Jun has dreamed of going to Emyrs – a parallel world inhabited by magical creature. When she wins the opportunity to visit for a day, she’s excited to spend some time with her online friend, Liza, and experience this new place. Unfortunately, a rebellious trip to a forbidden shrine botches plans to get Jun back home in time, trapping her. Even worse, humans can’t survive long in Emyrs, effectively sentencing Jun to a quick death unless they can come up with a plan.
Each day, Jun can text 3 friends for a little insight, and then she’s off on her own to explore the area. By interacting with different characters, you can unlock fairly easy and fun sidequests, and some extra dialogue, but the game doesn’t force you to do these. Still, they’re worth it! For a little extra time wandering around town, you can see a few interesting little stories that make your experience in Emyrs even more interesting.
The fighting style in The World Next Door is a surprisingly fresh twist on match-three mechanics. You and the enemy are on an arena made of various tile types. Three or more of the same type form an attack (or sometimes various other moves, such as healing). To help facilitate their win, players can swap tiles as necessary. This is mixed with real-time mechanics where enemies are attacking you and moving across the arena as well. The result is both familiar and new – it’s easy to get used to, but should feel fresh and fun for most players. As enemy strategies change, you’ll find different strategies and understand which tiles are best for which approach. On some fights, it can be a little frustrating and clunky, though it’s worth noting that there’s an option to nullify all damage.
Honestly, I would have enjoyed a bigger range of difficulty levels, though I did appreciate that there was a quick and easy option when I was trying to work on my review – I prefer to play games through normally, but a the end of the day the important thing is to experience as much of the game as possible. It can be changed at any time – having trouble on one boss but don’t want to play everything on easy? That’s fine!
In my #loveindies write-up, I mentioned an issue on controller, where the character frequently lagged while moving. Fortunately it turned out to be an outside issue – once I had a working controller, the gameplay felt smooth and fluid.
If there’s a place where the game falls flat, it’s in the storyline. Emyrs is beautiful and interesting, and each character has a unique design. Everyone will be able to see themselves in someone. The lore behind Earth and Emyrs is fascinating – even moreso when you start looking into shrines and discover journals, and grievances, and magic. Soon, you discover that Jun’s journey to Emyrs wasn’t a lucky chance. It was orchestrated, as was the incident that caused her to be stuck there.
All of these are great beginnings for a story, but in the entire playtime of the game, they’re barely fleshed out. The lore of Emyrs is strangely empty, and Jun’s story ends with quite a whimper. After looking in forums online I discovered that if you complete a sidequest which I missed, you find out some more information, but even then it’s not much. It’s unfortunate, because this beautifully drawn game with its fascinating premise was something I was looking so forward to, but at the end all I felt was a touch of disappointment and the need to know more.
I’d love to see a follow-up to The World Next Door. It’s certainly a gem in the making. In its current form, however, it feels unfinished. Still, with all its creativity, beautiful art and music, and great character design, it definitely has put Rose City Games on my watch list for future releases.