World of Horror feels like an app you’d find in the middle of your home screen on the family computer. You don’t know how it got there; you daren’t ask your parents in case this is a virus you picked up from downloading your favourite song that had a .exe extension. So you drag and drop it into the recycle bin only for it to just ping back to the dead centre. A right-click to delete does nothing. The only way out is forward, so you double-click to boot it up.
The system’s diagnostics run on the top left of the program. Various kanji are aggressively stamped, overwhelming you with sound, until you see Panstasz (the developer) and it cuts to the title screen. Thankfully though, I’m using the impervious method of gaming via my PlayStation console and Sadako – as far as I’m aware – could only lurch out of my TV through a VHS tape, so I’m pretty clear of any fatal horrors happening to me; although World of Horror does an astounding job of making you feel otherwise.
The game is a graphic adventure roguelite that wears a helping of influences on its sleeve. From the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito being cited as main influences by the solo developer Panstasz, to the graphic adventures from the ’80s and even more recently the internet phenomenon that is creepypasta. It all culminates into being one big superstitious artefact like a Ouija board or a Dreamcatcher, but for the people of Shiokawa, Japan it’s all very real. So let’s get into how World of Horror makes the unexplainable a tangible and unforgettable horror game.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Old Gods have reawakened, crawling back to the land of the living to usurp the world into madness. At the edge of Shiokawa, Japan is a foreboding lighthouse that’s seemingly the epicentre of this cosmic horror occurring. You play as one of 14 investigators to hopefully stop the end of the world, but good luck, as the village is descending into chaos, with the unexplainable plaguing the residents and threatening your and everyone else’s lives.
To uncover the source of eldritch terror you’ll need to complete five investigations across the village. These mysteries could vary from occult conspiracies to body horror or even haunting spirits, all of which have very Junji Ito-esque design work to go with them. Whilst the overarching end from beating the game is more or less the same every time, every mystery during the bulk of the gameplay has two+ endings to discover. There are also 20 different investigations which are random every playthrough, so you’re always having to think on your feet.
Every story grabs you and taps into a subgenre of fear as you sift through your investigation. You’re no superhero either, so all the evil that could be exacted upon you may be a life-or-death situation. This back-and-forth of wanting to get to the bottom of a mystery whilst remaining completely vulnerable makes every playthrough as tense as the next one. In other roguelites, you are more powerful after each playthrough; here however your knowledge of previous failures is your shining light, making the story feel exciting every time around.
Fragments Of Horror
By inspiration and by genre, World of Horror plays like a desktop RPG. The UI comes across as overwhelming to start with as every stat, item, location to explore and curses is all on screen, like a whole menu on one page. Using the left stick, you’ll be moving around a cursor to click on the environment or text boxes to further the game. However, the tutorial alone makes for an excellent onboarding, giving you a step-by-step on the multiple mechanics working in tandem to create the experience. It comes with a strong recommendation, from myself and the game, that you play this separate scenario first.
It feels akin to TTRPGs as you have a character sheet that depicts a matter of stats (Strength, Dexterity, Knowledge and the like) as well as your two “Health Bars”. Your physical health and mental health are separate and both can take damage until a fail state. Some characters come with natural traits that either improve or hinder your experience. Sometimes you can accrue curses or injuries with negative effects. One instance saw me eating a lump of flesh for a heal but I got a curse from it that formed holes across my body, expanding and making me weaker the further into the run I got.
Actions and investigating all add to a ‘Doom Meter’, which when it reaches 100% forces a game over. The worse outcomes apply even more of that doom whilst taking away one of your HPs. Some actions to choose from are locked, through either your lacking knowledge or an item necessary for that situation. All of the intricacies in the multifaceted investigations add so much variety to the gameplay and I never felt comfortable in the best way possible.
Fight Or Fright
Every action uses one of your stats which makes you lean on your character’s strengths, but it’s never a guarantee as there’s a constant dice roll behind the scenes at play. From a shop run by a shiba inu downtown, or the school library where you can study, every direction adds to the stakes and you can’t do it all in one run. It feels like you’re always on a deadline but your curiosity can lead to rewards – if the game doesn’t kill you.
Speaking of which, there are so many twisted enemies you’ll stumble across and they are truly spine-chilling. The last resort is to fight them where you’ll have a grid of actions from attacking – with a weapon or without – performing spells if you have them or acting defensively, like the UI it’s a lot and that’s just the basics. Like the multiple ways of investigating, fighting is just as diverse and I love how open your journey is for you to experiment with.
The learning experience of World of Horror is a tough but rewarding aspect of the game. There’s an extensive list of in-game achievements for you to aim towards that help with your runs. Something as simple as kicking an enemy with a certain amount of damage or beating a run as a certain character unlocks items, challenges or outfits that open up different avenues for your investigations, expanding the replayability factor even more whilst helping you have an objective in mind outside of just beating the game.
Unbelievably but incredibly, World of Horror’s 1-bit visuals are completely designed in MS Paint. You could easily call it a gimmick to stand out on its own, but it’s far from just a superficial aspect. There’s something so eerily uncanny about the art style being made with something so rudimentary. Anyone with a PC can create something like this, but Panstasz’s incredible talent to use their influences and transform them into something in a league of its own. It feels personable, plausible which only lends itself further to to notion of being its own creepypasta and not a game.
You can choose from 1-bit or 2-bit which just adds more textures to the already amazing art style. Furthermore, you can choose from over 50 shaders, changing the colour palette. There’s a tremendous amount of polish to the game, which I think is due to the lengthy time in Steam Early Access it had, but it made the wait completely worth it.
It’s not just the stellar visuals though as it also has a beguiling chiptune soundtrack playing throughout the game. Music themes change depending on the type of horrors you’re dealing with; all of which are deeply unsettling as the songs whale off-pitch. When the action picks up the beat pulsates in an anxiety-inducing way, making the game feel treacherous and all-encompassing. In short, World of Horror is an audible and visual feast of rotting corpses and blood-curdling screams that deliver such a unique atmosphere.
The Old Gods Are Here
All in all, World of Horror is one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve had in a very long time. The game could have easily leaned into its influences and distinct visuals and called it a day, but Panstasz has gone above and beyond to create a horror title for the ages. The undeniably vast replayability, the disconcerting atmosphere and the punchy, unsettling writing will be a curse etched onto my body until I inevitably reach my lighthouse.
Not to mention how PC-centric the game is, it’s very easily playable on a console with a gamepad, which is no easy feat. Outside of the main game where there’s the tutorial, quick play and a custom mode for you to change enemy and character difficulty, you can also play the absolutely sadistic challenge modes or endless mode. It’s hard to call World of Horror anything but perfect, even if feels like a bludgeoning and unforgiving experience from beginning to end.
World of Horror is an unrelenting but unforgettable graphic adventure that anyone even vaguely into horror needs to play. The diverse and almost unlimited playability of the game makes for a consistently terrifying experience, whilst the eerie MS Paint visuals and pitch-black writing make it feel like a phenomenon of its own.
World of Horror is available now for PlayStation 4 (review platform), Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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