Corpse Party or, Corpse Party: Blood Covered – Repeated Fear as it is known in Japan, excels in just about every possible presentational aspect and creates and utterly horrifying atmosphere and feel to it that makes for an incredible horror experience. It creates a intimidating and oppressive atmosphere in addition to a strongly written and endearing cast of characters that you will want to see make it out alive. The only issue with the game was its ending, and said ending is not even that much of a problem since Corpse Party: Blood Drive has given us a much more satisfying conclusion. Also, Corpse Party doesn’t have much in terms of gameplay and is basically just an RPG Maker movie (Ala To the Moon or Actual Sunlight) without RPG Maker and higher production values, so there’s not much to talk about there.
The plot of Corpse Party stars a group of eight students and their teacher who are kept late after class in after making preparations for a school festival. It just so happens to be the day before Mayu Suzumoto, one of the eight students who was well respected and friends with most of the school, is about to transfer. Before going home, Ayumi Shinozaki, another of the eight students who has a fascination with the occult and paranormal, suggests to attempt a ritual that will make sure that they will all remain friends forever if they perform it the correct way. However, if they fail to perform the ritual correctly then something bad is said to happen. These guys, being the characters in a horror story that they are, decide to tempt fate and try it anyway. Afterwards they end up in a Heavenly Host Elementary, an ironically named environment that exists outside the real world with no way of leaving. To make things even worse, all eight of the characters are separated from each other and have to deal with the malevolent spirits, lack of food or water, and their own paranoia in order to survive and hopefully find a way out.
The game is divided into five chapters, each having the perspective of a different character and showing their attempts to both survive Heavenly Host and keep their sanity intact as they learn more about the hellish environment they are trapped in and the circumstances that lead to its creation. This allows you to simultaneously get to know your characters whilst witnessing them succumbing to the horrible fates that Heavenly Host has in store. Part of what Corpse Party does so well in terms of atmosphere is creating a cast of well developed and interesting characters that you get emotionally connected to, which causes you to easily sympathize with their plight. One would think that a ten hour game starring eight characters would not be able to develop every character to the point where you can sympathize with each one, and to be fair, some characters get more screen time than others, but even the ones with little screen time are interesting, mysterious, and add even more depth to the game’s atmosphere than it already has.
The game is also quick to let you know that is not messing around. By the end of the first chapter, you will be shown just how brutal this game is and what lengths it will go to shock and disturb you. Almost like Heavenly Host itself, the game will leave a large emotional impact on you by the time you are done with. You will see things that will make you literally stop in the middle of the game and sit there checking to make sure you are still holding a PSP within you hands.
Yet what is really great about how Corpse Party handles these scenes is how it describes in great detail the disturbing and disgusting surroundings in the game, but never actually shows you them. There is a saying I recall that goes along the lines of “the scariest things are what you cannot see,” and Corpse Party invokes this perfectly. It never relies too much on blood and gore to disturb you and never devolves into full blown torture porn. It instead knows full well that what you picture in your mind as a result of the game’s description is very likely to be much worse than anything they could have shown. At the same time, however, it does know just how much to tell you in order for you to paint that graphic picture. Unfortunately, this only applies to the PSP and 3DS versions since there are no images provided in the PC version.
It is not just in the main story line that this applies either. The equivalent to a game over screen in Corpse Party is something that more so resembles a bad ending in any other game seeing as how each unique way that you can get a game over has its own cut-scenes and descriptions as to what is happening. The writers were creative enough that one may find themselves seeking out every possible bad ending just to see what else the game as to offer. Thankfully, the game does keep track of every possible ending for each chapter. If there is one complaint that I have, however, it is that getting some of these endings can be rather cryptic. While, at first, this is more so the case with the bad endings, it eventually gets to the point where the real ending is the one that is cryptic to figure out and is something you could easily get locked out of due to missing certain sequence triggers, thus requiring you to start the entire chapter from the beginning. This is even more irritating in the PC version where you are limited to 3 save slots per chapter.
