One look at the Steam page for World of Horror and you’ll see that Junji Ito is a massive influence. Ever read any Junji Ito? If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, then trust me, you haven’t. His works get burned thoroughly into your brain. Like the image of the human-shaped holes or that bloke that contorts himself into a spiral in a wash tub. Ever see the image of a giant shark with spindly legs busting down a wall? That was Junji Ito. I absolutely love it.
Which is probably why I absolutely love World of Horror. It revels in that sort of despair-inducing body horror, finished with a dash of Lovecraftian eldritch spice. Not only that, but it wears its gameplay inspiration on its sleeve, being heavily inspired by 80s text adventures. It’s nice to see a game take inspiration from games of old without having to invent some meta-narrative to excuse it. World of Horror is what it is, and what it is, is thoroughly unsettling.
A Deep Fascination
What World of Horror really reminded me of was those old ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ books. You know the ones. The ones that make you turn to page sixty-seven, only to step in a bear trap. I had one about exploring a decrepit castle. It used to unsettle me as a kid, as there was one page – I could never remember the number – where you got attacked by a floating, disembodied head that causes you to fall off the tower you’re in. It always felt like death was one page turn away. I bring this up because World of Horror elicits the exact same kind of feeling as that book.
You begin each run of World of Horror by picking a mystery to explore. Things are not okay in the town of Shikoaka, see. An Old God is shifting, leading to a lot of weird mysteries. They all have delightfully alliterative names too. Let’s take the ‘Eerie Episode of Evolving Eels’ as an example. Once picked, you’re given a location to investigate, such as investigating your eel-loving neighbours house. From there, you’re at the mercy of fate. Each investigation brings up a small encounter, whether that be coming face-to-face with the grotestque remant of a girl, whose eye is full of burrowing worms, or just… settling down in the bath. Get through enough of these and you’ll solve the mystery. Or at least, part of it.
Unpredictability is the core that runs through World of Horror. It’s easy to be put off by the lack of agency at first. You usually can’t, say, pick an area in the neighbourhood to explore, you just wander in then out, dealing with whatever pops up. In practice though, I’d say that this adds to the brilliantly unsettling atmsophere of World of Horror. Our lack of control over proceedings makes it all the more harrowing when facing the grotestque horrors that lurk in the shadows. You know it’s coming for you, you just don’t know when. A lot of the events are controlled by dice rolls behind the scenes too, so it’s very unusual to get through an encounter unscathed.
Something’s Wrong Here
That’s enough musing for the moment though, let’s talk mechanics. There are three big stats to keep an eye on: Stamina, Reason and Doom. Alongside this, there are a suite of standard skills that’ll be familiar to RPG fans. These are mainly for the many skill checks you’ll encounter. Stamina and Reason, however, are your life. If either one hits zero, you’ll either die or get sectioned, respectively. This is most vital in the combat, where enemies will attempt to damage one or the other (or both). It’s quite a clever system, as you have to juggle your stats to never get too low on either. This is difficult with the random encounters, which keeps things constantly tense.
The combat itself I’m in two minds about. It’s a turn-based affair, where you queue up offensive or defensive actions, each of which takes a set amount of ‘time’. Once queued, they play out and the enemy takes a swing. It’s a functional system, but it’s quite easy to set up a routine that works and just stick with it. I prep for a big swing and slot in a small swing if I’ve got the time. Repeat until dead (either one of us). It does come alive with ghost enemies, where you can perform a ritual to try and banish them, but most standard enemies are more interesting to look at than to fight.
The actual mysteries are more delightful though, which is where I’ll bring up the ‘Doom’ system. Each investigation – or anything that takes time really – raises it. Once it hits a hundred, the Old God in question makes his presence known. So, it’s a race against time – which is tricky when mysteries require thorough investigation. Each one has multiple endings and speeding through usually nets the bad one. So it’s a balancing act between solving the mysteries properly and running out of time to stop the elder God. It can be genuinely harrowing towards the end.
The Black Lighthouse
I want to give World of Horror more praise for its mysteries. It’s where the bulk of the horror comes in, as you slowly piece together what is happening in this horrible town. They’re wonderfully written horror stories, unashamedly pulpy and always fascinating. Though, you do need to be a fan of body horror if you want to get invested. The squeamish need not apply. Hell, the eel mystery can end with you taking a needle to someone’s eye. The large array of mysteries – and the multiple ways to solve them – will keep me coming back. Some endings require specific items or characters, so can only be experienced in set runs.
I do feel like the final ending to each run is a bit of a damp squib though. Beating a mystery nets you a key to unlock a door in the lighthouse that overlooks the town. From there, you climb a few floors – enduring some stat checks, an odd fight and some trivia questions – before you touch an object and the Old God quietly leaves. I was expecting to fight some eldritch abomination or the manifestation of my evil self or something. Junji Ito is notorious for abruptly ending his stories, granted, but this felt a little anticlimactic. Still, everything along the way was delightful.
The 1-bit art and excellent chiptune soundtrack do well to evoke the games of old without feeling tired. The music encapsulates the hopeless nature of World of Horror perfectly. The art is frequently gross (just think back to that lady with the eyesocket full of fish bait), but the clean simplistic style means it doesn’t take away from the imagination. World of Horror keeps intact the power of text adventures. I can see these mostrosities clearly but what they’re doing when they attack me is down to my imagination. It’s a pleasant artstyle that’s unpleasant to think about.
This Game Was Made For Me
If I might lift the curtain on this review a bit, this isn’t my first experience with World of Horror. I’ve played it twice before, one in 2017 and one last year. Watching it grow has been amazing. It’s expanded massively, with many more mysteries and encounters. With each playthrough, I generally unlock new achievements, which unlock new encounters in turn. If it’s your cup of tea, then World of Horror is going to keep you playing for hours just to experience all the different endings to the mysteries.
And it is my cup of tea, as you’ll see from this rather lengthy review. In fact, if someone hooked my brain up a computer and told it to make the most ideal game for me, you’d end up with something startlingly close to World of Horror. The art and music are great, as is the writing in general. Most of all though, World of Horror is perfect at creating a continuously unnerving atmosphere, where around every corner could lurk death or insanity. Or a fat bloated man in a pool, which is probably worse.