I have to admit, I was intrigued at the prospect of yet another H.P. Lovecraft game. The author is having a resurgence lately, with games like The Sinking City and The Call of Cthulhu delving into his mythos. Now here is another, World of Horror, crafted by designer Pawel Kozminski. Kozminski sets his attempt apart by combining the unknown horrors with a more tangible and image-based discomfort. You know where does this come from, considering Lovecraft’s creations are ominously vague? Horror mangaka Junji Ito.
World of Horror is an East-meets-West mashup of horror, sizzled down to a refined 1-byte game. You know the type: the early Macintosh adventures that weren’t much more than clicking on various parts of the screen and reading text. It doesn’t do much for gameplay, but what it lacks in that, it more than makes up for in other areas. After many runs I can confidently say it gets the Lovecraft aspect right (more on that later). As for the game itself– it will all depend on your personal preferences.
So, this is a strange one. World of Horror is probably closest to the rogue-lite genre. While it shares most of it’s DNA (visually and in gameplay) with the Mac games of old, the mysteries that are randomly selected at the beginning of each run hint at a rogue-lite. The story shapes itself into a new form each run, though the bones of the arc always remain. After choosing certain options (or after deciding on a random play-through) the “story” begins.
Your character always begins in the same town, which might as well be a Japanese version of Castle Rock with all of it’s unsightly beings and strange occurrences. Each play-through is the same– at your character’s home will be 5 randomly selected mysteries. What order you complete these in and how you go about each mystery is entirely up to you. On top of that, each mystery comes with at least 2 different endings, lending themselves to some replay value. These endings can be drastically different– some may have you fighting a “boss” while others require a specific item to be found. If you manage to complete the mystery, it will no longer be available at your home, and you move on to the next.
THE OLD GODS
The Old Gods seem to be for specific challenges. For example, Ithotu doubles all combat stamina penalties, or Cthac-Atorasu’s power disallows escape from battle. The tweaks, while not much at first, can have an impact on how your run progresses and the tactics you use.
After each run, you will unlock in-game Achievements, Endings, and Events, all of which can be perused under the “Extras” tab in the Main Menu. Completing certain ones will net you new characters and items to use in later runs. Once you complete all 5 mysteries, you unlock the Lighthouse. Whichever Old God chosen at the beginning will reside here, and the only thing left is to confront it…
Much like the story, gameplay is hard to quantify. The majority of your time will be spent clicking on various parts of the screen and reading text. Once in a while you come across an encounter and have to use different actions in order to survive. Since there are 3 distinct aspects to World of Horror‘s gameplay, I’ll divide them as best as I can.
The mysteries are the meat-and-potatoes of the game. You are given a story and must then explore various locations in the town in order to complete that mystery. Locations are your usual fare– Police Station, Hospital, School etc. Many will offer extra options, such as the Hospital having a Pharmacy where you can buy items or the Schoolyard where you can catch up on gossip or try to add some allies.
A circle will tell you which location you are required to investigate, though you can choose to ignore it. Once you have searched the required area(s), and battled any monsters, a story element that explains your ending will appear. How each ends will depend on your actions. The subject matter for each mystery can change drastically– from Ramen noodles to Evolving Eels. Fortunately the game gives you an option to prioritize new content.
While doing all of this, you also must maintain your meters. In World of Horror these consist of your Stamina (Health), Reason (Sanity), and Doom. Doom has the most interesting aspect. Done as a percentage, it steadily ticks upwards with every action and battle. Some random events (like the battles but in this case a screen of text and an effect) can help that percentage climb.
While each character has different amounts of Stamina and Reason, every character has the same amount of Doom. While I didn’t personally see what happened if the meter got to 100% ( I managed to complete a run with 98%), I imagine its similar to the reduction of Reason or Stamina to zero. Basically, Game Over.
