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From the mind of solo Polish developer Paweł Koźmiński, World of Horror is a strange exercise through and through. Set in a fictionalized Shiokawa, Japan in the 1980s, the game leads players through a series of bespoke, hour-long efforts to avert an apocalypse befalling the seaside town. There’s no grand adventure here, no levels to grind, no power curve to subvert. Instead, there’s only the ticking of the clock and the hope that maybe there’s enough for one to scrape by. But at every turn there’s something odd, macabre, and downright sinister.
It’s difficult not just to list all of World of Horror’s component parts in an attempt to try and explain what exactly it is, but know that it all comes together in a pretty singular experience. Rather than aim for balance, World of Horror plays into its themes and maintains a hostility to the player. It does this by oscillating wildly between genre trappings, tongue-in-cheek humor, gross-out gags, and genuinely unsettling moments. The art direction heightens all this and the “1-bit” style means every screen is distinctly memorable. It’s not the kind of game with characters to get attached to or a long plot to get lost in, but for a certain mood and a certain mindset it’s a uniquely irreplaceable work.
If one were to wish upon a star for the most unexpected, out-of-left-field property to feature in a Soulsborne title, one wouldn’t need to look any further than Round 8 Studio’s Lies of P, a game that manages to mold the classic tale of Pinocchio into a dark and foreboding action RPG. Truly, the tale of a young puppet stalking the disaster-struck city of Krat amid menacing clockwork puppets and mutated freaks of nature in the hopes of rescuing his father and becoming a real boy is one of the most original game concepts to come out of 2023. No lie.
Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2’s premise alone is unique among RPGs. In its world of anthropomorphic cats and dogs living on floating land masses in the sky, a group of kids who already used an ancient tank to liberate their nation from an enemy empire have to chase down that same tank as it has trapped several of their friends onboard. Following on from the first game, it also plays very differently from other video games, as players tactically assign their child party to the tanks’ weapons. A tight spot might necessitate the ultimate sacrifice in the Soul Cannon, though a new weapon called the Managarm gives players a alternate, less fatal option. It even has its own take on a karma meter with main character Malt making empathetic or resolute choices, that affects both story and combat abilities. Only the first game is anything like Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2, and this entry brings plenty to stand out on its own.
by Zack Webster, Pascal Tekaia, and Cassandra Ramos