The World Next Door, from developer Rose City Games, is a new narrative driven indie action-adventure title that I’ve had my eye on for some time. It attempts to blend visual-novel elements and powerful storytelling with a wholly unique puzzle battle system that takes my favorite puzzle genre of match-3 and melds it more into of an action puzzle sequence. Thankfully, The World Next Door largely succeeds in most of what it tries to accomplish with only a few blemishes.
The story revolves around Earth and another dimension connected by a portal that only opens once a year. The main protagonist, Jun, is chosen to visit the magical world for the day, but while exploring she and her friends get trapped and don’t make it back to the portal in time. They then discoed that they must activate all four shrines in order to reopen the portal and get back home. There were many entertaining elements to the narrative and while it was linear and followed a set path, you do get to choose your own dialogue and story choices. It never felt like the choices made much of a difference in the end though, and in effect made the ending feel very sudden.
Choosing between the different dialogue choices was straightforward, represented by little faces that tell you the tone of what you’re saying. All the dialogue options you can choose from are well written and written in the exact way your character will say it. That being said, you would think the voice acting would perfectly reflect what the choices are, but unfortunately there’s no voice acting. There is so much exposition that voice-acting would have been greatly appreciated with only the character Aki being voiced which was a strange choice. Regardless, the story was still enjoyable even if most of the characters were archetypal.
Artistically, The World Next Door features some wonderful character designs by the artist Lord Gris. They all looked very distinct and unique, made up for the fact that their personalities were somewhat generic. Bright colors were juxtaposed with a dark underlying tones to provide a great contrast the animations on-screen. The music on the other hand was very appropriate to the setting and represented what being in a dreamlike world most likely encapsulate.
The World Next Door features a combat system that took match-3 puzzle mechanics and an action focus using your character to select different tiles to perform attacks. It’s very unique and I enjoyed how it allowed for more variety in the battle mechanics. When you walk into a room with enemies the floor tiles glow with different colored runes in which you have to connect in order to attack your opponent. The more you connect together the stronger your attack will be.
There were six different types of rooms and they all have different effects in combat, which adds a really nice level of depth and strategy in how you fight each enemy type. Different special attacks can also be utilized that your party members can perform if you manage to get their rune patterns. I appreciated how much thought went into how the runes work and how much space there was to strategize your next move. This is especially true since it could have easily been a really simple hack-and-slash beat ‘em up, but instead the developer thought of a wholly unique concept and largely succeeded in delivering a satisfying gameplay experience.
Overall, I can tell by how lovingly crafted The World Next Door’s gameplay and world were formed that this was a passion project with more care put into the overall presentation than most indie titles. The artwork is beautiful and I enjoyed the variation in puzzle gameplay that was a breath of fresh air. While the story ends abruptly and not necessarily satisfyingly, it was a still a fun world to experience with wholly unique characters and setting. The dialogue choices add replay value to a roughly 5 hour journey with side quests also adding to the experience, and the combat was fun to experiment with. The World Next Door is definitely recommended if you want something different in the puzzle or action genres.