In addition to bad endings, Corpse Party also manages to turn finding the corpses of people who have died in the school into a collectathon; they certainly do not call it Corpse Party for nothing. These add even more to the eerie atmosphere of Heavenly Host Elementary as there are also graphic and surprisingly creative descriptions of how these people died, and the story behind these deaths can be quite interesting as well. What this really does, however, is show just what it is you are up against and how many people just like you have met their end.
The audio in Corpse Party is simply brilliant. The soundtrack is full of unnerving and eerie tracks that convey the mood perfectly. While they may not be the type of music you would find yourself listening to at your own leisure, it is still a challenge to pick out any song that does not send chills down your spine. The blood curdling sound effects that accompany the games most graphic scenes only further enhance the already spine chilling experience it has to offer. What is truly amazing about Corpse Party, however, is the voice acting. Corpse Party may just be one of the only games I have played where the experience would have been worse if it did not have voice acting. With video games it, more often than naught tends to be the other way around where Voice acting, at best, simply does not harm the game. In Corpse Party however, it pretty much seals the deal. The voice acting is Japanese only without an English dub if that really bothers anyone, but that is not what is important about it. It is the screams of terror and dread that are expressed incredibly well by Corpse Party’s voice actors that are not affected by any language barrier. Seeing your characters slowly lose their mind likely would have had less of an emotional impact had there been an inferior cast or none at all.
What is worth mentioning is that Corpse Party is not just disturbing and scary, but it is also a really powerful game that leaves a huge emotional impact. I do not think I can name any other game that has made me cry mid game as much as Corpse Party. Again this is a result of the fact that the game makes sure that you get attached to its characters and makes you care about what is happening. Corpse Party is indeed a very depressing game, in fact, I would even go so far as to say it is too depressing. My major complaint regarding this aspect is the ending.
This is where the content of this review will start to deviate from what was originally up on GameFAQs. That site had a “no spoilers” policy that, while understandable, also prevents in depth discussions on any potential twists that may effect the entire game. The original Corpse Party had what may have been one of the worst endings I have seen in any video game with a competent story. I was not able to talk about what it was before, but I can now.
The entire plot was based around trying to put the malevolent spirit of a young girl named Sachiko to rest so they can escape Heavenly Host and hopefully bring back the friends that died there. I have established that Corpse Party’s cast was very strongly written and one that you get easily attached to. Everything looks like it is going smoothly at first after Sachiko is finally put to rest, but the game pulls some bullshit about the Heavenly Host choosing another girl as its host just to screw over our main cast for the sake of edginess and a sequel hook. Nothing in the game prior foreshadowed this and it is contradicted by other in game lore. Regardless, you have an ending where five of the main cast members escape. Unfortunately, the cast members who died in Heavenly Host are not only not brought back, but they were effectively erased from existence and no one remembers them except for the main cast. Furthermore, Heavenly Host still exists and the souls of their friends are doomed to relive their death on repeat for all eternity.
What made this worse to me was that I first played this game and its sequel Book of Shadows back in 2013, and was left hanging for two years over whether or not Blood Drive would even be localized, let alone being good. What was notably painful was how Book of Shadows was twice as long as the original yet was all “what if” scenarios and flashbacks without advancing the main plot until the last chapter ends on a fucking cliffhanger! But of course, the Heavenly Host trilogy is complete and Blood Drive DID in fact, have a satisfying ending so all is well… as long as you own the systems needed for all three games.
While a bad ending may not sound like a really bad thing to those who believe in the phrase, “it is about the journey, not the destination,” it really is when you consider exactly what the “journey” entails in this case. After all the emotional strife and tragedy that occurs in this game, a decent ending is not too much to ask for. What really makes the ending of Corpse Party so jarring is how well executed the game was up to that point, and when it finally ends, it all just stops and leaves you with more questions than answers.
To sum things up, Corpse Party is an amazing horror experience that I would easily be able to recommend if it were a complete story. Unfortunately, that ending serves as a bizarre and jarring blemish on an otherwise phenomenal game and I can only recommend it if you also have access to the other two. The overall question as to whether Corpse Party can be really recommended is if you have any problems with waiting for the conclusion to be happen, because you can be damn sure that you will want to see it.
This review was originally posted on November 13th of 2013, and has been updated and re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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