Disclaimer: A majority of this review is going to focus on how Corpse Party Blood Drive works as a follow up to previous games in the series, as well as how it is as a finale. As such, there will be major spoilers for the first two Corpse Party games. However, there will be no major plot events revealed for Blood Drive itself, and anything else of similar nature will be kept to a minimum.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive had a lot riding on it for me. In my review of the original Corpse Party, I pretty much did nothing but praise the game up until the last few paragraphs where I talked about how the ending almost killed it for me. The reason the first game’s overly manipulative and forced downer ending had such an impact on me was because of how excellent the game’s writing and atmosphere was up to that point. Building up such amazing characters and writing, only to end on that note was practically a slap in the face to anyone who played the game, and it made the experience a lot less satisfying.
It did not help that the sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, was made up mostly of what could be described of unused scenes from the first game randomly hobbled together to “build upon the lore of the first game.” While it served that purpose, it literally did not advance the overall storyline until the last chapter, which ended on a cliffhanger right before things started to get interesting. Then queue two the two years and a month that it took for this game to finally get released in the US, and we now get to see how the story ends.
Given the stunt they pulled there, Blood Drive had the entire series’ riding on it. If this game ended up bad, it would take the first two games down with it and practically render the entire series pointless. After all, no one enjoys getting emotionally invested in one of the most well developed and deep character casts in gaming only to have not one, but TWO endings that may as well have consisted of Makoto Kedoin flipping the player off. Thankfully, I can say that, despite this, Blood Drive is one of the few games I have ever played where the wait was worth it. Yes there are plenty of problems this game has, especially when compared to the first one. However, despite the fact that the game only scored a 9, there were plenty of points during Blood Drive where I was tempted to just tell objectivity to go screw itself and give it a perfect score. (I’m deciding to leave that last bit in just for context and because it was a strong statement).
Before I begin talking about the story, it is important to note that a majority of Blood Drive’s strength is as a conclusion to the Heavenly Host Trilogy. There is not much I can really talk about how it is as a standalone game simply because a majority of the storyline will be lost on those that have not completed the first game and the final chapter of the second (I say this because a majority of Book of Shadows can be ignored in its entirety). As such, it goes without saying that I can only recommend Blood Drive if you are familiar with the plots of the first two.
To give proper context to summing up Blood Drive’s story, I will need to quickly explain important plot elements of the first two games. The first game ended when the surviving cast members escaped from Heavenly Host and returned to their world. Unfortunately, due to the paranormal nature of Heavenly Host, reality has been altered so that anyone who died in there never existed in the real world, and no one remembers that they ever existed except for the surviving cast. This, naturally, takes a very huge toll on all of our cast members seeing as how close they were to their friends. This is especially harmful for Naomi, whose best friend Seiko died in one of the most tragic and emotionally charged scenes in all of gaming; a scene that hurt all the more considering Seiko was the most likable character in the entire series. This causes Naomi to fall into clinical depression and for her mother to try and keep giving her medicine to “treat” her because she thinks Naomi is going insane.
The final chapter of the second game takes place right after said event where Ayumi (another one of the main characters, and who serves as the main character of Blood Drive) and Naomi look into finding the Book of Shadows, a dark tomb capable of using very dangerous magical abilities (so it’s basically the Necronomicon). She attempts to use it to bring back her friends, but it backfires in a Monkey’s Paw like fashion that results in Ayumi’s older sister dying to protect her, and with Ayumi hospitalized.
Blood Drive takes place two months after the events of Book of Shadow’s final chapter. Just as the remaining cast members have started to adjust to life without their friends, strange things begin to happen. Specifically, there are people that are killed in ways that are impossible for human beings to accomplish, and could only occur as a result of the paranormal. Ayumi is followed by a mysterious boy named Misuto who tells her that she can bring back her friends if she uses the Book of Shadows at the core of Heavenly Host, and that it is possible to return by combining two gemstones together (and this ends up being the only way seeing as how the ritual from the first game does nothing). This causes Ayumi to return to the hellish school that the first two games took place in, while faced against a force even more evil than Sachiko. The only difference is that, this time, the fate of the entire world is at stake.
The storyline of Blood Drive always has an air of mystery and intensity. There was never a moment where I felt the story was getting dull or starting to drag, and it knew just how to keep itself interesting at every point. Every chapter also ends on a very strong cliffhanger for the next one, and it is guaranteed to keep you hooked. Even within the main chapters, every cutscene feels like it adds something to the game’s storyline, which is impressive given that this game has a lot of text to it.
