victim go through the motions, knowing it’s all destined to repeat in the end. Even ignoring future runs, a single playthrough of the game will have your character plowing through a lifetime’s worth of trauma, witnessing everything from ordinary serial murders to the machinations of alien monstrosities.
But that’s not enough to replace the initial shock and awe of the experience. In the end, repetition renders what was once frightening to something mundane and droll. You’ll mash through event descriptions without a second thought, paying little attention to anything that happens beyond shifts in your stats. And while there is some room for emergent storytelling in that, the sad fact is that all roads lead to Rome. Maybe you tear through all the monsters like it’s DOOM and achieve a perfect victory; or maybe you scrape by on the skin of your teeth or die one of countless possible deaths. Either way, it’s all the same in the end. You either delay the inevitable or you succumb to it.
And with strange aeons
In spite of all this, WORLD OF HORROR’s still a good game. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as replayable as it’s intended to be. However, I still got a solid thirty hours out of the game, so clearly Panstasz must be doing something right — and considering he’s the game’s sole developer, that’s worthy of some serious praise. Despite being a relatively recent title, unveiled as an early access game back in 2020, WORLD OF HORROR has already attracted quite the cult following. From its vibrant modding scene, to its passionate fan artists, this is a game that’s stuck with people, and kept them excited enough to wait three years for its full release.
As for what earned it that acclaim, I think it’s without a doubt its style. The visuals of WORLD OF HORROR are top-notch. Inspired by Junji Ito and infused with a healthy dose of 90s nostalgia, the pixel horror aesthetic is executed perfectly and covers an otherwise untapped niche. Couple that with fantastic ambience and a soundtrack that fits it like a glove, and it’s easy to see why people are drawn to it. This is a gorgeously frightening game, and while it has its flaws, it’s not as if its beauty is entirely skin deep.
Given enough time, I’m sure Panstasz could refine WORLD OF HORROR’s core loop and turn it into a masterpiece. But what we currently have is anything but. In some places, the game feels outright incomplete. Menus are marred with rows of empty spaces reserved for additional characters and options; the long-promised scenario mode has yet to be added, and Steam Workshop support is nowhere in sight. It’s unclear then why this is being touted as the full release, compared to all the other patches prior. Even with its flaws, however, WORLD OF HORROR remains unique and novel in a market teeming with saturation. A trip to Shiokawa is a fun, disturbing diversion well worth its price. Just don’t overstay your welcome, or you may regret it.
Contact Colin Brown with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org