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.