There are so many plot different plot points and threads that are brought up in Blood Drive, but not a single one felt out of place or was not resolved. This is especially impressive considering that the story is approached from multiple different directions. Throughout the game, you will shift from the point of view of a variety of different characters; each having their own branching paths. You have Ayumi’s attempts to obtain the Book of Shadows and unsealing the pillars of the Nirvana (which is basically the name for the dimension that Heavenly Host resides in) under Misuto’s directions, Yoshiki’s attempts to follow Ayumi into Heavenly Host to protect Ayumi and thus interfering with Magari’s plans.
There is clearly a lot of thought that is put into the game’s storyline and both the pacing and writing are spot on. Even when the text was lengthy, it never felt like it was. Hell even the moments in the EX chapters that focus solely on character backstory are entertaining simply because of how well developed our characters are.
The cast of the Corpse Party series has always been one of the biggest strengths that it possesses. In fact, the main reason that the horror element worked so well was because of how attached one can get to these characters. I am glad to say that things are no different in Corpse Party: Blood Drive. First of all, it is important to mention that everyone from the first game is perfectly in character and receive even more development this time around. Despite the fact that it had been two years since I played the first Corpse Party, I still found myself greatly attached to Seiko’s character and felt Naomi’s pain regarding her death, I still found Yuka adorable and I still found myself empathizing with Satoshi, Yoshiki, and Ayumi. Given the strength of these characters, one could have just pretty much stopped there in regards to writing them.
Despite this, all of the new characters are just as deep and memorable as the returning ones. Satsuki, for instance, is very smart-assy teenage girl who had suspicions about Misuto being a pedophile when he was stalking them. She also tends to just be a fun character in general, but she also has a very dark backstory that was revealed in an EX chapter (which was supposedly a tribute to a canceled sequel to the original PC-98 version of the first game, in which she would have been the main character). Hell our main villain was played off as a heartless monster, yet he ended up saying something strong enough that made me completely change my mind about him. There are even some cases where some of the most evil enemies from the previous two games are made to be empathetic and endearing.
What should also just be noted is the game’s atmosphere. I will admit that it was disappointing that Blood Drive was sorely lacking in the scare factor of the original. However, it is worth mentioning that Blood Drive still possess an ominous and unnerving feeling to it. Just about everything is presented incredibly well. The designs and settings are still as unique as always.
What is also very impressive is this game’s use of lighting. Many horror games make the mistake of obscuring too much of your surroundings with darkness in an attempt to induce panic. Yes, such a thing may ad tension to the game, but to paraphrase an old Cracked article, “it adds tension in the same way as knowing your game console could blow up at any moment.” It isn’t good design and it is only slightly above jump scares in the realm of bad horror tropes. Blood Drive, however, makes the rooms dark enough to be unnerving and trick the player into occasionally stepping on glass shards, but not dark enough to be completely disorienting.
In the series’ usual tradition, finding the bodies of Heavenly Host’s victims is turned into a collectathon. There are a certain number of bodies per chapter that you can locate that will provide the name of the student, the school they went to, and how they died. It becomes a very interesting, albeit morbid, way of adding to the atmosphere of the game. Similarly, each chapter has various bad endings you can obtain based upon choices you make during the chapter. Unlike the last two games, however, it is also possible to get a regular old “Game Over” this time around simply by dying from regular spirits so that makes the bad endings feel more unique.
In the presentation department, pretty much everything excels. The soundtrack is easily the best in the series, which is saying something considering the first two games had fantastic soundtracks. The one that comes to mind the most is the song that plays at the end of each chapter over each evil cliffhanger the game throws at you (as well as it playing throughout most of chapter 9 that mimics the jrpg tradition of using the most powerful level song in the second to last dungeon; some examples being the Giant of Babil theme from Final Fantasy IV and the Ocean Palace theme from Chrono Trigger). The songs that play during scenes in the normal world all feel emotional in a nostalgic way which greatly
emphasizes the contrast between the worlds, that crazy circus music that plays at some points manages to be both catchy and eerily unfitting to the point where it seems like the Nirvana itself is mocking you, and the badass electric guitar riffs that play during intense moments all give the soundtrack a varied feel to it. The only complaint I have is that there is a certain chase theme that is overused throughout the game.
