In spite of a novel combat system, the door to this world never fully opens.
The World Next Door is an interesting mix of a variety of genres. It’s part adventure and visual novel, but also part puzzle and RPG. It ultimately feels like an experience that doesn’t fully make use of the mechanics and elements it introduces, and I finished the game feeling surprised and disappointed that there wasn’t more here.
You play as Jun, a human who enters a realm of magic and demons as part of a special event where a portal opens up between their world and ours. The portal that would take Jun home closes and so you need to explore brief dungeons to try and reactivate it. After meeting up with Liza, a magical being with whom Jun had already been in communication and befriended, you are introduced to other bipedal beings reminiscent of typical horror-fantasy creatures like golems and zombies. Of course, everyone you meet is also a high-school student, and the narrative parts of the game take place outside their school and a couple surrounding areas. While there isn’t much to explore outside of the dungeons, there is some good writing in the character interactions, and you are given options regarding whom you want to communicate with and who will assist you in the dungeons.
The four dungeons to explore are just a short tram ride from the school. Each of these features a series of connected rooms—some with enemy encounters—and culminates in a boss fight. Combat revolves around matching differently-colored symbols on the floor and then activating them to cast a spell. Matching three red symbols launches a fireball at a foe, while matching three green symbols restores part of your health. The minor creatures you fight don’t have a lot of variety, but they can be more difficult to fight based on the room layout and when you have to take on two or three at the same time. If you match more than three symbols together and then cast your spell, it will do extra damage or have a stronger effect, and activating sets of symbols that are touching each other will also amplify your spells. The combat is certainly one of the most engaging parts of The World Next Door, but there isn’t much of it, and only the boss fights throw new wrinkles into the playing space.
One of my major concerns is that the RPG elements aren’t utilized very well or with much thought. There are sidequests, but completing them doesn’t really yield any reward. While there may be some dialogue or a small story beat attached to completing these quests, I never found anything that really compelled me to complete them all. What’s worse is that you can’t return to complete side quests once you finish the game as the autosave just takes you back to the final scene. In addition, Jun collects items and has 250 hit points, but what the items do—if anything—isn’t made clear, and nothing I found increases the number of hit points. In essence, The World Next Door introduces RPG elements but fails to use them in a meaningful way.
While the storybook art style and writing boost the overall experience, there isn’t enough substance for me to recommend The World Next Door. I did enjoy aspects of what I played, but there is a brevity and incompleteness that holds it back from being more than just a unique experiment. The puzzle-based combat is a really cool idea that needed to be used more and in different ways. If this one sounds interesting to you, I would wait for some kind of discount before jumping in.