My first thought when I learned about this game was that it simply looks stunning, given it’s an indie game. While not every part of the gameplay sounded appealing to me at first, I found it very interesting after having played it for myself. The World Next Door is a fairly short game which combines both Visual Novel and Action together along with a unique take on the ‘Match-3’ mechanic. It was surprisingly fun, with a selection of unique characters to interact with and a colourful cast of otherworldly creatures.
The story follows Jun, who happens to win a lottery and is allowed to visit the “world next door” known as Emrys, a world full of magical creatures which only opens up once every twenty years. While fooling around with her magical friends, they decide to travel to a shrine to hang out. Suddenly, an enemy appears and Jun gets cut off from the others. After finally reunited with them, they noticed the portal to Jun’s world has closed down and everyone agrees to look for a way to send Jun back home, as humans can only survive for a short period whilst within this enchanted land.
Shortly after Jun defeats a big evil creature, a symbol on the portal begins to glow. Realising they can activate the portal one symbol at a time, Jun and her friends travel to various shrines in hope that they can reopen the portal and send her back home before time runs out.
One thing I immediately noticed is that there are a lot of choices available in The World Next Door which affects how Jun reacts, it felt like I was able to form her personality based on the choices I made as they were all very different from each other. Some choices are rather blunt yet others are cheerful or shy, therefore I was able to decide what kind of person Jun was and whom she disliked or liked. While it does not feel like the choices affect the story, it will affect the relationship of your friends – which was a very refreshing way of implementing choices.
At the beginning of the day, you can message up to three of your friends with your phone. I found the conversations quite entertaining and light-hearted. There was a specific charm to this feature as it reminded me of myself, casually chatting with my friends. That said, you don’t have to worry about missing important dialogue as the purpose of the chats are solely to build up a better relationship with the selected recipient, yet it also opens the game up for replayability should you wish to choose different responses to them.
The gameplay is fairly simple in The World Next Door, all you have to do is to move at least three of the same symbols into the same place to be able to cast your attack. Depending on the symbol, Jun casts a different spell with different outcomes such as healing, stunning or shooting fireballs. It’s also possible to move more than three symbols next to each other to cast a more powerful attack. If you cast spells in a certain order your damage will increase even more.
However, this does not mean that the battles are easy in The World Next Door as some fights are quite tricky at times. It’s important to be able to multitask between bringing together symbols, casting the skill/spell and avoiding the attacks from the enemies. If you wish to play more casually, there is also an assist mode where Jun is unable to take any damage. This means you can concentrate on casting the spells and not worry about dying. For those not playing within the assist mode, after you’ve been fighting for a while you’ll find wells to refill your health points.
The World Next Door doesn’t have a levelling system, instead, you’ll be able to bring more of your friends into battle with you after progressing further into the game. Each friend has an individual skill which you can cast during the fight such as healing or offensive attacks like shooting balls. They all alternate in skill levels as well, so you’ll find some of your colleague’s attacks are much more powerful than the others. However, the symbols for your friend’s attacks tend to show up less than the standard ones.
Additionally, there are various optional side quests available in The World Next Door. While they are not important, and easily skippable, I ended up finding joy in helping out different people. There is a nice variety of quests, some are quite short while others can’t be completed within an in-game day. I had to patiently wait until I was able to see the outcome of some of the side stories, this was quite suspenseful when I was trying to play cupid and get two people together.
While puzzles only take up a small part of The World Next Door, I found them quite fun and was proud of myself after having solved one. The cool thing about the puzzles is that they are optional and if you are having trouble with them (although the game gives you helpful hints) they are easily skippable.
I would like to mention that I found the keybindings quite awkward. It was very hard for me to dash and combine symbols at the same time. Although it could be a personal preference, I found playing with a gamepad was a lot more comfortable and I wish there was an option to be able to change the default bindings for the keyboard.
It also appears there is only one main ending available for The World Next Door. Although this sounds very linear at first, it is possible to miss certain events and narrative with a single playthrough. Therefore, there is a reason to replay the game in order to experience different interactions with the characters and the mysterious world.
I have to admit, I found the art style very lovely and I loved the colourful themes, even at night. While The World Next Door does not contain a complex visual style, it is absolutely charming in its own way and it was fun exploring the magical and mysterious world. The World Next Door is not voiced but instead contains a few one-liners and grunts when the characters have some dialogue. I found the one-liners the characters were making were a little repetitive as it began to interrupt my immersion after a while.
Ultimately, while The World Next Door is quite short, it ended up being such a lovely game to me. This game is kept rather light-hearted, and while there are choices implemented, they won’t make a big impact on the story. Although this might turn some people off, I still liked the way the choices were presented as I felt like I was actually able to form Jun’s personality. The relationships between the characters and its storytelling are definitely the main aspect of the game and I found The World Next Door is a quite relaxing and uncomplicated game with beautiful art and a unique battle system.
**On a side note, VIZ has just announced that a new Versus mode has just been added. This will allow you to play locally against a friend as you both move around the combat arena and cast spells at each other.**