The world is ending, get some candles.
This week, I decided to do a double-shot on two games that have unique art styles and a penchant for cosmic horror. With big names like Call of Cthulu tackling the theme on the AAA stage, itâ€™s always interesting to see what a smaller team (in World of Horrorâ€™s case, a single person) can accomplish with similar ideas.
WORLD OF HORROR. The ritual Iâ€™d performed hadnâ€™t worked. Iâ€™d scrambled around the crumbling school looking for the right objects, wading through viscous black goo and fighting a demon-masked student in the process. My ankle was broken, and Iâ€™d taken a few hits in the fightâ€”I was ready to get out of there. But the ritual didnâ€™t work, and the woman with scissors found me.
World of Horror is a weird one. Part visual novel, part turn-based RPG and part survival horror, itâ€™s a series of individual stories inspired by classic cosmic horror and, more immediately, the works of legendary horror manga creator Junji Ito. Made solely by Polish developer Panstasz, itâ€™s one of the most complete horror packages Iâ€™ve played in recent memory.
It's a game dripping with far more atmosphere and depth than the itch.io page would have you believe. Every vignette fleshes out its twisted world a little further, every monster encounter cranking up the dread another few notches. A lot of the artwork is static, but the style is so lovingly recreated that you can almost feel it writhing under the surface. The 1-bit aesthetic is reminiscent of Lucas Popeâ€™s Return of the Obra Dinn, but itâ€™s used with a bit more artistic flair here.
The demo I played is still early â€” the UI needs a lot of work and a tutorial would be niceâ€”but it shows a tonne of promise. Like Pamali, which I wrote about earlier this month, Iâ€™m excited to see where the rest of the planned stories will take the game, and whether the core concept will buckle under the weight of so much mechanical depth. Toilet Ghost is a great name for an enemy, though.
THE SHROUDED ISLE. As an older release, I had slightly higher expectations going into The Shrouded Isle. Like World of Horror, itâ€™s a game that does a lot with a little. The colour palette is limited to sickly greens, and rough shapes make up the town like carvings on stone. This is a game devoid of hope, each successive season making your efforts to survive all more desperate. Will you sacrifice the Blackborn girl, risking their ire to bolster the townâ€™s obedience? Or will you instead kill Miko Cadwell, ensuring the citizens remain disciplined for a few more months? A single misstep can snowball your cult into premature oblivion, so youâ€™d best spin those plates carefully.
Despite some UI oddities and a lack of early-game explanation, this is an exceptionally moody game that gets better with every run. Thereâ€™s not much by way of narrative, but itâ€™s the inter-family conflicts building up over time that really sell the atmosphere. Itâ€™s still cosmic horror, but more subdued and prophetic. Youâ€™re preparing for the end times, not trying to get through them â€” always suggestive of something bigger, without lifting the veil.
Erica Juneâ€™s art direction is stellar. What sheâ€™s managed to accomplish with a relatively limited toolset and scope is astounding. Likewise, the music (composed by Francois-Xavier Bilodeau) is a mix of foreboding beats and orchestral whirls like something youâ€™d hear in The Binding of Isaac. Iâ€™ve had the main theme stuck in my head for weeks. The Shrouded Isle isnâ€™t elaborate, and neither is it reaching for something bigger. It knows exactly what tone itâ€™s going for and sticks with it to great effect.