Sunday, December 13, 2020

World of Horror - Some Thoughts

Sup. I've been playing World of Horror recently. At the time of this writing, the game is still in early access, but mostly feature complete and well polished minus the save system. Still, it's great fun.

If you haven't heard of this game- it's great. It sets out to be a Japanese-ish computer adventure game from the 80s heavily influenced by
Junji Ito and it succeeds at that 100%. One of my favorite things is the name- it's the WORLD of Horror. It's not just a single case file, but many events linking together a loose story, while you battle against an inhuman force beyond your ability. It's exactly as though you were thrown into an Ito manga and were genre savy- but brave enough to stick around and actually try to stop whatever is happening. It's a bit of a Roguelite adventure game, with turn based combat and random story events. I'd highly recommend it just to support the developer if anything- small game with a big heart.

But the primary purpose of this blogpost was to talk about some of the mechanics from World of Horror that I really liked. World of Horror is somewhat similar to a TTRPG in many ways- stat rolls, combat systems, procedurally generated story, you get the idea.

For starters, the way your followers or companions who you have join you during an adventure is great. They don't directly add to your combat power, nor do they show up to help you with the weird shit so much. Instead, they act as a stat bonus (or sometimes negative- I try to kill these ones off as soon as possible of course) and can be used in combat as a one off attack (which always kills them) or they can be used to “distract” an enemy, which has a chance to kill them and grants you some more combat speed for the encounter. I think this design to hirelings is really interesting and, in the grand scheme, kind of unique. Having an extra hireling or follower who doesn't directly double your player's ability to do stuff is pretty nice, it's the sort of abstraction in gameplay I think works well. You can also consider that a highly charismatic character could have an entourage of a bunch of helpers, but all they do is add maybe a small bonus to a roll or act as a meat shield for an attack. I think that would be a nice way to “balance” out the player characters with a lot of charisma versus the ones with a little that doesn't involve just letting them have a ton more powerful helpers. Of course, balance isn't necessarily a primary goal of a game, which is why I put it in quotes, but it's still nice to strive for a “balance”.

Secondly, the combat has some really unique aspects to it in the form of the “religious aspects”. You fight ghosts almost totally different from other enemies. You can't just attack ghosts, you need to actually leave them offerings, appease their spirits, or perform a combination of claps and bows, like bowing at the waist. I'm not exactly sure what the correct combination of claps and bows actually does, since it seems you can do it on regular monsters and not just ghosts, and I've never been able to successful do it since it's kind of hard. I hope it's not cultural insensitive but that seems extremely culturally Japanese feeling, perfectly fitting for the game.

But my absolute favorite mechanic is something so minor, so abstract, that I was originally going to just name this as a “Vagueposting” article. But it's the “Power” stat. All enemies have a power stat. What does it do? Well in World of Horror, all it says it does is that it makes the enemy harder for you to hit with your attacks. That's it. Not a approximation of their “level”, not a damage or spell power modifier- It's essentially just dodge chance. In the tutorial case, you can perform a ritual (correctly) to weaken the scissor woman. If you do it incorrectly, she has a higher power and is harder to defeat.

I have no idea why I find this so fascinating. I have a weird thing for games with “Power” as a sort of generic stat, or all encompassing thing, but to me in World of Horror this seems perfectly fitting. Like the more powerful something is, the more impossible it is for a vunerable human like yourself to actually fight it. It's not that it necessarily dealing more damage to you, because enemies in this game can do more things then just damage your basic health or sanity. It's more like it's “presence” is more powerful. Harder to destroy and physically harm, it's pull on the world is supernaturally stronger. While it rubs slightly against the concept of a clear division of ghost enemies (which can't be hurt by physical attacks at all) and more regular monsters or creatures which can be anything from weird mutant people to serial killers to otherworldly entities. The more powerful they are, the more they transcend the physical reality you live in, the less you can do against them. Like they seep into the shadows of the room, their malovelnce almost makes them intangible. Almost like they are more of a presence then a flesh and blood creature you ever hope to fight.

But now, let's talk about a few negative things. As far as an “early access” indie game goes, World of Horror is really well polished. But the spread of content is weird to me. It feels like the developer put a lot of effort to finish a lot of things that aren't as impactful as the obvious, main things that everyone will notice. If that doesn't make sense, let me be more specific. The game has multiple characters with multiple costumes, you can also pick from several backgrounds which have unique events and parameters that make each run harder- this is great. But the game only has a total of about 12 case files, which is something you will need to be doing over and over again on any given run.

