When someone hears the name Viz Media they tend to think of the numerous manga and anime that the company has published in North America over the years. Now it seems that the company is looking to expand a bit as they have partnered with Rose City Games to bring out an indie title named The World Next Door. Blending match-3 style combat and some visual novel story scenes, is this title worth your time?
It is interesting to note that The World Next Door does have a short prologue comic and while reading it isn’t really required to understand the game it does provide players with some initial context before diving into the game. In The World Next Door the Earth has a parallel dimension that it is connected to by portals that open up roughly every twenty years and connect it to an alternate realm known as Emrys where magic is a reality and numerous races of all kinds live their lives. While in the past it is described that war had previously raged anytime these portals opened now these two realms see this as a chance to connect with one another in harmony.
So much in fact that there is a lottery held to select various humans to travel between realms because so many people want to interact with the other side. Jun just so happens to be one of these lucky lottery winners and she is overjoyed with the fact that she can meet with her internet friend Liza and explore the world of Emrys for a day. Unfortunately after meeting many of Liza’s friends and doing a bit of illegal spelunking Jun ends up trapped on Emrys after the portal to Earth closes. Trapped with no way home, Jun, Liza, and the rest of the group must discover a way to get Jun back home as the magical realm of Emrys apparently will kill a normal human if exposed to it for too long.
The World Next Door doesn’t hesitate when it comes to throwing a number of new and interesting pieces of lore and characters at the player but what it does have an issue with is actually turning these things into more than barebones groundwork. Throughout the game players are introduced to a number of Liza’s friends as well as a few other members of her social circle but over our time with them we end up learning very little about any of them. What makes this more disappointing is the fact that the game offers a number of seemingly important social interactions with these characters. Many of them will have limited time quests that involve tracking down an item, answering a series of questions, or tackling a number of difficult puzzles or battles in a row to possibly bond with them.
Along those same lines players are informed that they can only text a number of characters at the start of a given day but other than seeing a few extra lines of text that generally play out the same for every character, actually fulfilling all of these conditions does nothing to really develop them any more than what they were introduced as. In fact even the lore aspects of how certain characters are part spirit or dragon is left by the wayside other than an explanation for their overall design.
This leaves players with a story that rarely moves beyond its own premise of attempting to get Jun home. Various events do occur that put the player and their friends at risk but so many plot points are just left hanging by the time the credits role, other than stinging the player with one resolution in credit artwork, that players will feel like there is just so much more to actually offer in The World Next Door than what they were given, especially since so many events and circumstances are left completely unexplained.
Most of your time in The World Next Door is spent traveling through shrines and fighting against enemies called Grievances using magical powers. Even as a human Jun is capable of wielding magic that is derived from runic glyphs that appear from the floor. Jun has the ability to move one rune at a time to any other place on a stage and any set of three can be activated to trigger a magical spell, with the more runes in a combination allowing for a more powerful version of that spell. There happens to be a healing spell accompanied by a number of offensive ones that cast fireballs, slow moving black holes, direct strikes, and stunning floor shocking spells.
Casting a spell next to an already prepared collection of runes will temporarily boost the power of that spell as well, allowing players to tie together a series of powerful attacks to fend off foes if they need them. Using more than three runes in a spell also spawns a special rune that can be formed into a special design to call upon the help of your friends. Each friend has a different spell and powerful spell that can be used to devastate the enemy and you gain access to more designs as you advance through the story.
That being said, if you are looking for a real challenge then The World Next Door really doesn’t offer too much of one. Most enemies choose simply to bum rush Jun in an attempt to deal damage while others can cast spells from a distance but simply dashing out of the way of these attacks are an easy enough affair. While exploring dungeons there are also numerous healing wells that will fully restore health lost between battles but these will rarely be needed unless you end up in a bad way at the end of a previous fight though this generally should only happen near the end of the game once a few more tactical foes start appearing.
Boss battles do change things up slightly as most bosses can trigger various stage effects that either remove ruins that have been placed on the ground, temporarily block the use of all runes, or throw down stage hazards that must be avoided. Even here though most of these battles don’t end up being too difficult but there is an “easy” mode that makes it so Jun is invulnerable to all damage if you end up having trouble with the game.
Outside of fighting players will generally just be finding various objects scattered throughout the world and solving puzzles, though for what reason is unknown. Various side quests can be obtained from talking to various NPCs in town or finding items inside of a shrine but other than a few bits of extra dialogue most of them only reward the player with an item that has no real purpose and an explanation that doesn’t really add anything to the lore. Even completing optional puzzle challenges reward the player with items that seem like they will play a role somewhere down the line end up having no use.
Visuals & Audio
One of the best elements of The World Next Door are the designs of the game’s characters. Jun features a fairly standard human design but the use of the mask is nicely handled and the various magical beings of Emrys are quite varied in species with some unique designs mixed in with the group. The standard enemy designs are fairly basic in nature though the boss designs are nicely detailed though the designs of the shrines are as generic as they come. The same can unfortunately be said about the limited areas players can explore in the base city as there are only four screens to be seen here.
It is interesting to note that the game only features one voiced character while the rest of the cast is simply given gibberish voice work. The spoken character is simply a television reporter that players can interact with between missions. The soundtrack does feature a nice little array of background music but nothing that stands out in any noticeable way.
The World Next Door may be a solid title but it also is one that feels like it is half baked. The world of Emrys is an interesting place to see and is filled with a colorful cast of characters that we only get to interact so much with while the lore is barely tapped into during the game’s short run time. Numerous plot points feel like they are left by the wayside in what ends up being a rather short title that feels like it could have been so much more. Instead we find ourselves a game with solid enough match-3 combat that is a bit on the easy side and a storyline that, while set in an interesting world filled with characters begging to be given more time, is cut short.