By EVAN MILLAR
If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to explore the twisted works of Japanese horror manga legend Junji Ito in an interactive medium, Polish developer Panstasz has conjured up something just for you.
WORLD OF HORROR, their 1-bit RPG reminiscent of early Macintosh adventure games, enters Steam Early Access beginning tomorrow, February 20. Feverishly anticipated since its initial unveiling three years ago, the game depicts a rural Japanese town falling victim to all manner of twisted evil as an Old God resurfaces.
Players have the choice of several built-in scenarios: embark on a contained mystery set in the town’s high school, begin a standard playthrough with the finer details already decided, or fully customize the experience manually. These options include selecting one of five young protagonists, which cosmic baddie to stave off, and more.
Though there can be quite a lot happening on screen at any one time, WORLD OF HORROR features a pretty great introductory tutorial that quickly summarizes the game’s intricacies. In the main scenario, the gameplay loop consists of returning to your character’s apartment between a randomized selection of five mysteries you’ll have to investigate.
Strategy comes in the form of what you choose to do between these cases. For instance, you can bathe to recover lost stamina (health), reason (sanity), or even get in a few extra experience points before heading back out to thwart evil. The game’s battle system is also surprisingly robust and intricate, featuring spell casting, rituals, improvised weaponry, and various defensive actions.
During each investigation you’ll have free reign over all of the town’s locales, several of which warrant frequent visits such as the hospital, police station, and downtown core. Exploring highlighted areas of interest will not only further your progress in any given case but also raise the town’s “doom” level, the results of which manifest in a variety of ways – all of which are bad. Very bad.
Without spoiling any specific encounters, rest assured that just about every horror archetype is represented here. Found-footage gone wrong? Check. Freaky cult gatherings in the woods? You bet. And don’t even ask about the eels. Suffice to say, H.P. Lovecraft would be proud.
Visually, WORLD OF HORROR is an absolute delight. The Junji Ito-inspired art style is impressive enough, but finer details such as the option to pull back the field of view to see the old desktop computer you’re playing on really elevates the experience. Music and sound effects are accurate to the rest of the game’s retro aesthetic, though unlike some of the tunes from games of the era, it’s never grating on the ears.
Regardless of how long you spend during a playthrough, this is a game that does a great job of unsettling its players in every tiny moment. Even the relative safety of the apartment is called into question by the simple act of peeking through the peephole, where mysterious figures often lurk just beyond the shadows of the building’s hallway. In fact, the only place that’s not entirely doom and gloom is the shop you’ll frequent for various items, run (thankfully) by an adorable shiba inu.
Despite still being in early access, WORLD OF HORROR is sure to be one of the year’s best horror releases, indie or otherwise. With the option for community-created content such as additional items, curses and spells already integrated into the menus, this is one spine-tingling adventure I can’t wait to embark on again and again… sanity permitting, of course.
WORLD OF HORROR is available Thursday, February 20 on Steam. Review code provided by the publisher.