The World Next Door makes a great first impression with its unique character designs and interesting art style, which is a pleasant blend of mystical, rustic fantasy elements and modern urban sensibilities. The environments are vibrant and detailed, with lovingly designed NPCs inhabiting the world. However, there are not enough of them.
While absolutely beautiful, the world feels oddly empty as you move from area to area, even places such as the market that are typically a hub of activity in any other game. Just a handful of additional NPCs would have made the world of Emrys feel more alive. The World Next Door is a pretty package disguising a lack of functional content…
The mechanical gameplay is a variation on the match-3 formula, asking you to line up sets of colors to trigger magic attacks against your enemies. It is clunky in execution, mainly due to character movement being sluggish, but functions well enough to get the job done most of the time. One big problem is that you cannot move past the enemy models. When you dash past them they still get an attack off on you 100% of the time, which is frustrating. Sometimes you get stuck on the enemy models due to the frequently cramped combat areas.
The stage design is usually too small for the number of enemies that are set against you, causing you to collide into them since you cannot dash over holes in the ground to bypass to safety, meaning you are easily body blocked into corners by the enemy AI. It is not a very smooth experience to say the least. The World Next Door feels like it is meant to be carried by its plot and dialogue. Unfortunately those fall short as well.
The store page boasts an immersive story, but there are several elements of the plot that simply do not make sense and take the player out of the experience. The first I noticed is that many of Jun’s conversation options do not to fit her personality. During the intro she is characterized as an enthusiastic Emrys fangirl obsessed with everything Emrys-related. Jun’s dialogue is consistently excited and bubbly, so having conversations options that are suddenly mean, sarcastic, or fearful of Emrys culture just doesn’t make sense. Different variations on friendly, open minded, or curious answers might have made more sense for Jun while still allowing the player some agency.
Another immersion breaker is the lack of population in what is essentially supposed to be a bustling university town. Allegedly there are classes full of Emrys teens and a whole set of dorms, however you only every interact with your immediate friend group and a small cast of a few other NPCs– some important, some just quest givers. You never see adults or teachers, whom would be a great help to the teens as they try to rectify the dire situation the main character has encountered.
Not to mention that there is no security escort for a human who is supposed to return to the portal at an incredibly specific time for a very serious reason. Somehow one of the Emrys teens manages to find a secret which apparently no one else on the planet has ever noticed before, that will fix everything, and your task becomes to complete a set of associated objectives.
I would not describe The World Next Door as necessarily “bad” across the board, but it is heavily lacking in areas. It has a lot of unfulfilled potential and I hope to see an update at some point that fleshes it out a little. This game feels like it should have been a mobile release at a lower price point. My biggest gripe is the clumsiness of the match-3 gameplay itself. You would think it would be difficult to mess up such a widely used, traditional formula, and yet they did. When it works, it is alright but not satisfying, and when it doesn’t work about a third of the time, the game feels plain broken.
These broken moments hamper player enjoyment enough to elicit a rating of 5/10 from me. I would not recommend playing this game unless you are particularly attracted by the aesthetic of Lord Gris’s vibrant character design. It would be worth purchasing on deep discount sale though, if you like the look of it.
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