The voice acting is top notch as usual and it is clear that each actor put in their absolute best performance. The graphics are all well drawn and look unique in an artistic sense. It can be debatable whether they are up to par in a technical sense, but in all honesty, who gives a damn? I will admit, there are some issues regarding the frequency of loading screens (albeit screens that are rather short in length), but they have been heavily exaggerated. Yes they are a bit jarring compared to the standards of modern day titles, but anyone who has ever played a Playstation One title should barely even notice them.
The Story of Corpse Party: Blood Drive was absolutely amazing. The amount of build up that this game had that went from an isolated incident among 9 people, to the fate of the entire world, felt more in line with an epic 40 hour JRPG despite having no combat whatsoever. The atmosphere, writing, pacing, story, and characters were all very well put together and created an incredible experience. However, that is not to say it was perfect. There are, unfortunately, some story related issues I need to talk about, but they are minor in the grand scheme of things.
As previously mentioned, Blood Drive is greatly lacking in the overall scare factor compared to the first two games. While Blood Drive was eerie and ominous, there were very few points at which I found myself anywhere close to being as scarred as the first and second games. What makes this even more grating is that one of the few times I felt scarred while playing was toward the end where one of our characters flat out says “this isn’t the same Heavenly Host anymore.” The problem was that the Nirvana, at its most unstable and closest to destroying our entire world, was only just as scary in Blood Drive as the Nirvana in its ordinary state was in the first game. This just makes me think about what could have been if Blood Drive possessed the same scare factor as the original when combined with Blood Drive’s greater scale.
It is tough to put together just why Blood Drive wasn’t as scary as the previous games, but there are some ideas. First of which is that Blood Drive is much more tame in terms of its violent content. I found a lot less interesting bad endings in Blood Drive than I did in either the original or Book of Shadows. Heavenly Host just does not seem nearly as threatening this time around; and yes, the lack of violence is a valid reason for that.
Some people may complain that excessive gore is not a valid form of horror, but it kind of is. The fear of pain is one of our deepest rooted fears and seeing it occur in horrific ways can create shocking effects. Yes if it is overused than it will come across as gimmicky, but the Corpse Party series already proved it could handle this. Even the few times something violent is described, there is no picture accompanying is, unlike in the first game.
The other major flaw with the game is actually not on the part of Blood Drive itself, but more so two of its predecessors; Corpse Party: Book of Shadows and 2U. In my review of Book of Shadows, I predicted that only 30% of the game’s storyline would be relevant in Blood Drive and that it was pretty the equivalent of a bunch of filler episodes in a long running anime adaptation that overtakes the manga it is based on. I was hoping I would be wrong on that seeing as how I was curious to see how the alternate “what if” scenarios from Book of Shadows would have anything to do with Blood Drive. Unfortunately, my prediction was correct and they were never brought up.
Lastly, there is the matter of plot elements and lore from Corpse Party 2U. It would normally be a good sign that a main entry in the series alludes to a romantic comedy spinoff game of all things and acknowledges its canon. However, there is one problem; Corpse Party 2U never got localized. As such, a lot of characters that were first introduced in 2U are appearing here for the first time. Even worse is that, supposedly, for everything to fully be explained, one needs to be versed in a lot of other Corpse Party related spinoffs that never made it outside of Japan, which means that international players will miss out on a lot of added lore. Granted, I will admit that this is all based on what I have heard as I have not played 2U due to not knowing the language. Hopefully XSeed may reconsider 2U given that some companies are still releasing PSP titles digitally, and that the original game is being ported to PC.
Unlike the first two games, Blood Drive is a lot more in line with traditional games than visual novels. As previously mentioned, it is now possible to get a regular game over in addition to the bad endings. Blood Drive’s viewpoint returns to the top down perspective used in the first Corpse Party as opposed to the first person perspective used in Book of Shadows, which is a good decision since this type of game would not work well in first person.
Like the previous games, gameplay consists mostly of exploration and examining the objects around you. Oftentimes, simply finding all of those name tags and bad endings is what is the most satisfying and really adds extra replay value to the game. It also unlocks testimonies from the game’s voice actors, which really sheds insight on the game’s creation, as well as EX chapters which expand on the character’s backstory.
