A lot of video games let us travel to different world, and I think it’s a pretty safe assumption to say that many of us would jump at the chance to actually visit other realities or planets if given the chance (with some rather notable exceptions…looking at you Dark Souls and Warhammer 40k).
The World Next Door casts you as a girl that actually has this opportunity, and is thrown into an adventure full of colorful characters, difficult decisions and a masterfully crafted magic-matching combat system.
Title: The World Next Door
Developer: Rose City Games
Publisher: VIZ Media
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Available on Itch.io, Steam, GOG, Humble Store and Nintendo Switch for $14.99
The World Next Door is a narrative-driven, action-adventure game that follows Jun, a rebellious teen girl trapped in a parallel world inhabited by magical beings. Inspired by the emotional storytelling and thrilling action of both anime and indie games, players can expect to meet and develop friendships with an eclectic cast of characters while uncovering the mysteries hidden within this world.
You’re thrown right into the story of Jun, a human who has been selected by lottery to visit the world of Emrys during The Festival. Emrys and our world are connected by a magical portal, and during The Festival that portal opens and people are able to visit each world. Jun is internet friends with Liza, a native Emryn, so this is a fantastic opportunity for her to meet her bestie IRL. She meets Liza and her group of friends, but after a few unforeseen delays, ends up stuck in Emrys after the portal has closed! Unfortunately, Humans ca’t live for very long on Emrys, so you’ve got a quest ahead of you to figure out how to get home ASAP with the help of your new group of friends.
The World Next Door is very narrative heavy, almost to visual novel levels, but it’ mixes the narrative and conversation heavy section with it’s incredible, action packed, magic-puzzle-combat sections (more on those shortly). A good hunk of your play time is going to be in sections of dialogue with the characters you meet in Emrys. There is a fantastic cast of characters, from the headstrong Horace, to the brilliant Cerisse, to your best friend Liza.
A real stand out to me in The World Next door was the writing, which was incredibly quippy and clever and got many genuine laughs out of me. Horace and Liza are standout characters, but everyone has a chance to make an impression. There’s a surprising amount of choices to be made in the conversation you make: There’s various dialogue options, the decision of which three people you text each morning, and who you decide to bring with you into the dungeons. While I’ve not had the chance to play through the game a second time through, I have a sneaking suspicion that some of these choices which seem small in the moment, have a much larger impact on how the game unfolds than you might suspect.
While I very quickly warmed to the dialogue and narrative of The World Next Door, I was a bit more skeptical of it’s main gameplay mechanic. In each Shrine (a.k.a. dungeon) you visit, you’ve have to battle magical creatures in the various room. This is done by matching sets of three colored runes and activating them. Different color runes have different effects: Red Runes cast a fire ball, Green Runes heal you, Yellow runes create an AoE electricity effect (which is incredibly OP, and you should absolutley use them as much as possible). You’re able to tether two spaces together and move runes around and the more runes you group together, the more powerful the spell!
I’ll admit that it took a bit of getting used to, and requires you to be much more mobile that you might imagine, but I grew to really love this mechanic. After the first few fights, you really end up having to think fast, as certain types of enemies will pursue you viciously, leave AoE’s of their own, or even cast rune sets you were saving for later! The shape of the battlefield also comes into play a lot, and when you add in some of the special spells your allies give you later, there’s a lot of speedy strategy to be slung.
You’ll also run into puzzle rooms, which lack enemies, but make up for this having fail states. Most of the time this revolves around amplifying rune sets (if you cast a set of runes next to another complete set of runes, that second set will be twice as effective). It’s worth taking your time to complete these rooms and is great practice for some of the larger, boss battles where you have a bit more space and can chain together series of spells for some insane damage.
There were a few combinations of enemies that I found hard to deal with to the point of mild frustration, but I pushed through and felt like this was more a matter of “git gud” than anything. However, the third boss battle in particular was frustrating, due in part to its sprite covering certain tiles around it, and his ability to change the tiles rune type…even mid cast! Setting up a massive black hole? Nope, sorry, you just did a ton of unnecessary healing to yourself. More than anything I think this came down to the necessity for a telegraph on that specific boss, so you could plan a bit more around this ability, rather than an issue with the ability (which actually added a bit of a gambling aspect to the fight, which I liked!)
Another thing that I appreciated in The World Next Door was the character design and the background/environment art. The trolley scene-change animation is already my new desktop wallpaper, and some of the enemy monsters were truly horrific without resorting to gore or cheap scares. I did feel like the sprite art clashed a little with the rest of the art assets at times, but never to the point that it got in the way of me enjoying the adventure.
The World Next Door is a short game: It took me around 3.5 hours to complete the main story, but I know I missed even starting more than a few side quests on campus, and I didn’t finish the puzzle heavy side quest you can go on with Cerisse (these are significantly harder then the puzzle rooms you find in the dungeons, but damn do I want to go back and solve them!). Like I said, I haven’t played through the game a second time, and I think that their might be some real narrative replayability in The World Next Door. Without spoiling anything, I cannot help but feel like there are multiple ways that the ending act can go down based on who you talk to, how you talk to them, and who you bring with you as allies into each dungeon.
My final comment in this review is only that I’d love to see the magic-puzzle-combat system expanded. There’s some solid ideas and incredible potential in the fast paced puzzle/match-four system that Rose City Games have designed, and I want more! Whether it’s in a different game entirely, further DLC for The World Next Door, or even the introduction of an editor to let players make their own challenges, the magical-matching combat system is a fantastically realized mechanic, fun and challenging, and has tons of room for expansion.