World of Horror is a brilliantly grim horror RPG
Tender loving scare.
On paper, there's nothing I should like about World of Horror.
There's a cluttered screen, for starters, and an artificially retro aesthetic that I've seen once too many times before. It's intimidating and brutally unforgiving, plus it also boasts my favourite unfavourite thing, RNG - dumb luck, in other words. I've died many, many times in gross - and grossly-unfair - battles, and as it's only out in early access, it's unpolished and teeth-clenchingly unstable, too.
So why am I still here, at 2 am, carefully working my way through this latest mystery, the Macabre Memoir of Morbid Mermaids, in the hope of finally - finally! - reaching its grim climax?
In spite of so many of my most undesirable gaming tropes, I've fallen hard for the World of Horror's grim creations. It doesn't look, nor play, like any horror I've experienced before, and while its instability has sent the adventure crashing several times - always taking my hard-earned progress with it, sadly - it's a testament to the game's creativity that I'm still here, still playing, still hooked, still wanting to find out what happens to this sleepy fishing village and its doomed inhabitants.
Doing the same thing over and over in the hope of somehow generating different results... that's the definition of insanity, isn't it? In my defence, though, while the location and availability of items vary with each playthrough, other events - such as the location of a baseball bat in the school, for instance, or a sanity-leeching denizen skulking in a locker - never change. You build up this knowledge slowly and organically each time you play and although yes, much is up to chance, the scant stability offered here ensures every fresh effort feels just that little bit less arduous.
Simultaneously both entirely original and a heartfelt homage, World of Horror is a stylish, intriguing experience that cherry-picks the best aspects from a variety of genres - RPG, roguelike, text adventures, card games - and mixes them together for an entirely new, if terrifying, flavour. At first, though, you won't know what the hell to look at. It's stitched together in an awkward, haphazard way, acknowledging that its "visual overload" may be "disorientating" but offering little to mitigate it. Persevere if you can. While admittedly a slow burn, there are some marvellously macabre stories sitting at the heart of World of Horror, and no matter how muted the palette of your ancient in-game CRT monitor, the stories it depicts are horrendously vivid in all the right ways.
You'd think the crudity of its 1-bit graphics would temper the terror somewhat, but even as the antithesis of many of its blood-red, day-glo contemporaries, World of Horror's alarming denizens in one-dimensional, two-tone colour is surprisingly effective nonetheless. Unashamedly influenced by Lovecraft and famed Japanese horror mangaka, Junji Ito, World of Horror offers some gloriously unsettling tales and truly terrifying images, which is why it's so curious that a game with such a distinctive art style should choose to clutter up its periphery with so much visual noise.
Actions unfold via an old-school text-adventure, success achieved - or thwarted - by little more than luck and good timing, at least initially. It's possible to close a number of mysteries knowing very little about the overwhelming selection of combat and action options, but the more you learn, the more confident - and successful - your interactions will be.
Buffing stamina often comes at the cost of your sanity, and vice-versa, which means you must try (and typically fail) to keep your mind and body balanced to be both physically and psychologically tough enough to withstand the onslaught of the terrors revealing themselves in front of you. Sometimes you'll happen across items that can help with this; sometimes you won't. All come at a price, though.
There are other touches, too. The real-time damage, both spiritual and physical, to your character in the corner of the screen. The rewards - and regrets - of idle exploration. The randomised rotation of your avatars and the individual perks they bring. The abject dread of each terrifyingly surreal encounter with an otherworldly creature. After 20 hours or so I reckon I've seen pretty much all the permutations this early access iteration has to offer, and yet I'm still hungry for more. Never mind the scissors woman; I think the most frightening thing about World of Horror is how effortlessly it's hooked me.