OK, so, this reviews' based on the PSP version of the game which, if you've read our group page for the Corpse Party series, you'll know is an enhanced port of the Windows version, which in turn was based on the mobile phone remake of the original PC-98 Corpse Party. What I'm getting at here is there's a lot of versions of Corpse Party, and it's the PSP one we're talking about today. Except for the bit at the end where we talk about the Windows version that's on Steam too. Also, we used to have nicked screenshots from all over the 'net on this page, but they've all been replaced with our very own screenshots now. They're mostly the same as before except the ones that aren't. These look better anyway. They're more authentic, I guess. We still didn't put a shot of the 'butter up my pooper' line here though, you're best finding that elsewhere.
Also, a reminder of your selection...
NO ENDING SPOILERS, AND NO GORY SUPER-SCARY SCREENSHOTS.
... Wait, this doesn't warrant red text and all-caps at all!
Two game genres I thought I'd never cover on this site were visual novels and RPGs.
They're just a wee bit too long to be viable for this kind of operation.
But a visual novel pretending to be a 16-bit era RPG is OK, right?
Well... Only if it's a horror game as well.
We will not bore you with Corpse Party's long history- the game's official US website has thankfully done that job for us. All you really need to know is that it was originally an RPG Maker game developed by Team GrisGris for the PC-9801, and then after several new versions and ports, the PSP version was localised by XSEED Games and published on the Playstation Network for all those curious to download. The game follows a group of students from the Kisaragi Academy high school who, after hours, perform the Sachiko Forever After ritual as a send-off for one of them who's transferring to another school. It goes wrong. They find themselves whisked away to Heavenly Host Elementary, a school supposedly demolished years ago after a spate of bad luck starting with the horrific murders of a group of children, which exists in multiple dimensional planes... Meaning the group has been separated, with apparently no way out and no way to reunite. The school is also full of corpses of the other unfortunates who've ended up there, done in either by madness, fatigue or the quartet of vengeful ghosts from the original murder. No-one who has entered this place has left alive... Your group of school chums plan to be the first.
There's a little bit of the spirit of Clock Tower in this one- the general idea, the multiple ways to die and the game tracking your progress with the bad endings- but instead of being a horror-themed point-and-click adventure, Corpse Party is, as I said, more like a 16-bit RPG with healthy dollopings of visual novel elements thrown in. Rather than fight battles and level up, your character (which constantly changes to the whims of the story) wanders the halls of Heavenly Host Elementary, picking up items, examining notes/corpses for clues, making decisions at certain points, and triggering cut-scenes to move the story along. The school isn't actually that big, and you'll see the same halls quite a few times, but as each set of characters initially occupy alternate versions of the same place, different paths are available in different schools (changed further by the constant earthquakes). The only other quirks are the student IDs found on corpses (gotta catch 'em all- they detail how the victim died) and certain 'chase' sequences where you're pursued by an enemy (nowhere to hide like in Clock Tower- just evade until you advance the story) with bad things happening if you're caught. That's pretty much all there is to it, the game is about 70% text, 30% adventurin', and there's no gameplay mechanics beyond that (although amusingly each character has a HP count on the status screen, only used in two specific parts of the game). There isn't much to moan about here- the mechanics do the job, and paying attention to what you're told (you might want a notepad for this one) should get you through pretty easily. The only complaint here is that the chase sequences can feel a little clumsy (I can see people getting stuck on the first one, but they're not that common) and certain items- loose planks in particular- are very easily missed, which can leave you stuck. (That said, the plank is a lot easier to see if you're playing on a PS Vita, which really does wonders for Corpse Party's presentation).
So... If there's no battles to be fought, how do you die? This wouldn't be a horror game if bad things didn't happen to good people, and this is where the Wrong Ends come in- examine the wrong notes, wander into the wrong rooms or make other mistakes, and someone will die, usually painfully, usually with detailed text accompanying their demise. Game Over, back to the last save point. Fortunately, for the most part it's fairly obvious what actions will see one of your characters off, as the game does provide hints from time to time, and the save points are nicely spaced out so if you do trigger a Wrong End, it shouldn't take long to rectify it. There are a few red herrings that will get you stuck (including a cruel one in the first chapter where you have to directly disobey a clue the game gives you!) but for the most part, the game plays fair... This does not, however, apply to the final chapter of the game, which has the most Wrong Ends and, unlike the previous chapters which are pretty specific in how you can mess up, just looking down the wrong hallway or examining one item will get you killed, there's little in the way of clues, and you can screw up badly enough to have to restart. This is especially frustrating as Chapter 5 has the longest cut-scenes in the game, which leads me neatly into the next problem- you cannot skip any dialogue, even if you've seen it before. If you happen to screw up before a gauntlet of cut-scenes, then you'd better hope the X button on your PSP is still working. You will have a lot (a lot) of exposition to click through, which can get mind-numbing. A 'skip cutscene' button would've helped.
