While an unknown entity outside of Japan, Corpse Party has spawned three manga along with two games in Japan. The latest port/remake of the first game, Corpse Party Blood Covered Repeated Fear (called just Corpse Party here) is the first to make the trip overseas. My first exposure to Corpse Party was my stumbling on the fan translation of the Windows version. I’m glad XSEED took the translation of the PSP version into their hands or else we might’ve never gotten to play this in English, or at least, we would’ve had to wait a lot longer.
Corpse Party centers around a group of students at Kisaragi High School. They perform the Sachiko ritual in a bid to make their friendship last forever as one member of their group is transferring to another school the next day. The ritual goes awry, and they’re transported to Heavenly Host Elementary School, which was closed down and razed after a series of unfortunate events, including one that ended in the worst way possible. To make matters worse, Kisaragi was built on the same site where Heavenly Host formerly stood. The group has to find a way to escape the school while avoiding grisly fates similar to the many who were trapped in the school before them. The story unfolds at a good pace and keeps you engaged from beginning to end, and the characters are developed well enough to make them seem distinct.
The translation is top notch. Considering the nature of the plot, there aren’t many opportunities for humor. However, a few made their way in while still feeling natural, such as the the undoubtedly memorable line, “I’m gonna go butter up my pooper with it real good!” Though not all of the gore is rendered onscreen, the descriptions paint a vivid picture in your mind. The random flavor text from examining objects and corpses also contribute to the creepy atmosphere while wandering around the school.
The bulk of the action is rendered in 16-bit sprites, though there are also stills portraying key events. The sprites work well, as they provide just enough detail for your imagination to go off of while also leaving room for it to run wild. They also provide some distance from the viscera that realistic renderings wouldn’t provide. At the same time, it’s sort of disturbing to see little chibi sprites horribly mutilated, so the potential for horror is still there. That being said, the RPG Maker roots are clearly visible in the graphics. The stills provide more detail and are well drawn over all, but they leave enough blanks for you to fill in. Details like faces that randomly appear when you examine a cabinet full of hair help add to the unnerving atmosphere wherein anything can pop out at you unexpectedly.
The use of audio is excellent. The sound effects supplement and augment your imagination in fleshing out what’s happening. Thanks to the binaural recording, playing this with headphones provides the aural equivalent version of 3D. In fact, I’d go as far as to say earphones are a ncessity to get the full experience. Disembodied voices echo from side to side, and when a character is on the phone, the voice of the person on the other end localizes to one ear. Sound effects like footsteps and the squelching of flesh stand out. Every line in the game is voiced, and even if you can’t understand Japanese, the emotions are conveyed well. The soundtrack is solid and enhance the mood of a given situation. The first chapter’s main BGM, what you hear while walking around, is one of my favorite tracks in the game. The first note of the infirmary’s theme sets an ominous tone as does the rest of the theme. While wandering the halls of the school, the music would sometimes fade, and the lack of music creeped me out.
In between the story scenes, the game plays like an adventure game except you control the characters directly. The controls are simple: the d-pad moves the characters (the analog nub isn’t used at all), X examines things and selects options, O cancels, and triangle brings up the menu. Movement can feel slow, and a sprint option would’ve been nice, but it doesn’t drag the pacing down much. Even though characters have HP (30 for everyone), that doesn’t actually come into effect except for a couple of parts. At times you’ll have to dodge pursuers because if you’re caught, it’s an instant game over. You wander about the school exploring your surroundings, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. Each chapter has its own set of saves, and you get five for each. The only way to proceed to the next chapter is to reach the true ending of the current chapter.
The gameplay portions can feel a bit archaic, but they do help break up the text. Controlling the characters directly provides more immersion in exploring the school than just reading text, though of course there’s plenty of that here as well. It’s generally easy to discern what you have to do to progress, though there is a particularly obtuse trigger for the true ending in the first chapter, as well as a spot in the fourth chapter where you just mash X until you find it. Fortunately, such instances don’t occur often.
One thing I wish the developers had included was a fast-forward or skip scenes function. 999 and Fate/Extra implement the fast-forwarding of text, which allows you to speed through scenes you’ve already seen more quickly. Both also let you review previous dialogue in the current conversation in case you skipped through something too quickly. Given how text-heavy Corpse Party is and that you often have to go through the same scenes while trying to see every ending, it could’ve really used a function like this.
I kept wanting to play to find out what happened next, and the generally macabre theme pulled me in as well. I’m also the type to want to watch bad endings first and save the best (relatively speaking in this game) for last, so I’d want to keep playing until I’d seen all the endings for each chapter. Some of the wrong ends were affecting enough that I had to put the game down for a bit either because it was that disturbing or that tragic or both. However, I always found myself going back to the game. Part of that is due to the unsettling atmosphere and my being a glutton for that sort of thing even though I admittedly lack an iron constitution. Another reason is to see what happens in every ending and get that much closer to the true and relatively less tragic ending. The wrong ends can provide a voyeuristic (or horrifying, depending on you perspective) view of the horrible fate befalling the characters. They can also give a bit of insight into characters and plot. In addition, attaining wrong ends unlocks extra chapters, which are mostly short scenes giving some characters a bit of development, including characters that you only see nametags and/or corpses of in the main game.
It would’ve been nice to have more save slots for each chapter, especially chapters with a good number of endings to unlock. However, if you save and alternate slots often, you should be able to access most endings without losing too much playtime. One thing to note is that there’s one name tag that can’t be collected due to a glitch. However, you don’t unlock anything by collecting all the tags, so you’re not missing anything, except perhaps satisfying your inner completionist, in not being able to get that last tag.
While this may appeal to a rather niche audience, those who like horror, adventure games, and games that are story heavy will find a lot to like in Corpse Party. The graphics and sound firmly establish an unsettling atmosphere, and the binaural sounds adds another dimension to the voices and sound effects. The plot is well paced and keeps you engaged from beginning to end, and the characters are developed enough to elicit a reaction when witnessing the more gruesome endings. The superb localization conveys these well and it enhances the overall experience. Unless you’re averse to horror or visual novel-length text in games, it’s well worth a look.
* Replay value with multiple endings, extra chapters, and name tag collecting
* Very solid sound effects and music
* Creepy atmosphere and compelling plot
* Lack of fast forward, skip, and review text functions
* A glitch prevents a nametag from being collected
* Can be a bit obtuse to find the trigger for progression
FINAL SCORE: B+
Disclosure: A review code was provided by XSEED Games. At the time of this review, the game was completed with all endings unlocked and extra chapters played through.