By Diego Hernandez / April 19th, 2019
|Title||The World Next Door|
|Developer||Rose City Games|
|Release Date||March 28th 2019|
|Genre||Visual Novel, Strategy, Indie|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, PC|
The World Next Door is Rose City Games’ first original title. It was announced back in February of last year as a spark of inspiration from an internal game jam. However, it’s not just the developer’s first game, it’s also the publisher’s. VIZ Media is a household name in regards to the anime and manga crowd, but now they’ve taken the first step alongside Rose City Games with an ambitious title. The World Next Door promises powerful storytelling alongside lightning-fast puzzle battles to make for a rather unique experience. It’s time to see how it holds up.
Welcome to a new Earth, a planet almost identical to the one we inhabit. I say almost because this Earth is connected to another world: Emrys. For clarification, Emrys is a world that houses magic and mystical beings otherwise thought as myths on Earth. Through combined efforts, a connection was established between both worlds via portals. Thus, we have the creation of a tradition where a chosen human, via a special lottery, will spend a day taking in the sights and sounds of Emrys. It’s worth mentioning the length of time spent there is due to the fact that humans can’t survive on Emrys for very long due to the overwhelming presence of magic.
Your new name is Jun and you’re a rebellious teen, with a killer midriff, who has never felt like you belonged on Earth. Lucky for you, the day of the lottery came and went with you as the winner! You set up the meeting with your best friend from Emrys, Liza, and you’re on your way. Upon arrival, you not only meet up with Liza but a couple of her friends too! Following introductions, the gang rolls out to an unidentified location for a special surprise, just for you. In short, you’re going to learn some magic.
The clock ticks away as you and the others relish in the fun of casting fireballs and other spells alike. As a result, it seems you’ve overstayed your welcome. It would appear that this unidentified location your friends took you to was a government-prohibited area called a shrine which holds evil creatures. Furthermore, one of these creatures cuts you off from your friends and the exit. It’s now time to test your newfound abilities and get out of here before the portal that leads back home closes. After you prove your resilience and reunite with your friends, you hurry to the portal only to be met with a predictable fate. Namely, the portal has closed and now you must work with your friends to get you back. Welcome to The World Next Door.
This adventure was a rather peculiar one. Let’s start by talking about the fundamentals. The art in this game is outstanding, everything from the character sprites to backgrounds are a blessing for the eyes. Compared to several visual novels on the market, The World Next Door delivers on the most diverse cast in art alone. However it doesn’t fall on art alone to truly flesh out the characters, it involves the writing. I can’t stress enough the importance of being able to gauge the personalities of the central characters to your story especially in choice-driven narratives. Subsequently, Rose City Games seems to have gotten the memo on this one. As a result, not only can I understand the meaning behind my words through emotional context, I can also use the emotional context to match it up with the character’s personality. In short, the game provides a smooth reading experience.
Following the discussion of the characters, let’s discuss the game beyond. You have to do some fighting on your path to figuring out how to go back home. In essence, you conjure magic via matching any three or more tiles in any direction. You have a variety of moves to choose from including a basic fireball and heal alongside situational spells like a gravity orb and static floor that deal damage over time. If left alone, fighting one on one would be a thought-provoking joy. However, that wasn’t the case. As you clear your dungeons, the mobs you face will come in twos or threes with rather annoying mechanics that can be overwhelming quickly. Consequently, with the lack of a leveling system and the randomness behind the tiles’ positions on the floor, things will get frustrating rather quickly.
In short, you have to match three or more tiles. If you’re missing a piece for a set, you may practically drag another piece that’s on the other side of the room to your set and proceed to cast. The game informs you that casting a spell next to another set empowers it. While you’re playing mind games as to how you’re going to maximize your damage output, your enemies will do everything in their power to kill you. For instance, there are enemies that will will temporarily block out certain parts of your set, pictured above, to prevent a cast. Followed by an enemy that will use your tiles after you carefully set up your combos. Again, you’re not just fighting one unit, you’re fighting either one of these plus a very annoying melee-focused enemy. Why do they get to slash freely but I don’t?
Incidentally, the challenge is sort of needed. If you’re lucky enough to one-time all the battles, you’ll come to realize that these dungeons are incredibly short and provide little to no gimmicks. It was certainly not what I expected, and I had hoped that the story would at least pick me up. Contrary to my expectations, it didn’t. It’d sneak in some suspenseful tidbits on how the authorities are on the lookout for you, but it ends up being misleading as nothing really happens. Near the end, I’d get considerably important information that tied certain knots together but leave others loose. I suppose it’s a way of the game telling me to try again with different choices. There’s only one problem. In my honest opinion, the game doesn’t do a good enough job of motivating you to try and get the full picture.
The hook of this tale was found, in my case, at the end when it needed to be at the beginning. The carefully crafted characters need to walk hand-in-hand with the story. What ended up happening is I got a decent amount of character development with no main story elements. Too much on one side, and not enough on the other. I believe if you’re going to have multiple routes within a game, you have to make all routes somewhat interesting. In this case, I got routes that were unexciting and lacking. For instance, I’ll find out a lot about how significant a missing individual, mentioned at the start of the game, means to a core party member. I don’t even try to save them, for lack of choice, and the credits roll with them just casually reunited.
There’s many instances like the aforementioned in the main story, and the side quests are just as confusing. We meet a nice individual who seems to have lost a valuable item, and we decide to help him out. However, the game gives no clues as to where to find it. I go through the game’s four dungeons looking high and low while turning the place upside down alongside the main story. You never see it and the game ends. This is more forgivable as it’s not part of the main story, at least to my knowledge. However, it still hurts that I can’t help someone because I made the wrong decision, and didn’t realize it at choice X, Y or Z.
Finally, we get to talk about the sound design. Overall, Rose City Games have a grasp of the general atmosphere for their game. The voices they provided for their characters suit their characters to a tee in normal and more alarming scenarios. The music fit with the aesthetic of the levels beautifully. In addition, small things like utilizing your phone kept a tacky immersive feel to them. In conclusion, a solid job even if I’m not a fan of game-original languages.
At the end of the day, The World Next Door is still an incredibly unique title. Mixing fast paced battles with wonderful characters and a rather curious story, it’s a standout indie game you should be giving a look. I clocked in six hours when I culminated my playthrough. No doubt you’ll get your money’s worth in multiple runs at the base price of $14.99. A congratulations to the developer on the launch and may they learn from this to make even better games.
Game provided by the developer for review purposes.
IndieNindienintendo switchPCRose City GamesSteamThe World Next Doorvisual novelViz Media