The battles in World of Horror are RPG-lite. Your options split into Offensive, Defensive and others. Each of those is divided into more options (e.g. Offensive actions contain Punch, Attack w/ Weapon, Strong Attack). Each action you select has a set number of points it requires, limiting your options each turn. After choosing to attack, do you ensure your next attack will hit, or try to dodge? You can’t do both. This creates a semi-strategic system, especially on harder difficulties.
The difficulties don’t end within the confines of the battle. Your character can receive different ailments that curtail their abilities. You might receive an open wound, or frostbite. Each has a different handicap for your character until you can get fixed up with things like Bandages or Painkillers.
Different weapons and characters have different stats– just because you attack, it doesn’t mean you’ll hit. While frustrating at times, this prevents battles from becoming a constant barrage of clicking on “Attack”, and usually, a defeated enemy will leave behind an item or weapon you can then equip, giving reason to not just attempt an escape at every opportunity.
Essentially, the game boils down to managing your Stamina, Reason and Doom while investigating mysteries and fighting enemies in a turn-based style battle system. I was hoping for a little more variety after the first few encounters, and they can be found, but they tend to be hidden as alternate endings. One involving a toilet-stall comes immediately to mind.
The graphics are…unique. They certainly aren’t up to the 4K, 60 FPS AAA games of the modern era, but were you expecting it to be? One look at the screenshots tells you everything you need to know. It’s modeled after the 1-byte adventure games from the Macintosh days and consists mostly of text and static drawings that look like they were done in Microsoft Paint or something similarly low-res.
1 OR 2 BYTES?
While basic in color and depth, the style borrows heavily from Manga, a look World of Horror nails. Even with the cluttered screen (the visual set-up takes getting used to), the sense of starkness and slight confusion adds thematically to the game overall. But, much like Lovecraft’s Old Gods themselves, the game isn’t the most pleasing thing to look at. In that sense, it works great, but I still can’t get over how ugly some of it looks.
The enemy images are suitably eerie, the locations are drawn well– I just find the contrast of white and black hard on my eyes after a lengthy period. There is an option to switch to 2-bytes, which adds a blueish-gray tone; while this helped, it was still eye-achingly muddled at times. Since this game is mostly menu navigation, the game itself and the UI having the same look can be confusing.
On top of that, there are plenty of spelling errors. While I usually wouldn’t condemn a game for such a slight issue, this game relies on its text for tension and story-telling. There are no voice-overs, limited music and a lot of reading. A game that relies so heavily on its textual aspect should have better spelling and grammar. I also realize the creator’s first language probably isn’t English, and that’s something I can’t fault the game for (nor him).
When you are pulled out of the game because “supposedly” is spelled “supposidely” or you have to take an extra few seconds to figure out the information being given in a sentence, it can be annoying. This doesn’t hamper the gameplay itself– World of Horror isn’t about speed– but it came up enough to assert itself.
The music, much like the graphics and gameplay, is minimal. It sets the mood for the strange, occult occurrences you are tasked with investigating, though I didn’t find it to be as creepy as I’d hoped. It managed to convey the out-of-sync reality presented in the game’s world, and becomes more dramatic during an encounter. Like the other aspects, the music is rather low-fi and simple. It manages to capture the bleakness prevalent in all of Lovecraft’s work and translates it into a MIDI-style soundtrack. While I can’t honestly say that this is a soundtrack that had me engaged, it accomplished the necessities.
Overall, World of Horror is a nice little love-letter to games of yore. Mixing the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito was a great idea. Creating it as an homage to old 1-byte games was a risk that has paid off, as Pawel manages to wring the most out of the least. The gameplay, the battles, the drawings– they’re all fairly basic. But the sum is more than its parts– each of these ideas combines to create a distinct entry into the horror genre.
It’s a great start to what could be built upon over the coming years (there were only 4 Old Gods to choose from when I played). While it probably won’t be causing nightmares like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, it will certainly leave you at least a little unsettled afterwards, even if only from the primitive graphics. And that’s all H.P. Lovecraft could ask for.
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