Developed by Rose City Games, The World Next Door is perhaps best known around these parts as VIZ Media’s first foray into video game publishing. The narrative-focused action-adventure delivers on a few levels—especially in terms of its world design, character art, and some of the mechanics within its Shrines—but the potential that remains may be the most interesting aspect.
Every so often, humans get to cross over into the mystical world of Emrys to take part in a spectacular festival. Mask firmly in place, Jun is one such human, but her tale doesn’t end when it’s time to cross back over to our world. Distracted and feeling adventurous amidst a group of newfound teen creature friends, Jun ends up missing her chance to return, leaving her stuck in Emrys with no way to safely go home. If she doesn’t get back in a few days, she’ll die, so it’s up to her and her new crew to devise a way to open the portal and save Jun so she can live to hang another day.
In the opening moments, The World Next Door is all about meeting creatures and discovering an assortment of clashing personalities that make up the core friend group. As different as they all are, they agree that saving Jun is of the utmost importance, so they decide to visit a series of Shrines in an effort to unlock the portal once more. These Shrines aren’t safe havens by any stretch of the imagination, though. Each of the four you’ll encounter are filled with vicious enemies and a boss monster, all of which must be defeated using the real hook of the action: Match-three-style spellcasting.
I decided to go into this game completely blind, so the battle system came as a pleasant surprise. Jun is free to move throughout the battle arenas, which are peppered with tiles emblazoned with runes that correspond to specific spells. Match three or more red runes, for instance, and you’ll shoot a massive fireball at the nearest enemy. Runes can be moved from one tile to another, so the trick lies in clustering as many as possible together to increase damage or healing stats. Spells also work better when cast adjacent to certain runes, and you can even arrange assist tiles in various patterns to call upon party members to help with a devastating attack or a last minute heal.
It all works well enough, and the battles can get pretty exciting as the difficulty continues to increase. Later Shrines introduce enemies that can mess with Jun even more, including specters with the ability to activate tiles and turn them against her or change them up completely. Bosses have other tricks up their sleeves, and the final encounter turns everything you’ve learned up to that point into a fast and furious affair. Feverishly running from tile to tile and trying not to bungle a spell is a thrill, but shortly after the battles get to that point, The World Next Door is over.
I had a feeling I was creeping toward the conclusion, mostly due to the structure of Jun’s quest to get back home, but I was still a little surprised to see the credits roll. Despite the fact that she needed to return as soon as possible, I wanted to spend more time in Emrys and see what kind of creative spins on the match-three formula awaited in other areas. As it stands, there’s just the academy hub area, which is made up of a few key spots, and a handful of brief Shrines. What’s in place, though, is a beautifully designed world conveyed through colorful art and a world-crossing conceit that begs for further exploration.
Another aspect I’d love to see more of involves the isolated, combat-free puzzle rooms. These serve two purposes, seamlessly teaching players how to fight more effectively in a safe area while providing a brief brain teaser that can be retried as many times as necessary. Learning how to be efficient in battle makes later fights more manageable, and I think there’s a lot of space to expand upon these concepts beyond a disguised tutorial. On the topic of difficulty, The World Next Door has an optional feature I really appreciate just for the fact that it exists. Similar to games like Celeste, there’s an Assist Mode you can toggle on or off at any given moment, which is great for players who aren’t very good at the puzzle fighting but want to see the story through to the end.
Rose City Games presents an interesting if limited vision with The World Next Door. Outside of a few hangups, I enjoyed my time in Emrys, and if anything it has me most interested in where the developers go from here. If a return trip is ever planned, hopefully they’ll give us some more time to soak in the scenery and fully explore this promising and unique style of supernatural puzzle-casting action.
Publisher: VIZ Media
Developer: Rose City Games
System(s): PC, Mac, Switch
Available: March 28