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The RPS Advent Calendar 2023, December 23rd

My favourite school subject is survival

A close up of Horace the Endless Bear looking at a big pile of presents with his name on, next to a plate of cookies with a glass of milk. It's the 2023 RPS Advent Calendar!
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Christmas is a time for joy and togetherness, yes, but also lends itself to strange spirits, sacrifice, and Old Gods. So if you want the world to still be here in time for you to open your presents and stuff your face with turkey and potatoes, you're going to have to climb that scary lighthouse and open the Advent Calendar door at the top.

Oh shoot, the door has five locks on it? Better hop to it, it's World Of Horror time!

A spell in World Of Horror that will grant you more teeth until the end of a case
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ysbryd Games

Alice Bee: World Of Horror came out at just the right time for me. I played a lot of big, flashy, competent games this year that were enjoyable but quite bland. Smoothed out for a frictionless experience. World Of Horror is a game that is deliberately all sharp angles that make it difficult to hold on to. In a great way, though. It's a horror roguelike-ish, in which every run at the game (which can take a few minutes or about an hour, depending on your luck) is an attempt to stop a terrible Old God from consuming the world, the entry point being the town of your school-age protagonist.

This is a fairly grasp-able horror game set up, but World Of Horror mixes things up. The Old God - which could be one of several, each time you play - is being summoned at the top of the local lighthouse, which has five locks. Each key is collected by completing the investigation of a strange case around town, also semi-randomly drawn from a pool of many options, and which are usually inspired by a Japanese yokai or the work of Junji Ito, or both. It is singularly unsettling seeing e.g. a woman with an unnatural sharp-toothed smile running from ear to ear rendered in 1bit black and white line art (which was all made in MS Paint). Or maybe it's not black and white, maybe you randomised the colour before you started and it's in grey and turquoise.

As you investigate your cases you have to visit different places around town, leading to random encounters that can damage your health or psyche, or lead to something useful. The order you do things affects your play through. If you get the case where a janitor is making the swim team into mermaids, and you pick the resolution that burns down part of the school, not only will you then be burned for the rest of that run, but you won't be able to visit that part of the school, which is where you can find gossip or potentially pick up someone to save the world with you. You can find a stuffed toy in one encounter that is useful when you're trapped in your flat with a ghost.

Getting in a fight with a horrible 'aspiring model' - a woman with a strange mask wielding a knife in World Of Horror
A case in World Of Horror where the player is trying to get to the bottom of a strange festival in a nearby town
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ysbryd Games

It's beautifully specific and idiosyncratic, which you know I love, and the number of layers you can chip away at as you play is excellent. There are spells! Weapons! Bonuses to find! World Of Horror has a lot of depth, and it's the first time that the loop of learning through failure has actually clicked with me (because elsewhere my brain is unable to get out of the groove that failure under any circumstances = bad, to be avoided). To play something so unapolagetically strange and user-unfriendly - but with design intent - in 2024 was a real blessing.

Alice0: I always found World Of Horror's pace as a roguelikelike story kinda RPG doodad meant the trial-and-error of learning everything was too off-putting to put serious time it. Playing it well feels like an exercise in playing it wrong enough to learn correct paths and actions and reactions and such. But maybe this is a problem with me and how I approach roguelikelike games. As a game to bumble through, I had a great time with World Of Horror for a while before deciding I'd had my fill. Sure, I'll never accomplish everything but I saw many terrible things and died horribly, repeatedly, and who could ask for more from encounters with the Old Gods?

Edwin: I loved the early access version of this I played back in... 2020, possibly? As Alice0 says there's a hefty element of trial-and-error but it's in keeping with the theme of "vainglorious tinkering in the face of forces beyond comprehension". What I particularly liked is the range of bespoke story setups and supporting mechanics. OK, so every yokai encounter tends to involve a fight and a bit of stat/resource management, but I remember one where you're given a whole separate mapscreen to explore. I'm looking forward to trying the full thing over Cthulhumas.

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