As the most story-driven game covered on this site, this is where we'll be focusing our attention. For the most part, the story works pretty well- it keeps the mystery going for most of the game, and it really utilises its characters well, as through its dialogue and flashbacks you get surprisingly attached to your little band of schoolmates. The game even has ten short unlockable 'extra' chapters devoted to fleshing these characters out. Sure, they're mostly stock characters- the 'main' guy, the timid one, the hyperactive one- but the game mostly builds on the fact that you get to know about them and exploits it to great effect. Unlike a lot of horror games out there, the focus isn't on jump scares or gallons of blood, you see. You do get that, but even before the characters themselves start getting messed around, the game tries to psyche you out in a few ways, like having your characters stutter while they walk, the flavour text on items and notes becoming increasingly depressing/deranged as the story advances ('Admit it. You hate all your friends. Eventually, you'll kill one another' is a good one) and dimming the lights for no real reason. The game also makes great use of sound- the game is fully voiced in Japanese (and because of this game I now know every possible way of screaming, crying and shouting 'ONII-CHAN~') which makes the death scenes more real, the sound effects are grisly and designed to make you uncomfortable (lots of squelching and wretching) and the music is an odd mix of chiptunes and (mostly) horror movie-esque tracks, which works well.
Primarily, though, the game uses its cut-scenes to scare you. Surprisingly, the game isn't totally reliant on full-screen images to frighten you, although they do show up. Instead, the cut-scenes, especially the death sequences, are mostly text, either with the characters as sprites or on a black screen, with flashes of red and white as appropriate, and it does its work with the text and the amazing sound effects to scare the shit out of you (seriously, if you're not playing this game with headphones you're doing it wrong). What makes it all the more effective is that with the attention given to the characters, you get a little attached to them (even the first character you see die, who you spend only half an hour with) and at points you start hoping that a Wrong End screen shows up, so you know you can save them. XSEED's localisation is pretty great throughout (although perhaps there's one particular part that's a bit eyebrow-raising- even so, it's pretty faithful to the original scene. Poor Seiko.) and it really comes through in these sequences... To the point where one particular Wrong End- the little sister getting an eyeful, so to speak- had me glued to the screen, squirming at what I was seeing and hoping that somehow it'd end up alright... Despite the fact that it was all happening to the most annoying character in the game.
The main problems with the story- and, I'll be honest, the reasons I docked a star- are the pacing and the kinda ill-fitting leery elements/CG images strewn about that takes you out of the game. To start with the first problem, the first two chapters are great, packed with some very tense and unnerving scenes (the first death you witness firsthand in particular, because the game gives you the illusion of hope) but then it dips massively for Chapter 3, essentially a fetch quest where the squealing, annoying little sister archetype needs to go potty. As well as temporarily killing the atmosphere the game had (I'd taken everything else seriously up to this point but had to laugh at how ridiculous this part is) this slows things down considerably, and the game only perks up at the end of the chapter. The exposition-heavy Chapter 5 is another low point- you're bombarded with the truth of the incident, including at least one plothole by my count, and the fact that you'll definitely mess up and have to replay a few scenes at least once makes it worse. It's just a bit uneven, only recovering the momentum of the first two chapters in the fourth one.
As for the slightly leery aspects of the CG images, this is absolutely the last game that needs pantyshots of its female cast, but whenever there's a close-up of a corpse, you can bet it's a girl, usually in a less-than-flattering position, and while my first playthrough was thankfully bereft of post-mortem pantyshots, there's at least one girl-going-through-total-mental-shutdown pantyshot. It really takes you out of the moment (to roll your eyes) and it doesn't help that it's mostly the girls who seem to lose it, usually when left by themselves (with the record speed of normal-to-suicidal being thirty seconds). I'm almost willing to let that slide as it's a plotpoint that leaving anyone alone causes them to go nuts (it happens to two dudes as well in the main story, and one in a Wrong End), but it did grate quite a bit, and is very likely to make players uncomfortable. There's also a very clear and off-putting allusion to obscure Stallone film Stop or My Mom Will Shoot in the main 'alternate' ending of the game, with one of the main characters revealing they are, in fact, a giant ear of corn in a costume which took me out the moment (and, in fact, caused me to roll my eyes and say 'Oh, come on!'). Had it added something or played a bigger role in the main story, then fine, but the way it's dealt with here it feels unnecessary, tacked-on. It just comes out of left field and doesn't add anything.
