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It’s not looking good. I thought I’d done everything right but I must have messed up the ritual somewhere. Now there’s a lady with a slit mouth and a sharp pair of scissors about to cut me a smile from ear to ear. I only wanted to find out what happened to my school friend and now I’m about to do the most fatal Joker cosplay ever. At this point in the movie an act of God would happen saving me from the Scissors Lady; the floor would collapse, my seemingly dead friend would get back up or the ritual would kick into gear after a delay. No such luck, this is World of Horror and now that I’m Glasgow Smiling my way into an early grave there’s nothing to stop the Old Gods devouring the Earth.
Released in Early Access back in February of this year World of Horror is a turn-based adventure game that wears its influences on its sleeve. Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito World of Horror aims to combine the work of two of the world’s greatest horror artists in the style of old Hypercard games. Drawn entirely in a one-bit style in MS Paint and developed by the same artist Pawel Kozminski (aka Panstasz) World of Horror is fairly simple upon first encounter but a whole host of systems quickly reveal themselves turning World of Horror into a far richer experience than its premise suggests.
Players take on the role of a young person in a small Japanese coastal town in May, 1984. You can pick between eight characters so far including the captain of the school swim team, a Yakuza enforcer, a teen idol or a haunted transfer student. After that the game assigns you a set of five cases to be solved in any order including but not limited to: a ramen shop that turns its customers into ravenous addicts, the aforementioned scissor lady and a school janitor obsessed with mermaid surgery. From there World of Horror has you fight, deduct and charm your way through the cases in order to get to the lighthouse and stop the invasion of one of four Old Gods.
World of Horror at its best is a stressful, creepy game. At its worst it’s a well thought out point-and-click detective game that just isn’t that scary. Its art style is unique and its writing is often vivid enough to slip past the need for animation but that same lack of animation also makes it look like detailed storyboards for the Junji Ito Collection anime series. Now, unless you’re actively scared by (mostly) still images then World of Horror is never really that scary but it is creepy. It’s hard not to shiver when one of the enemies is a girl with worms squirming in her eye socket. The same goes for the faces you’ll often see staring through trees or open windows at you. The game’s monochromatic colour scheme helps immensely in this regard. All of the disturbing details pop including the damage meted out on your character.
Though most playthroughs in World of Horror will only last half an hour to a full hour they all take place over roughly a week in game. Over that time you must manage your very easy to lose Stamina and Reason points. Lose all your Stamina and you succumb to your injuries and die. Lose all your Reason and you go stark, raving mad. Though you can die in combat encounters it’s the events outside of combat that are the real danger.
Depending on how high certain skills are you can easily lose Stamina and Reason when faced with the abominable horrors corrupting your home town. Examining a trophy case can reveal a trophy for first place in the 1956 Cannibal Competition. Touching an eldritch monument can leave you burned or mad or both. Sometimes the game will give you a playthrough-altering status effect like a broken jaw or a craving for raw flesh. At other times it will grant you a boon in your battle with the likes of Ithotu, Devouring Flame.
Part of World of Horror’s appeal lies in its random nature. The game can just as easily grant you a much needed bandage as it can have you marked for death by the spider god Atorasu-Nasa. Of course you can customise the game before you head in to face the horrors but it’s more fun and thematically rewarding to beat a random playthrough. After all one of the core tenets of both Junji Ito and H. P. Lovecraft’s work is the cold and capricious randomness of an uncaring, unfeeling universe. The Old Gods that threaten Earth in World of Horror are not the cause of the nightmare, merely a symptom of it. What’s more horrifying than realising that beyond the infinite void of space exists neither heaven nor hell but monsters far beyond our ability to understand let alone fight?
But fight them we must because we’re the only ones who can. World of Horror offers a variety of ways to beat back the tide of encroaching darkness. Weapons are a great start even if they range from steak knives to shovels. Spells and prayers work too but it’s memory that is your greatest tool in World of Horror. The investigations will repeat on themselves over and over again throughout your various playthroughs and, even though they all have at least two endings, you’ll beat a lot of them over and over again in the same way. But occasionally you’ll get a break in the case and this is where World of Horror is most rewarding.
World of Horror is a game full of references – one potential ally is just a one-bit, monochrome image of Dwayne Johnson in that famous turtleneck – but eventually all of these references fade into the background and the game’s unique stories are pushed to the fore. It’s uncovering this story that makes World of Horror worth playing. Having the right item at the right time or passing a previously failed skill check will often reveal new events that break different investigations wide open and open alternate paths. Although all roads lead back to the lighthouse it’s the journey that’s important, regardless of how many ancient curses I have to break to get there.