Ah, things are a little clearer this time. This particular Corpse Party game wasn't originally made for the PC-98 so there's no 'ohhhh which version are we reviewing' nonsense this time. Also, since we're no longer quite as incompetent as we used to be, we got our own screenshots this time, which is a good thing too as the official website has this weird filter over all the pictures that makes them look like they were taken by pointing a camera at a screen (for ｓｐｏｏｋｙ effect, I suppose) but we ain't down with that on Gaming Hell. Well, OK, one or two have the in-game 'Darkening' filter over them but that's... That's different! That's in the game itself! That means it's legit! And we're not playing this again. Oh no. That's been deleted from our PSP and it ain't coming back. Also, special thanks to the friends who checked this for us to make sure we weren't typing utter rot. That helped.
Also, in case you somehow skipped our warning...
SPOILERS FOR CORPSE PARTY AND BOOK OF SHADOWS AHEAD. BUT NO SCARY SCREENSHOTS. YOU WERE WARNED, PUNKS.
Right, so you remember the first Corpse Party was a little 16-bit RPG and a little bit visual novel?
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is all-Visual, all-Novel, and it's... Um... Pretty weird.
Released not even a year after the PSP version of Corpse Party- with an English localisation coming at the beginning of 2013- Corpse Party: Book of Shadows isn't a strict continuation of the story from the first game. Instead, it's an anthology consisting of eight different stories with varying levels of canonicity. Chapters 1, 2 and 5 are stories set after a particular Wrong End in the original where the Kisaragi Academy gang gets sent back in time and are forced to relive their experience in the ghostly Heavenly Host Elementary, Chapters 3, 4 and 7 are chapters focusing on characters you didn't see much of (3 being a prequel with Ms. Yui and 7 being a retelling of a bonus chapter from the PC release of Corpse Party), Chapter 6 is a look at what happened to one character from another Wrong End, and Chapter 8 is the only real sequel bit, what serves as a prologue to Blood Drive (which would eventually be released on the PS Vita in 2014, then localised in time for Halloween 2015). So, if you're expecting a standard get-to-the-end story like the first game, that's not here, friend. It's more like a standalone collection of the EX Chapters that were bonuses in the first game, with some other bonus gumf thrown in. It's almost like a throwback to those Saturn and Dreamcast-era 'fan' discs that didn't really have games but just extra stuff. There is a game with this one though, at least.
As I said, the 16-bit RPG aesthetic is ditched for this one, save for the sprites that appear on your map. Instead, this is much closer to a traditional visual novel, but with some elements of the first game still lingering around. While the traditional RPG exploration is gone, you instead get a map of the school with hallways and rooms as single blocks you explore in a first-person search mode with a point-and-click adventure-style cursor (beyond items to progress, you can still check corpses for student I.D. tags- gotta catch 'em all!). You're free to go wherever you like via the map, but you'll automatically be stopped if an event happens like an earthquake or someone new shows up. There's also a new mechanic that fits right into the Corpse Party vibe with the Darkening meter- as you see corpses or strange phenomena in the school, this meter begins to rise and takes its toll on your character's sense of reality. The higher it is, the more obscured your vision gets, with blood-splotches starting to mask the screen, and certain events can happen when your Darkening is at a certain level... But should it reach 100%, you die and get a Game Over (not a Wrong End, except in one chapter).
On the one hand, the switch to a mostly visual novel-esque set-up comes with advantages to make the game easier and more palatable- you can now skip through dialogue (which the first game sorely needed) or can set text to auto-play, there's a very generous 64 save slots with saving being allowed at any time, and there's even a Message Log where you can double-check previous text if you're looking for clues for what to do. It also streamlines the game, with each 'block' on the map only benig a single screen so finding things like wooden planks (the staple of a Corpse Party game aside from 'trips to the loo that go wrong') is less of a hassle- anything of interest comes up as blue in the search mode so they're harder to miss. However, a lot of the charm is gone too. Corpse Party's old RPG stylings added a lot to the game- the awkward juxstaposition of these teeny-tiny cute sprites and the horrible things happening around them (like the skeletal remains of students) gave the game this weird feeling of 'disconnect' between what you were seeing and what you were reading, which added to its horror atmosphere, and other bits like the lights flickering on and off and characters stuttering while walking in certain areas added to that. This is all gone for Book of Shadows, as is the sense of properly exploring the school- many of the hallway blocks on the map are exactly the same so while you won't get lost in there, it does get a bit... Dull.
