World of Horror Review

The Old Gods are Watching

Everyone’s afraid of something. Abandonment, darkness, heights, isolation… and sometimes those things we are afraid of can manifest in horrific ways. Inspired by masters of horror H.P Lovecraft and Junji Ito, panstasz’s World of Horror asks RPGamers to race against impending doom, face their fears, and hope they live with a lick of sanity left. This turn-based RPG offers a unique gameplay experience, stunning artwork, and tells spine-tingling tales that provide a stomach-churning good time. 

In the small Japanese town of Shiokawa, there are Old Gods watching, and the residents are descending into madness. Grotesque creatures are manifesting throughout the town, and the end of the world is drawing near. Taking on the role of one of five individuals, World of Horror has players investigate weird and horrific tales. Players explore multiple mysteries while managing their stamina and reason, with each character having unique starting stats and an additional stat bonus. The goal in each run is simple: solve five mysteries without waking the Old Gods. Every action builds Impending Doom, whether it’s completing a sidequest, or investigating off the beaten path, costing the player time. If the doom counter reaches 100%, a Lovecraftian beast is unleashed upon the town and it’s game over. 

Each run randomizes the available mysteries, and the goal is to work through them to retrieve a key to a lighthouse outside of Shiokawa. Finding all the keys means working through a final trial to face off against an Old God. However, there are plenty of obstacles along the way, such as individuals in need of aid, clues to be found, and battles against various gruesome abominations. Given the randomness of the game, players’ memories of events are put to the test.  

She can’t go back to class dressed like that!

None of this is for the faint of heart, with the writing doing a fantastic job of providing all the graphic and gory details one would expect from a game titled World of Horror. Every story has multiple endings, meaning that replaying a tale can often net the player more story or new advantages during their run. The stories within World of Horror are weird and unique, constantly keeping players alert throughout the experience.

While World of Horror offers multiple difficulties, the game itself is hard. There is no guarantee of survival on an easier setting either, and at most, these only offer slightly more funds, reason, and stamina. At no point do runs feel unfair, but a string of bad luck absolutely can occur, obliterating any progress a player has made. There are ways to restore these attributes, such as taking a hot bath or resting. However, any additional time taken for rest will increase the Impending Doom, so it’s important to figure out if one can even allot a break or force themselves to push through. It’s an addictive game that pushes players to their limits, with successful runs worth celebrating. Even failure is a great feeling in World of Horror, as the game does a phenomenal job of showing the player what they potentially missed, what puzzles were solved, and which endings were obtained. It’s definitely a game for those who are gluttons for punishment and enjoy getting beaten down until they succeed.

In terms of gameplay, World of Horror is all about resource management. Players need to manage their protagonist’s stamina and reason throughout each run. As players explore different locations, random events can impact how a run will go. For example, battling monsters has more of a chance to reduce the stamina pool, while events where players meet individuals or perform different rituals are more likely to prey on the player’s reason. These events often will net experience points, and earning a hundred awards a unique perk while raising a main attribute. Admittedly, it can be frustrating to encounter an event without the required perk to complete it, but that is the nature of World of Horror. Given it is a roguelite with resource management mechanics, one must tread carefully and manage stamina, reason, and funds accordingly. Time itself is a resource providing the player 200 time units in combat, though this is misleading as it’s not always possible to use the units in full. 

Doom, doom, everything causes doom!

Combat in World of Horror is entirely turn-based, though it’s a bit cumbersome due to the way information is laid out. During combat, players must input a sequence of moves into the action bar. Once the player selects the launch sequence, their turn will play out accordingly. Battles in World of Horror are not the most exciting, as there’s a lot of visual clutter going on at once. There are a lot of menus to click through, and equipping items requires making sure they’re linked to the correct item slot. Only specific items can be equipped in each of the three different slots, but the game isn’t clear which slot is for which type of item. If players have rituals they can perform, they need to go through multiple menus to do so. Figuring out if players have suffered a specific status ailment requires clicking through menus. There is a lot of flipping back and forth that unfortunately does take from the immersion of battle, and while this is a stylistic choice, it slows combat progression down considerably. Due to the game being a callback to old PC adventure titles this user interface makes a level of sense, but we have grown beyond it for a reason. 

There are a few different modes that players can choose from while playing World of Horror. One is a tutorial case, which is a fantastic introduction to the mechanics that players will encounter in the game. Quick-play mode allows players to jump right into the action, randomly selecting the background, character, and Old God, whereas a custom mode exists to allow players to customize the experience from the get-go. The challenge mode offers unique rule sets for a playthrough, such as starting with a specific ability or playing with a handicap like not being able to rest during the run. There is so much variety in the mode offerings that it keeps the game feeling fresh, catering to different types of players.  

Simple choices in World of Horror can often have huge repercussions for the player, whether it’s increasing Impending Doom, losing reason, or straight up giving one’s soul to an Old God. With that risk in mind, the rewards for performing various tasks and unlocking achievements include additional characters, items, spells, and other goodies. While players will be replaying many of the investigations, there’s always new content to be discovered, and the rewards are well worth seeking out. Many of the stories are quick and compact, so they never feel like they are outstaying their welcome.

Prepping for the next investigation.

Drawing from old adventure titles of yesteryear, World of Horror is a gorgeous 1-bit pixel experience. The game does a fantastic job of visually capturing its horror influences and showcasing the gory visual details in a simplistic yet effective way. The visuals pay homage to Junji Ito’s manga style. There are so many tiny details, from pulsating masses in abominations to simple creatures hiding in the backgrounds. Players can even change the color palette of the backgrounds to enhance the graphics. The soundtrack also adds to the 1-bit adventure with haunting chip tunes that definitely provide a sense of foreboding throughout. There’s a nice variety in the tracks, and they capture many different emotions, from high-tension pieces in combat encounters to slower and methodical ones that provide a sense of dread. A lot of thought and care has gone into the game’s presentation, and the attention to finer details is what makes World of Horror feel like the complete package.

While I was expecting to turn tail and run during my experience with World of Horror, I am happy to report that I couldn’t put the game down. I adore the dark elements in the game’s presentation and storytelling, but the experience forced me to confront some of my personal thresholds, reminding me that pushing boundaries is what I signed up for. Although I wasn’t incredibly keen on the game’s combat and UI, I cannot deny how often I kept crawling back to my computer to play just one more round. World of Horror is a compelling game that begs the player’s attention, providing an addictive experience that one cannot easily run away from.

Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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'Great' -- 4.0/5

Fantastic overall presentation of a 1-bit horror world

A wonderful homage to classic horror tropes and themes

Deliciously gruesome mysteries that are not for the faint of heart

User interface is visually busy

Combat is simple, but lacking

Random nature of gameplay aspects may be a turn-off for some

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