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Corpse Party Review

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On 12/07/2011 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

If you don't buy this game, I will have a grudge against you, and you don't want me haunting your dreams.

Lovers of Japanese horror, anime, and adventure games will enjoy this unique title. If any of those elements turn you off, you should probably move along.

Since its humble 32-bit beginnings, the PlayStation brand has been home to some truly unique and sometimes downright weird games from its native Japan. The PlayStation gave us games like Incredible Crisis, Bust a Groove, One Piece Mansion, and Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman. The trend continued on PS2 with Mr. Mosquito, Katamari Damacy, Gitaroo Man, and Okage: Shadow King. Sadly, with the video game industry being such a volatile, cutthroat business in the current climate, releasing quirky games like these has become a gamble that rarely pays off for publishers. Thankfully, we still have handheld machines like the PSP to give us our experimental Japanese games. Enter Corpse Party, a digital release for PSP that is so niche that I’m surprised it was translated. Surprised, but happy; this is one of those unique, under-the-radar games that is not to be missed.

Corpse Party blends elements from a few tried and true genres into a creepy cocktail that goes down smooth. If I had to distill it down into the bare elements, I’d call this an adventure/horror game. Much of the core gameplay of Corpse Party brings to mind older PC point-and-click games. You’ll need to have a keen eye for pixel hunting, as the key to forward progress is finding that one place to examine that gets you the next item or piece of story to continue your journey. Having a notepad and pen around is handy as well; I actually found myself taking notes more than once. If you’re not used to this type of game I can see it getting a little frustrating. I got stuck a few times until I realized that I needed to re-examine places after certain events had transpired.

The other major influence for this game comes from a genre that typically doesn’t cross the pond too often, and that would be the interactive novel. These have been big in Japan for years, and they usually feature very little in the way of graphics or gameplay, opting instead to tell a story with some branching paths. Corpse Party is very much like this. Although you will explore the eerie hallways of your haunted prison as you see fit, the story plays out through long cutscenes. An appreciation for anime and Japanese storytelling in general is a must here. Conversations between characters that exceed the ten minute mark are commonplace, and if you’re the type of gamer that tends to skip dialogue you should stay far away. If, like me, you love intricate, story-based games, Corpse Party will deliver that -- and more.

Horror is of course subjective. Something that terrifies one person may make another person laugh out loud. Pacing is important, as are character and dialogue. This is even more important for horror games, as it can be difficult to get that ebb and flow of terror just right for a lengthy quest. Typically, a great horror game also has some impressive graphics to back up the gameplay, but Corpse Party isn’t doing anything that the Super Nintendo couldn’t pull off. The backgrounds are static and the animation for the characters is merely passable. There are no animated cutscenes, and oftentimes the screen will be black during important events. There were times when I wanted the visuals to step it up a notch.  With that said, Corpse Party really got under my skin. How did it do that?

The answer is in the sound design. Simply put, this game utilizes music, sound effects, and voice acting in ways that big budget, triple-A titles rarely do. Corpse Party isn’t a game that you play on the bus during a long commute or on a plane trip. This is a game that you play at night in the dark, with the volume on your headphones turned up as far as you dare. In many ways, this game can feel like a radio drama. It’s not about what Corpse Party shows you, because the graphics simply aren’t there to properly illustrate what’s going on. No, it’s what Corpse Party lets you hear that makes the game so creepy. You’re not going to see a victim mercilessly stabbed to death as their blood drips and pools onto the floorboards. You will, however, hear it in chilling detail, as your mind fills in the blanks. As you walk through the dark hallways you’ll hear the creaking of wooden floors, the distant laughter of childlike ghosts, and possibly the beating of your own heart. Finding a student hanging from a noose and hearing the sickening sound of the rope straining against the neck of its victim is enough to make a person wonder if the people at Team GrisGris actually hanged someone and recorded the sounds. Couple all of this with a soundtrack that is two parts Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) and one part chiptune and you have the perfect backdrop for this chilling tale. The voice cast does an amazing job as well, providing the blood-curdling screams, hopeless cries, and psychotic laughter that come from being in such a miserable situation.

It's a great horror story with plenty of twists and turns, and beyond the immediate need to survive and escape there’s a mystery to unravel. Your goal is to survive and escape from Heavenly Host Elementary—a ruin of a school that has been closed down for many years. Heavenly Host has been the site for multiple brutal murders, and as such, the spirits of the dead have a grudge. The game centers around nine characters that you’ll switch between at various times during the course of the story, and pretty much all of them are well defined and developed as things progress. It’s important to understand and like the people in a good horror story, instead of the characters being meat led to the grinder. The writers of Corpse Party understand this, and pretty much all of the characters are given the context and personality needed to make them sympathetic and relatable.

This gruesome tale is divided into 5 chapters, and each one will run you around 1-3 hours depending on how efficient you are at solving puzzles and finding the items you need. Each level has multiple endings, but as far as I could tell during my playthrough, there is only one “correct” ending for the chapters. You can get many “Wrong Ends,” but these will not allow you to advance to the next chapter. Still, the bad endings contain some of the most brutal and messed up imagery in the entire game, so it’s worth it to seek them out.  In addition, extra chapters can be unlocked as you find the student I.D. tags of other victims. It took me around 12 hours to complete Corpse Party, but if you want to see everything and play all of the extra chapters you are easily looking at a 30 hour investment. Not bad for a $20 dollar game.

If I didn’t work for PixlBit, I would likely have never heard of this game, nor taken the time to update my PSP and download it. But I’m very glad that I did, and now I get to tell you, the readers, how much I enjoyed it. And since it’s a digital title, you don’t have to worry about hunting down the game at retail. Just find a WiFi hotspot, buy it on PSN, and turn out the lights.

And maybe have a change of underwear on hand. You know, just in case.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Nick DiMola Director

12/07/2011 at 12:10 PM

This game sounds great. I'll definitely keep it on my radar - maybe for next Halloween. I find it doubly intriguing that even without the visuals the game was able to draw you in so effectively. That's impressive in its own right and something that is undoubtedly praiseworthy.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 10:29 AM

Sounds good but... Does horror generally work on a portable platform? Part of being scared in a game is the result of immersion, and that's one thing that handheld platforms generally aren't so great at. The stop and start nature of playing on the go (on breaks, on the bus, etc.) would seem to work against the fright factor.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/09/2011 at 10:39 AM

That's why I said you need to play this at home with proper mood lighting, or lack thereof. Headphones are key to the experience, but if you do all that, having the little screen in your face makes it a more intimate game, and as such scarier than it would be if you were just carrying it on the bus.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 11:11 AM

I get that. I guess what I'm saying is that's generally not how I play portable games, so that really isn't something that makes sense. At home, I prefer my couch and a controller.

I suppose I should have said that it I don't think it will work for me instead of making the statement so general.

I will say this though: Putting the emphasis on what you hear, rather than what you see is a smart decision. Your brain knows what freaks you out way better than anybody else, and to have it fill in the details will surely make the experience that much creepier.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/09/2011 at 11:22 AM

Yeah, I think this would totally work as a PC game. I agree that horror isn't the best genre for portables. Maybe Corpse Party would still creep me out on the go as long as I'm using headphones, but the audio is so key that you really wouldn't want any distractions. I tend to play my handhelds in bed before I go to sleep, but I know that's not the norm. And I'll probably pass on 3DS and Vita because of the way I play portables.


12/13/2011 at 05:29 PM

i've read many reviews by gamers on Corpse Party, all hailing it as a game that scared the bejeezus out of them. Makes me wish I owned one!

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