The World Next Door stars Jun, a human girl trapped on the magical alternate world of Emrys, and her magical, monstrous friends trying to help her get back home. The game is developed by Rose City Games and published, surprisingly, by Viz Media. Yes, the same guys who have been responsible for much of the translated manga for the North American market has now moved into video games.
The portal to Emrys opens once every 20 years, and humans cannot survive too long on Emrys. That’s why it’s quite a big problem when Jun misses the portal back home. Thankfully, there is Internet connectivity between the two worlds, so Liza, the Emryan friend Jun has been chatting with for the past six months, lets Jun stay in her dorm room. Liza introduces Jun to her friends and together, they try to send Jun back home before the magic on Emrys kills her.
This is how The World Next Door starts. You then spend the next 3-4 hours playing a strange and interesting mix of visual novel and match-3 game mechanics, with a little bit of open-world questing thrown in. The main gameplay features Jun using magic to fight various monsters in four different shrines, but you can only use the magic by moving Jun around a tiled floor with various symbols. When three or more of the same symbols are in direct contact, Jun can cast that spell. If the entire board doesn’t have any three-or-more symbol configurations, or the spell she needs isn’t currently available (like the healing spell), Jun can swap any two symbols to make the configuration she needs, and then cast that spell. This system is a bit cumbersome at first, as it is neither fully a match-3 game nor a proper spellcasting system, but you quickly get used to it.
The open-world questing has you performing fairly simple tasks for your new friends and various other folks you meet in the hub area, which is divided into four distinct areas. These quests are basically fetch quests and don’t seem to have any bearing on the main story. They were extra annoying to do because the loading times between the four areas are interminably long. These four small areas should really have been one area, but since they weren’t, players don’t have a choice but to wait 2-3 minutes for them to load.
The art style for these two types of gameplay is a very adorable chibi style that features shrunken down versions of all the characters. But the really nice art comes during the visual novel segments. The character designs are all excellent, and really stand out. The best one is Cerisse, the bookish black woman with a unicorn horn, wings on the side of her head, and an eyepatch.
During these visual novel segments, you can choose what kind of response Jun can give to certain questions, though as far as I can tell, they also don’t really alter the story or gameplay in any way (except for maybe one of the final questions, which we won’t spoil here).
While the characters are all pretty awesome, some of the storytelling decisions made by the writers ultimately don’t bear any fruit, which makes the narrative fall a little flat in the end. There are a few plot threads that seem to be going somewhere, but end up just fizzling out. This could be due to players not making the “correct” decision at the end, but even if that is the case, these threads should have been brought to a satisfying close regardless of which decision is made.
Finally, the chip tune-style music throughout the game is quite nice, but the same pieces of music do repeat rather a lot, which While can get grating if you’re not a fan of this kind of music.
The World Next Door is an interesting hybrid game that you’ve never played before, and that never outstays its welcome. Many of the design choices are pretty great, and the US$14.99 price tag is just right for this fun 3-4 hour game (5 if you count the excessive loading times).
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The World Next Door is a short game with excellent design, interesting gameplay choices, and questionable narrative decisions. But it never outstays its welcome, and has a great price.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 6/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Adan has worked for comic book stores, book stores, and gaming stores. And a hoagie sandwich shop once. Now he writes and edits all sorts of things. He loves comics, LEGOs, books, games (analog and video), Doctor Who, sandwiches, and his wife, Felicia. Not in that order, though.