Viz Media is one of the most prolific names behind anime and manga distribution in the United States. Now the largest graphic novel publisher in the country, Viz has decided to stretch its legs and enter a new arena of media domination.
The World Next Door (Switch/PC/Mac) serves as Viz’s debut as a video game publisher. Developed by Rose City Games, this puzzler stars a masked girl named Jun who wins a lottery to visit another world. This magical world (literally) is known as Emerys and is home to altered, enhanced, magi-fied humanoid beings. Not like Hogwarts-style wizardry, but like an anthropomorized person who happens to have pink skin, purple hair, and a tail. While visiting Emrys and meeting her online friends for the first time in person, Jun spends a bit too much time exploring these ancient shrines and manages to miss her exit out of Emrys. With the portal to Earth closed, Jun’s fate is sealed: any human on Emrys can’t last more than a handful of days before expiring. Together, the group must figure out how they can reopen the portal between worlds and send Jun back home, or else…
On face value, the story is a simple one and doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it try to. The strength of the writing comes from the likability of the colorful cast. Their designs, from respected Instagram artist Lord Gris (@lord_gris), and personalities come across swimmingly during the course of the game. Their back and forth banter feels just the right amount of believable for high school-age kids at an academy. The characters are quite the inclusive group as well, and though I don’t want to spoil any details, there is certainly a mindful effort to represent more gender dynamics and philosophies.
Gameplay is a fascinating take on the Bejeweled-style puzzler. As Jun explores the shrines of Emrys, she is chased around by these mindless beings called Grievances. When you encounter them, you’ll discover the tiles on the ground light up with colored symbols. It is here that Jun is able to tap into the magic of Emrys, align at least 3 tiles together, and activate powerful spells to combat her foes. As one may expect, red symbols will combine to shoot off a fireball, blue will become an icy slash, and yellow electrifies those tiles on the ground to trap the monsters in place. What’s interesting is how each of the spells acts and whether it affects the enemy. For example, some quicker enemies can dodge the red fireball or the purple void attacks, but the blue ice slash can’t be blocked. And of course there are elemental strengths in play too, so an enemy obviously made of lava is obviously going to be unfazed by a fireball attack. Generally the combat is enjoyable, though my inexperience with puzzlers was obvious in the beginning. I’m not sure if it was difficulty spikes or my ineptitude that gave me such trouble with the first couple dungeons, but eventually it worked itself out and I started to look forward to the battles rather than dread them.
Overall, I think this is a step in the right direction for Viz. The anime-style, inclusive, puzzle-based format can easily appeal to the audience the company has built up over decades in the industry. The price of admission, $15 at the time of writing, is appropriate for the type of game and time until the credits roll. There is even some degree of replayability, as you are given some choices near the end that may adjust the outcome, and there are plans to add a 2-player VS mode to further extend your time with Jun and Co. Rose City Games is slated to develop two more games with Viz in the coming years and I am genuinely excited to see what’s ahead. Even if puzzlers aren’t my specialty, I’d love to learn more about Jun, her posse, and the world of Emrys in a lengthier sequel!
Disclaimer: Author was provided a review copy by Viz Media.