Of course, like the original Corpse Party this is far more story-driven than other games on this site, so we'll have to hone in on that, and personally I think Book of Shadows does a much worse job than the original. On paper, it sounds like it should work- there's a lot of characters in the original game, so picking a few of the ones that didn't get enough screentime last time sounds like a good idea... But the time loop story element means that a lot of it just lacks impact. In the first game, the Wrong Ends had a lot of impact- admittedly mostly on your first playthrough- because you had to sit through a character, maybe one of your favourites, dying horribly... But with that thought that the Wrong End screen would show up, and you'd sigh in relief as you know you'd get a chance to save them. However, Book of Shadows makes things very clear from the off that in the time loop story chapters, anyone who died last time is definitely dying this time- maybe in a different way, but they're off. This isn't something you must intuit for yourself, Sachiko herself spells this out, so for the majority of the game, the Wrong Ends are just... Hollow. You know already they're not really gonna happen, but theu're still gonna die anyway. The other chapters do fare a little better for this, but then again one of them (Chapter 7) was adapted from an extra chapter for the PC version of Corpse Party so it was already there, so to speak.
The slightly leerier elements of the first game are also exacerbated this time, with the opening chapter- including an extended scene in which Naomi and Seiko share a bath and wash eachother complete with some very excited-sounding voicework- being probably the worst possible way to set the tone. Once again, it's only the girls who get lavish attention to their deaths (Nana's second death CG is probably the most gruesome CG in the series), poor Yuka gets her own leery CGs and there's a messier resolution to her 'gotta go potty' subplot from the last game [God I remember you going through that bit and you were cringing so hard, it was hilarious. - Ed], and generally the girls are the first to completely fall apart without their dudes behind them. Not that I'm expecting every female character to be all name-taking and ass-whooping- variety is good!- but it's so prevalent in the girls here, especially since you play as them for about 90% of the game's chapters that you can't not see it- Mitsuki only seems to fall apart of Fukuroi disappears, Ayumi can only be snapped out of posession by Yoshiki (who is not in the game enough), and so on. On this front, the writing just seems a lot weaker than last time, with some characters turning kinda one-note . In short, if that sort of thnig bothered you in the last game- it kinda did for me but I felt it did enough well to let it slide- then it's back here in spades and there is no escape.
The sad thing is that there are bits, just little parts, where the story works! Far and away the best chapter is Chapter 5, which flits between Moreshige, one of the Kisaragi Academy students who disappeared in the first game while becoming oddly entranced by the corpses littering the halls, and survivors from other schools, most notably Hellgirl Mitsuki and Nana's friends Nari and Chihaya. Seeing the school from Moreshige's perspective is really interesting, and even though I wasn't keen on him the first time around, he grows on you because of how he sees the place. Additionally, Nari is the most switched-on character in this one as she gets right on to Moreshige's creepiness and takes zero crap from anyone... So it's a shame that you only control her for five minutes and find her corpse in an earlier chapter in the same timeline. Chapter 2, starring Mayu, is also one of the stronger ones as it's got more screentime for her- she wasn't around in the first game for too long, so even if she spends half her time pining for Moreshige and the other half obssessed with Nana's legs (no, really), it was nice to get a little time with her (and it helps that Yoshiki's in this chapter, for he is the best). The final Chapter, the prologue for Blood Drive, is also a highlight as stuff actually relevant to the canon storyline happens, although if you don't have a Corpse Party save file on your system, you may never see it- without it, you have to get all the Wrong Ends in the game to unlock it, and if you don't have the patience for that, I don't blame you (although you really need to play the first game to even understand this one- you can't bluff your way through!).
In the end, Book of Shadows is probably one of those 'your mileage may vary' games, but personally I wasn't too enamoured with it. I certainly didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the first game- it wasn't as scary or as impactful, it honestly got dull in parts, and some of the issues I had with the plot and characters in the first game, while I let them slide a little back then, were made much, much worse this time around. It's a shame because like I said, the concept is interesting enough, and there are little bits of it that kinda work, but while this is normally the point where you expect me to say If you enjoyed the first Corpse Party, you might get more out of it"... I did enjoy the first Corpse Party and didn't really like this! Really, it feels like a bit of filler, something to buy Team GrisGris some time while they were working on Blood Drive (and Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient, aha~). So, bear all that in mind if you want to dive into this one. I can only hope you get more out of it than I did.
For losing the plot, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is awarded...
In a sentence, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is...
Not really my cup of tea.
If you're wondering what other bonuses you get for loading your Corpse Party save file into Book of Shadows...
You get all the CG pictures from the first game, and can play Chapter 8 as soon as Chapter 7 is done.
(If you don't do this, you have to find every Wrong End in the game to play the last chapter).
Also, Yoshiki is still the best character.
Will we ever tackle another VisuNov gamesoft? Knowing this site, who knows?