Review: Corpse Party

The only way I can make this cover more appropriate is if I loaded it up in Photoshop and threw on random splotches of red.

Corpse Party is a neat little title localized by XSEED Games, originally developed by Team GrisGris, and 5pb. for the PSP that managed to come out a little too late for a really appropriate launch. Why do I say this? Because as the title may indicate (or may not, if you’re looking for regular old parties), Corpse Party is a horror game that manages to scare through what I consider proper horror: atmosphere and tension, not shock value (more on that later). However, in addition to it’s supposed skillful display of true horror, Corpse Party still manages to weave together a great story and great characters, making it a wonderful read (though not for the Christmas season in the slightest!).

Corpse Party’s plot involves a good luck charm gone horribly wrong, and a group of highschool students (plus one middle school student and a teacher) getting stuck inside a completely insane and deadly elementary school that shouldn’t even exist anymore. From there, the story takes a full nosedive into horror territory, and my, what a spectacular nosedive it takes. The atmosphere is just perfect, and the tension is extremely high up there. For many, Corpse Party can be legitimately scary, terrifying even. Don’t let that dissuade you from playing though, Corpse Party is still worth it, even if horror doesn’t sit well with you. Corpse Party has a pretty great story too, one with quite a few twists and turns. It’s really entertaining throughout, and will keep you on the edge of your seat (speaking of edges…). If I were to voice a complaint about the plot, it’s that it leaves a few things rather unresolved. And I’m not talking about the nature of the true ending: there are a few dangling plot threads that I wish got explained, but weren’t. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Corpse Party has one of the best horror plots I’ve experienced in years.

Eye was wondering if there was anything on my face worth taking -- apparently so.

Well, seeing as this is more of a game than the stuff I previously reviewed, I’m gonna delve into the gameplay. Corpse Party is very much an adventure game, where you run around, pick up objects, solve puzzles, and not die from environmental hazards and ghosts chasing you. As the lead translator put it, “It’s like playing an old school JRPG without any of the battles.” (I think it might have been made in some RPG Maker, too.) The adventuring aspect is kinda fun, and there’s immense amounts of suspense and tension in normal gameplay. Puzzles are mostly never too easy, nor never too hard, and instead are at just the right difficulty to set the proper mood. One complaint I have about this is that you will occasionally find yourself lost because you don’t know where to go, as the game often never gives any hints. As much as I don’t like games holding my hand, I can’t feel anything but frustration if I’m led to believe that I have to search the entire building for a plot advancing event when instead said event was located where where I was two minutes ago. Additionally, some of the requirements for getting the true end of each chapter aren’t always clear, and it’s very much possible to screw up and get caught in a bad end loop because you forgot to pick up an item thirty minutes back. The chase sequences, additionally, can be really damned scary, as terrible things will happen if you get caught, in addition to constant taunting from some of your pursuers. While this can get annoying when you need to get past a pursuer in a narrow hallway, I feel the game is rather generous in this regard, as it’s rather easy to juke, and character collision leans in your favor often. Still though, overall, the gameplay isn’t really the main focus of Corpse Party: hell, the gameplay is more of a vehicle to drive the plot rather than something to focus on.

And you're lucky the game works out in your favor, otherwise you'd end up like this guy often.

Of course, also being visual novel-esque, Corpse Party has quite a bit of narrative. Somehow though, Corpse Party manages to focus more and less on the narrative at the same time. While definitely not as text heavy as many visual novels, the narrative, at times, does not rely on any visuals at all, and instead stands on its own legs quite well. This makes for a pretty good narrative, as it’s a really interesting read without there being a lot of it. Being that Corpse Party is visual novel-esque though, it sort of follows some sort of standard VN presentation, to a degree. Corpse Party has a multitude of endings, and most of them don’t end happily or pretty (read: all). The interesting thing about these bad ends is that they’re pretty gruesome, with some really gory deaths. But you never see any of them. How does that work? Through just sound effects and text alone, because the imagination is far worse than any visual depiction can give (sort of like the deaths in 999). And these sections are where the narrative is especially strong, as words and sound effects alone are fully capable of creeping players out. Unfortunately, I felt as if the bad ends tapered off as you got further into the game: while the bad ends are still pretty bad, they’re not as impressive as some of the earlier ones in terms of pure horror. Some of them feel really rather tacked on. It’s a shame, too, since many of the earlier bad ends are pretty damned horrifying. One other complaint I had was Corpse Party’s lack of a text skip option: having to read through text again and again made collecting bad ends really annoying. A minor annoyance, but one that has an easy solution.