However! The fact of the matter is, Corpse Party is a horror game at its heart and it succeeded in doing its job- it scared me. It isn't a particularly long game- it took me about four evenings to get through it, and that was without mopping up the alternate Wrong Ends I'd missed- but for three-and-a-half of the game's five chapters, I was unable to tear myself away from the screen. Some of it was uncomfortable reading, especially with those grim sound effects, but it wouldn't have been nearly as effective if it didn't make me squirm a little. It's the more minimal approach, and the fact that game can make you feel helpless to stop awful things happening to your characters, that makes it memorable, more effective at scaring you, and in the end, what kept me playing, especially compared to other, more modern horror games (the only close contemporary comparison is with The Walking Dead series by Telltale, albeit with a different approach on dealing with your decisions). Admittedly the pacing problems and inappropriate leery elements are difficult to ignore, and I blame no-one for skipping over it if the latter in particular is a deal-breaker, but if it's not, the game is mechanically sound and has enough going for it story-wise, so it's worth it if you want something different from your horror games and you're comfortable with it.
For succeeding in giving me at least one sleepless night in spite of its problems, Corpse Party is awarded...
In a sentence, Corpse Party is...
Scary, even on a tiny screen.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Now, are you ready to be extremely confused?
The Windows version of Corpse Party came out in English in 2016... But it's actually older than the PSP version.
The original Japanese Windows release, based on the mobile phone version Corpse Party: NewChapter, was released in instalments similar to the Higurashi: When They Cry series, between 2007 and 2011 (which means yes, the final version of this actually came out after the PSP release, although it added stuff from Book of Shadows as we'll find out). As a result, the 2016 English release, via Steam (with Trading Cards and Achivements), GOG and Humble Store seems a little out of place to people on this side of the world, as the PSP version came first here and there's a fair amount of stuff not present here. Even so, this is a release worth checking out. To start with what's gone, there are only four Extra Chapters (Extra Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in the PSP game, and one we'll get to in a second) and absolutely no CG images. To be honest, I kinda prefer playing the game without the CG images in a certain respect- it means the game has only the text and that weird disconnect between the awful things happening and the cutesy sprites with which to scare you.
Additionally, presentation-wise the game is a bit different- the text boxex have a barbed-wire theme in the background rather than transparent blue, all of the character portraits are different (some, like Moreshige and Kizama, look closer to their PSP counterparts but the majority of the main cast are a lot more chibi-style, almost) and the voices were provided by different people, while the PSP game has voicework from professional voice artists. These are mostly a case of personal taste, I think- I definitely prefer the PSP character portraits (this is not, alas, a Higurashi: When They Cry situation where the original art does a lot more for the game lulling you into a false sense of security) but don't mind the voice work here, as it still delivers on the sound front. As for the translation, this reuses the XSEED script from the PSP for almost the whole game, with the one departure being the opening ghost story in Kisaragi Academy (everone's way more of a dick to Satoshi, a move I'm OK with, and he doesn't grab Naomi's chest in fright anymore). However, aside from that and the CH scenes disappearing the story/themes/content is basically the same. The one other oddity, in the English Steam release at least, a scene in Chapter 4 originally mosaic'd out detail on some mutilated bodies, but this was apparently done in error and was later patched out.
In its favour, however, there's two things that did not make the leap over to the PSP port. The most significant- and it's utterly bizarre that this was left out- is a skip text function. As well as fast-forwarding past text boxes (either read text only or all text), it speeds up room transitions and any character movement, so this makes replaying the game to get the remaining Wrong Endings a lot, lot easier. The most significant bit of content missing from the PSP port is Extra Chapter 4: Tooth... Which may sound familiar to Corpse Party veterans, as it's actually a chapter from Book of Shadows. Unlocked by getting Wrong End #3 in Chapter 4, Tooth is indeed a version of the same chapter from Book of Shadows- this served as a 'preview' of that game of sorts- but played in the style of the original Corpse Party, where you'll mostly be taking control of Tohko. While not a very long chapter, this is still worth playing even if you've completed Book of Shadows (and even if it actually reuses the translation from that game) as it adds a few more details to that story, and surprisingly feels the most 'video game-y' of the chapters in the game, incorporating traps on the floor (blood spots that launch arrows at your party and injure them) and keeping your HP in check (in this case, using candles to heal yourself). Oddly, this one small segment serves almost as a preview of some of the mechanics introduced in Corpse Party: Blood Drive several years later!
Anyway, if you liked the PSP game, it may be worth grabbing the Windows port to compare and contrast the graphics, and for that additional chapter. And hey, if you haven't played it in a good while, you'll get a kick out of it. We'll end with a comparison screenshot- notice that the PSP version's sprites are a little blurrier, so that might be another incentive to get this version.
For the record, my favourite character was Yoshiki, the lone wolf dude.
Kind-of an asshole but his heart was in the right place.
I don't think I need to say which character was my least favourite. Go on, have a guess.
If I never hear the cry of ONII-CHAN again it will be too bloody soon.