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Even though I was born in the early ’90s, a large part of my childhood was spent around technology from the ’80s. The state of India which I grew up in wasn’t the most technologically advanced place. We’d generally be 5-10 years behind the rest of the world when it came to electronic entertainment. Hence, I have a soft spot for all things retro in games and love me some good 1-bit art. There’s a reason The Return of the Obra Din became one of my favourite indies experiences in recent memory.

Now developer panstasz has brought us World of Horror, a bizarre mix of ’80s RPGs and roguelite adventures. The soon-to-be-released Early Access game is marketed as a 1-bit love letter to the works of Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft. People who have been following my writings knows me to be a huge Lovecraft buff but mangas (and JRPGs) are something I’m just not a big fan of. However, I whole-heartedly appreciate Junji Ito’s trypophobia-inducing illustrations and his contributions to the horror manga industry. Setting my prejudices aside, here’s me telling you what works and what doesn’t work in World of Horror.

The story and setting of World of Horror is a unique mix of Japanese urban legends and Lovecraftian mythos. Set in an alternate version of the 1980s, the Old Gods have awakened and set their sights on a small seaside town in Japan. Soon after, the town is greeted by doomsday cults, grotesque monstrosities, disappearances, unrest, chaos and everything you’ll find in a twisted Lovecraftian tale. Your job as a bunch of early adults is to investigate these strange happenings and you know…save the world from impending doom. As if it were that easy.

First thing’s first. The presentation of World of Horror is simply amazing. Paying homage to Ito’s works, the game features highly-detailed 1-bit/2-bit art that you just don’t get tired of looking at. Pawel Kozminski, the sole developer behind the game is a dentist by profession but a true artist by passion. Creating these macabre but beautiful illustrations in MS Paint (yes, you read that right) requires some serious talent. If you don’t like black and white colour palette, there’s a huge number of colours to choose from and visual settings to modify. The background score and music in general, while few in number is very inspired and gives a techno-noir vibe to the whole thing.

For a roguelite, the amount of customization present at the moment is pretty neat. You can either let the game select a randomised playthrough or you can customize basically everything from the playable character, unlocked features, the big bad you want to go against, timelines (that further affect the choices available in each mission) and game modes (classic or endless) with more to come during the EA period. The Early Access version offers 12 mysteries to solve, with 200 encounterable events and 5 main characters.

World of Horror relies on small scenario-driven campaigns rather than one overarching storyline. Staying true to its roots, it plays out like a classic text-driven RPG with some ‘choose your own adventure’ vibes. After starting a playthrough, players are directed to solve 5 randomly selected mini-campaigns termed mysteries from their home base. Each mystery has its own plot derived from classic horror tropes and urban legends. But solving a mystery isn’t as simple as mindlessly clicking through a bunch of screens. Mysteries are made up of several randomised encounters, all equally bizarre. To these, players are directed to go to the specified area of the town (represented as small blocks the hud), navigate through several encounters, engage in combat (or run away from) if necessary and get to the bottom of things. Aside from being super-creepy, most encounters and mysteries have multiple endings and permutations that encourage multiple playthroughs.

All the while, players have to manage several core statistics like the player character’s health and sanity while keeping the ‘doom’ meter of the town in check. As with any Lovecraftian game, confronting the distorted reality is a straight road to madness. The higher the doom score, more and more negative modifiers afflict the town and the player avatar. You can, of course, keep them in check with strategic use of items, encounters and by praying the RNG to be merciful. It’s good that the game doesn’t railroad players down a linear path as they are free to explore the town to buy items and find allies while investigating a mystery.

The wide number of encounters and all the different permutations saves World of Horror from being just another repetitive roguelite. I’ve run at least 10 playthroughs and there are still encounters to be found and endings to be discovered. This boosts the replayability of World of Horror by a ton and keeps each new playthrough fresh.

World of Horror also features a fully-fledged character progression system with modifiable attributes, stats, attainable perks and inventory management. Each playable character has their own stats and gets player-specific traits when they level up. It’s a shame that the only thing that distinguishes one PC from the next is their stats. World of Horror is very light on character-driven storytelling. Aside from a bit of backstory text, there’s nothing that will make you care for the playable character or the companions you find within the game.

While World of Horror scores in its presentation and replayability, I found the combat to be comparatively dull. Combat is turn and text-based like in the old Final Fantasy games or Wasteland. You’re also given a surprising amount of extra options during combat aside from melee and spell combat like looking for improvised weapons and a wide variety of buffs/debuffs. But since you’ll be facing just a single enemy every encounter, all combat scenarios comes down to casting the same two moves that drain enemy’s HP the fastest while casting the occasional hit chance improving spell. The combat is difficult but there’s hardly any need for higher tactics, at least in the normal difficulty. Hence, combat becomes a repetitive chore in most cases. Thankfully, the game allows you to run away from all non-critical encounters with a hit penalty to the doom meter.

World of Horror is a difficult game. But that difficulty doesn’t come just from the combat. Like many roguelites, the RNG is the main culprit here. Throwing you into random encounters that require special items at the beginning itself, dice roll fails, ridiculous chance to hit penalties, overwhelming negative modifiers, the RNG in World of Horror loves to rub your face in everything, every step of the way. It’s not uncommon to find yourself restarting playthroughs every 10 minutes. I get that it’s a “doomsday” game but the RNG can really a bitch sometimes. I hope the devs balance this issue during the EA period.

Then there’s the UI, which is frankly, a mess. Paying homage to adventure classics is all right but bringing over the same bloated UI is a crime. World of Horror requires you to interact with the UI non-stop but everything is all over the place. 75% of the screen is literally menus and while it brings a strong feeling of nostalgia, I’d appreciate some modern touch in the UI department.


Aside from my gripes with RNG and the UI, there are no real complaints to be said about World of Horror. It looks great, holds its inspirations to heart, the mysteries and encounters are creepy and engaging, has a ton of replayability and is a surprisingly solid product considering that it’s in Early Access. There’s enough content here to justify the price and with more to come, World of Horror’s future surely looks bright.

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