Edit: While writing this, the developer came in and dropped a new case file and a bunch of new events, so that's one me I guess. Like I said, this game is in development and has some great vision behind it!

The case files I think are the worst thing about the game; not the files themselves; most range from decent to really good. The idea to give case files multiple endings was brilliant- it adds to replay value and gives you an incentive to play a specific way if you're looking to get everything. But you have to do five of them every run, which always ends at the lighthouse. Because of this, you'll be doing almost half of the case files every single time you play, so the more runs you do (and since you'll die a lot) you'll be seeing the same cases over and over.

So here's my suggestion- make it so you only do 4 case files. This would cut down on seeing the same cases over and over, though obviously that would make the game much easier. In that regard I could see an overall increase in either the amount of Doom you get from events, or cutting down the amount of free healing you get after a case file. First you get a free +1/+1 for simply solving a mystery, then you get ANOTHER +1/+1 for taking a bath, and finally you get to pick another point to restore for either Stamina (health) or Reason (Sanity). This means you're getting a total of 5 stat points restored for completing a case file!

Second; the above issue is also present for Doom. In my first playthrough where I got to the lighthouse, I had about 90% Doom. I was excited to see the end of the game so close to the wire; but then I saw that I was getting Doom for climbing the staircase at the end even without failing a skill check. This I thought was terrible- since all games must end at the lighthouse, and you can't go into town or do anything (unless if you have an item or spell or something that reduces Doom, getting to 100% Doom isn't actually an automatic game over. Have a certain 90%+ Doom is actually a game over, since it's unavoidable Doom. This I felt wasn't very fun, but it's ultimately a minor complaint, as any playthrough where you have such a high level of Doom you're probably screwed anyway.

Finally; the events. After finishing a mystery, the game will have random events that can make it more difficult. I think these are great, but my problem with them is that they are not at all “balanced” with each other. What I mean is that some are relatively minor, and some are almost crippling. If after doing the first mystery my event is “Contained Water”, I just restart my run. Why? Because that event prevents you from bathing between missions. This bath restores +1/+1 to your stats, and you get to pick either +1 Reason, +1 Stamina, or +5 XP (usually not worth it unless if it's your first bath when you full health anyway). As such, this one is pretty terrible to get, especially early. However some of them, like the TV signal going out, doesn't do anything as far as I am aware!

So here's my suggestion for this- make it so finishing a mystery doesn't actually restore any stamina or reason. Why? Because this makes your recovery more reliant on the events, and ultimately more difficult. Instead, you can both bathe once after finishing a mission, and relax once, which uses the TV. Taking a bath restores +1 Stamina, and then you can pick another option- one option can be to restore another +1 Stamina (hot water?), and one option could be to soak (removing a minor injury). This would better fit the theme of the bath being your physical recovery. You could also keep in the option to bottle up some bath water (which I thought was hilarious, until I saw that it just gives you the “bottle of water” item you can drink- so stupid! Make it so you can sell your bath water to a perv. Much better and more fitting). Then, the TV acts as your ability to recover your reason. You automatically restore 1 Reason, then can watch a comedy (+1 more reason), watch the news (+5 xp perhaps?). I'd also like to see an option here to reduce Doom, perhaps watching a nature documentary reduces Doom somehow, or calling in things of what you found to science organizations as they work to understand it.

The reason why I suggest these changes is because at the end of the day, it's actually less stats total (+2/+2 maximum instead of the +2/+2/+1 choice of stat you get as vanilla) and makes the random events less totally punishing. You could also take the above and make it so one recovery action (bath or relaxing) can be done to recover the other stat as an option. So like in vanilla, you can take a bath to restore +1 Stamina, but can choose to use cold water which restores +1 Reason. This way, if the water is contaminated or the signal goes out, you still have a small, steady supply of healing, it's just slowing dwindling. This I feel matches the game's tone a lot better.

Regardless of my minor nitpicks; World of Horror is a great game. Even if the words “indie early access” frighten you, I already put about fourteen hours into the game with what it has to offer already. The music and art is enough to push it to yet another level- and I haven't even checked out the modding scene yet. This game is great and I'm eagerly watching its development- I can't recommend it enough.

1 comment:

  1. The lack of official scenarios has kept me off buying it so far, but I know there's already a sizable mod community for it so that's not an unaddressed problem, at least.