As the psychotic janitor, who I’d been pursuing after finding out about his sick experiments fusing school girls with fish to satiate his mermaid obsession, swung his fire axe at me to drain the last shred of my health I knew that I was a gonner. The game even warned me that the next turn would be my last. However, determined to find justice for the mangled corpses that I’d found along the way, I decided to make a pact with the Old Gods and cast an absorb spell in order to drain his health at the cost of my sanity. Against all odds, it worked. The janitor was defeated, and I hobbled home using his fire axe as a crutch. 

Unfortunately that loss in sanity is what ultimately caused me to be unable to stop the lurking horror that was gradually descending upon the town, as my ever-decreasing mental faculties eventually caused me to be thrown into the local asylum thus leaving me hopeless as the world plunged into darkness.

Stories like these are what makes World of Horror so special, and there are so many stories to be told. Especially if you can live to tell the tale.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.

MADNESS IS INEVITABLE IN A WORLD OF HORROR
Inspired by the works of Junji Ito and HP Lovecraft, World of Horror takes place in the small town of Shiokawa as one of the Old Gods starts to descend upon the world. It is up to you, as one of the handful of available protagonists, to look into all the mysterious happenings going on around town in order to find a way to put a stop to it all.

Despite being a roguelite in many ways, the game does actually have quite a rigid narrative structure. You’ll always end up starting in your home with four or five mysteries pinned up on your noticeboard for you to investigate. Completing each one will grant you one of the keys needed to open the lighthouse, where you’ll face a final series of trials before reaching the eldritch being lying in wait.

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Going into the game, I felt pretty overwhelmed almost instantly. The UI has a lot going on straight off the bat, and the game’s monochromatic 1 bit visuals don’t help matters. However, soon enough I grasped that the main part of the screen is primarily for the visuals that showcase the location and characters/monstrosities you happen to be facing; the bit underneath is where the available actions and notifications appear; and the right side is for all your stats, inventory, spells and other bits and pieces. It’s a fair bit to take in, and the game doesn’t really do a fantastic job of introducing them all at first. There is a tutorial, which I actually failed the first time, but I soon picked up the general gist by the end of my successful second go and even more as I started playing around with the main game. It’s not quite as complicated as it first appears, but it does certainly require you to put in the effort to see how it all works.

Taking inspiration from tabletop horror games such as Call of Cthulhu, the actual gameplay has you making decisions and taking actions as the narrative flows along. You are free to explore the world as you see fit, allowing you to ignore the helpful circle that guides you to your next destination should you wish to search for certain items or allies, but going too far off the beaten path comes at the cost of raising your percentage of doom – a progress meter that tracks just how close the world is from ending. Exploration simply consists of picking a place and hitting the explore button, at which point you’ll be greeted with a random event. Perhaps it’s a strange rock that you can examine or ignore, or a mangled corpse, or a dimensional rift. Such events can be fortuitous and can get you some useful items or experience points, but you’ll often end up losing stamina or reason – two attributes you need to keep above zero if you wish to survive. 

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One of the areas where you do have a little more agency is with the combat encounters, where you’ll face either a minor opponent or a boss character. Fighting is turn-based, with each action requiring a certain degree of effort of which you are limited. Whilst it may be tempting to go for your heaviest attacks, you run the risk of missing and doing nothing – all while they whittle down your health. Instead it’s better to make use of the dodge and block mechanics to minimise your health lost, or you could analyse your enemy’s weakness in order to take them out easier. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the combat, even if it’s a little annoying that you can’t switch weapons mid-fight thus limiting the amount of offensive strategy you can use.

Ghostly encounters shake up the standard combat when they appear due to their immunity to conventional weaponry. In order to dispel them, you’ll instead need to perform a ritual of claps and bows; it’s essentially a puzzle where you need to find the right combination, and I adored just to different they were to all the other fights. 

All the encounters are a lot of fun, however, and this is mostly due to the top-notch creature design. Whereas most horror, especially Lovecraftian, typically hides the monsters to ensure that your imagination does all the hard work, World of Horror decides to just go all out with completely gruesome creatures that are truly horrifying to look at. Even the tutorial boss, Scissor Woman, with her torn smile across her three faces brings about a sense of dread and would make Junji Ito proud. 

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There are twenty one different mysteries that the game can throw at you, and each one has a relatively straightforward, but compelling narrative that keeps you wanting to push forward. Whether you’re finding clues about some suspicious ramen or trying to find out what happened to your dead uncle, each one is fantastically written and I didn’t find a single one I didn’t care for. They all have multiple ways to get through them as there are a handful of different endings for each and every one.

Actually achieving those endings may be a challenge, as certain routes and options can only be achieved with the rights stats, abilities or items at hand. Doing some searching around town or completing other missions first can certainly help prepare you for the task at hand, but being lucky enough to get what you need makes it easier said than done.

The great thing about having five mysteries to take care of each time is that it adds a lot of strategy to how you approach them. Obviously, the first one you take on will have you lacking certain skills that allow you to take certain story branches; however, with experience comes weariness and your character will likely be nearing the end of their rope by the time you get around to the later missions – even if you are better equipped than when you first started. It’s a really interesting setup, and one that works really well. 

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To add to the replayability, the extras menu contains a wide number of logbooks to note down creatures, bosses, endings, and even an achievement system that unlocks more stuff that you can experience during the game. Even though you can get through a session in about an hour or so, there’s lots here to encourage you to keep playing. Sure, it may not be the type of game that appeals to everyone, but I think fans of cosmic horror will really find something special here.

VERDICT
It may be a tough game to get into, with its multitude of systems and the RNG-based gameplay, but if you are fan of cosmic horror then there’s a hell of a lot to love here. Whether it’s the gorgeous artwork, the compelling mysteries, how utterly disturbing the game is, or just how well it encourages replays, World of Horror really is a captivating game that is perfect for the Halloween season.