Yeah so speaking of bad ends....

The art and art style actually waver in quality quite a bit. While the sprites are rather low quality, and aren’t exactly appealing, the portraits and CGs are very nice and crisp (and I would say clean, but there’s usually blood all over the place). I especially liked the CGs, since they were used very well, though sparingly. The contrast between the two can be a bit jarring at times, but that’s not too much of a problem. Environments by themselves are a bit stale, but luckily, areas are usually combined with various effects that makes looking at them more unique. Overall though, while I can’t say if the actual art follows any particularly unique style, I can say that it’s not bad in the slightest.

That being said, a tiny amount of fanservice manages to sneak into otherwise serious shots. Kind of jarring, as well.

5pb went all out with the sound in Corpse Party. One of the game’s major selling points is binaurally recorded audio, which is pretty cool, and adds to the atmosphere via all the directional tricks. Though sadly, it’s not used as often as I’d like, it’s still neat when it does show up. Sound effects are… creepy, to say the least. I think every sound effect was designed with the intention of frightening, creeping or otherwise completely scaring the player. And they’re used very well, as I mentioned in my bad end explanation. The voice acting is also very well done, as it features an all-star cast of seiyuu (and I mean very all star). All the bloodcurdling shrieks can get very annoying after some time, as not two minutes without someone yelling out in terror. However, the rest of the voice acting is very good stuff. The music is actually very weird: for a horror title, the music may seem like it doesn’t fit at first. And I have to agree, the music isn’t as foreboding as I’d like: instead, however, what the music does do is increase the sense of tension. Rather than a sense of “There are things lurking around every corner that can kill me, and I can’t see them,” Corpse Party’s music invokes a sense of “Oh god oh god, must run away, must solve that puzzle in time, must get out of here in time!” I feel like this was a splendid decision, however, given the nature of the horror in this title. The music itself, however, is very great stuff, and definitely something memorable, though there aren’t a whole lot of tracks. Overall, Corpse Party’s sound in general is a very high point, and one of the main appeals of the game.

Now we get to the characters. Characters here are, at first, seemingly your standard set of highschool anime characters. However, after shit hits the fan, these characters are thrown head first into an environment none of them are familiar with, and quite frankly, this leads to some fantastic interaction: characters that were best friends before suddenly get on each other’s nerves, characters that rarely interacted with one another are now forced to rely on each other, etc. etc. It all leads to very rather interesting characterization and development, which is great, because it shows that Corpse Party is focused on more than just telling a horror tale: that without the same high attention to characters, the tale wouldn’t be as gripping. And I feel that’s one thing Corpse Party does very much right: it focuses on the characters just as much as it focuses on the story. By playing the game, you get to connect with these characters, and you personally will want to see them through this tragedy. These characters, as a result, are very endearing, in addition to being well developed. One thing I should point out is that what I said above does not apply to all of the main cast: indeed, many of the characters don’t get much in the way of depth and development, but the funny thing is that even these characters have some good degree of characterization. However, the ones that do get regular amounts of characterization and development gets lots of those, so much that they feel like very real characters. And these very real characters trying to survive is what ultimately lets us connect with them really well for impressive amounts of immersion.

Rating Breakdown
Though the gameplay feels a tad tacked on, the adventure game style works, as solving puzzles and running away from pursuers can be fun and highly engaging, despite the ability to get lost easily.
Though the plot has loose ends here and there, Corpse Party tells a highly engaging story with plenty of twists, and also builds the perfect horror atmosphere, dishing out great scares often and has general creepiness turned on to a very high setting all the time.
Though Corpse Party has some visual novel aspects, the narrative manages to be more concise than most visual novels. Bad ends are written especially well, as they manage to be very grotesque without showing many, if any, pictures. While I feel bad endings taper out later on, and the lack of a text skip feature hurts, Corpse Party's visual novel elements are presented very well, complementing the plot and atmosphere very well.
Though not all of the characters get characterization and development, the ones that do get excellent amounts, making them seem pretty real and this degree of realness makes us connect and care for the cast of characters.
The art varies in quality, with so-so, non-detailed sprites, to crisp portraits and CGs that look really nice, if a little generic.
Corpse Party goes all out on sound, with extremely fitting sound effects, excellent voice acting, and great (though oddly fitting) music.
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