Unlike previous games, there are added survival elements to the gameplay. For instance, one could be attacked by evil spirits while wandering the halls of heavenly host. Unlike in previous games where any dangerous foe would instantly kill you and result in a bad ending, most enemies will simply deal damage to your health meter which can be replenished with certain items. If one possesses a talisman, a spirit will be vaporized immediately upon touching you, but this only works against generic enemies as it will only prevent damage upon contact with a plot related foe; after which the talisman will still be used up. As a result, it is an important element of gameplay to try and conserve talismans.
Without a talisman, a spirit will pursue you through multiple rooms unless you hide from it in a cabinet. However, you will get caught if you enter in full view of the ghost (which apparently some people who played this game did not realize and thought it was based on luck. Seriously people, use your brains a bit). To add to this, you have to make sure you don’t run over shards of broken glass or sharp pieces of wood that will deal slight damage and stop you in your tracks while running from enemies. One also has to deal with the fact that one cannot keep using the run command for too long without getting fatigued and automatically stopping to catch their breath, which leaves oneself wide open for enemy attacks.
To be honest, these gameplay elements felt really tacked on and gimmicky, and they did not really did not add anything to the experience. The implementation of these mechanics lacks the necessary tension that a game like Clock Tower or Amnesia possesses. Generic spirits are not threatening and they are also predictable and bland. If anything, they are more of a nuisance. However, I will note that the gameplay does feel intense at specific story moments such as when you are attacked by a giant squid in a pool or when you need to run down a winding tower while trying to avoid hands that will pull you inside the wall with weird yet oddly catchy circus music playing in the background.
Even if these gameplay elements did possess the atmospheric scare factor of Clock Tower or Amnesia, they would still be unnecessary because that is not what Corpse Party is about. Corpse Party was never a survival horror series, it was an atmospheric psychological horror series, and to be honest, that is the kind of horror I prefer from my games. We already have plenty of games about running and hiding from scary monsters, we don’t need them in here to. The original Corpse Party was scary because it used the amount of enemies that could kill you sparingly.
If one wants to make the game more engaging beyond walking around and cutscenes, do more of what was done with chapter 9. In this chapter, you found yourself exploring a torture chamber (that might I add, was one of the few areas of the game that felt legitimately scary) where you need to dodge swing blades that will instantly kill you if they touch you. They are a lot harder to get past than anything in the game prior, especially if you’re going for all the name tags, but they are still doable with these things known as timing and observation (which apparently was also lost on this game’s detractors. Come on people, git gud). These things actually did provide a slight sense of nervousness when mixed with the atmosphere of the location.
Also, the original Japanese version had a mechanic where you needed to find batteries for your flashlight in order to keep it from running out. However, it was later patched so that you could just switch over to endless battery mode and not have to worry about that. I personally am glad they did as having to keep an eye on the battery level would have just been gimmicky and annoying. As such, it is a good thing that one does not need to deal with said mechanic, but has the option to if they really want to.
There are a lot of things that I needed to criticize Corpse Party: Blood Drive for. It was not as scary as the first game, it requires a bit too much knowledge of other Corpse Party media to fully understand it (although it is not necessary by any means as I still fully enjoyed it, and even then we at least have the internet to fill in the blanks), it has some loading issues, and it has some gimmicky mechanics.
The sign of true greatness though, is not the absence of flaws; it is the ability to enjoy a game regardless of them, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. A lot of the major flaws that this game’s detractors have pointed out are cosmetic and nitpicky and saying that they ruin the experience of a game this incredible demonstrates some extreme pettiness; and this is coming from someone with quite a contrarian track record when it comes to well liked games.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive was a brilliant conclusion to the Heavenly Host Trilogy and I am really looking forward to what Team GrisGris has in store for us next. I am also still hoping they decide to localize Corpse Party 2U. Despite this though, I’m actually less excited for the later entries simply because I know they will not feature this cast, which is greatly telling how strong this game’s cast of characters was for me. It is rare that I find myself this attached to a game’s cast of characters, and I will greatly miss them in future installments, even though I am confident in Team GrisGris’s ability to write an equally compelling cast.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is without a doubt, one of the best Playstation Vita titles to date, and is a must play provided one has played the first game, which is a must play in and of itself. Even though this game is not as scary as the first Corpse Party, it is still my favorite game in the series, which really shows just how much this game accomplishes. It is also one of the most underrated titles of 2015 and is one that I’d highly recommend.
This review was originally posted on GameFAQs on January 27th of 2016, and has been edited with enhanced presentation.
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