Review - Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
Corpse Party: Blood Covered was a (twice remade) PSP horror title that was touted as a hybrid RPG/Adventure game. Although very light on the actual gameplay, the storytelling and presentation left quite the impression on many a gamer. Now a sequel is among us in the form of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, a visual novel-type experience that is intentionally less interactive, but more narrative. But do the changes make for a fun shindig, or a complete massacre?
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
Platform: PSP (Digital)
Release Date: January 15th, 2013
Genre: Visual Novel
Rarely do I add a disclaimer to a review, but this game makes quite an exception for two reasons. First, Book of Shadows is read as a visual novel, which WILL be a major turn off for those looking for a more hands-on experience. While there will be limited exploring with some risk/reward for digging too deep, it’s primarily a very text-heavy venture whose “quick-time events” are as simple as choosing between two text options. Second, the game will be very impenetrable without playing through the first game, Blood Covered. While the plot is briefly addressed again (and again, and again), it’s delivered with the assumption that readers have knowledge of the lore in Corpse Party. It’s pretty much required as well since some additional gallery features are also unlocked with save data from the first game.
Don’t you believe in fairies?
Corpse Party’s plot involve a group of students who get trapped in a hellish school where the rules of physics, time, and space don’t apply. There are horrifying traps lying around and if the spirits don’t kill you, the psychopaths will. Our main protagonists will discover not only other students to briefly interact with, but a series of ghosts that thwart them at every turn as they try and escape. While the first game has a complete beginning and end, Book of Shadows acts as supplemental material to the established plot.
It’s broken up into several chapters and a bonus prologue (which is easier to unlock by migrating that aforementioned Save Data). The chapters are directed by a few different scenario writers who have plenty of stories to tell about supporting cast from the first game. These side characters do get some much desired backstory that only adds to the bitterness of their tales in Blood Covered. It’s somewhat awkward when most of the true endings are on par with the bad endings in terms of the grisly destinies of the characters involved; but it works somewhat as a message about unavoidable fates, a common trend in each chapter.
Aside from being Japanese fare, the dialogue itself never becomes subpar, only dropping to a lowbrow level when some generic fanservice tropes arise. Otherwise, every act of torture and decomposing body will be disgustingly delivered in gritty text and sound. Questionable terms like “jelly” (in the sense of jealous) and “dat ass” (in the sense of butts) popped up unexpectedly as well, but the dialogue for the most part is on key with the original script. While text drags on in the more peaceful scenes, you’ll wish the descriptions of murder, torture, and other nasties ended sooner… for entirely different reasons. It’s overall not the pinnacle of visual novel writing, but the presentation and delivery has been managed very well. Visuals, while limiting in this genre, are uncensored and visceral (in more ways than one), as you’ll see plenty of titular corpses and the aftermath of several dismemberments.
What’s more disgusted is what you can’t hear.
It’s best to treat the whole package as a horror story anthology, not alike the way many Japanese films are presented. While the different writers open up some varying levels of delivery, it becomes noticeable when Chapter 3 is a purely text experience with a few timed dialogue trees and Chapters 2 and 5 feature full-on exploration and puzzles. Each chapter will take more than an hour a piece, but with eight in total, you’ll have no shortage of gore and misery ahead. While the game may not be terribly scary, it is constantly unnerving and even addresses some horrible human taboos in ways (localized) games rarely do as a medium… and I’m not talking about just implied child torture.
I could’ve picked worse images.
Addressing the actual “gameplay” of this title, there are some things that make it slightly more interactive than a “choose-your-own-adventure-book (-of-shadows)”. When you do control your characters, they venture from room to room with point-and-click-controls, looking at interior shots of many dilapidated hallways and classrooms. The actual act of pixel hunting wasn’t an issue since your cursor lights up when an interactive object is found. Otherwise, it’s a fair “side-grade” to the tile hunting and backtracking that plagued some players of the first game.
To heighten the tension, our protagonists also have “Darkening” meters, which track sanity and stability (ala Eternal Darkness). As you come across ghastly and gory sights in the game, your meter will rise as your characters falls into paranoia and despair. This alters your vision and the sound/visuals in some rooms might change. I felt it wasn’t utilized nearly as much as I would’ve like in the end, only cropping up a handful of noticeable times. It even caused some frustration early on in the game as I needed my meter to reach a certain point before a story related event could occur so I was stuck for a little while until I realized I was supposed to increase the stat I’m inclined to keep low. Luckily, this backwards gaming logic only occurred once for me in the gameplay.
This room didn’t look like this 10 seconds ago…
On that matter, puzzles in the game are simple, usually revolving around visiting new sections of the map, and either finding usable items or triggering events. There were a few occasions where I had to backtrack around for about three minutes trying to figure out what to do next, but I only had to refer to external help just once for a poorly planned puzzle in the 5th chapter. Nothing is worse than getting lost and bored in a game that intends to be scary, so in some ways, the hand-leading was more preferred.
Dialogue from the dead often continues as you’re searching through rooms.
The cries of criticism did not fall on deaf ears, the team behind Book of Shadows resolves two issues with the previous game. Players are allowed to save at any time, even during dialogue options. Text/travel can now be fast forwarded with the R button, avoiding much of the annoying repetition from Blood Covered when a player gets a Game Over and has to repeat known events. As the designers knew what to keep from the first game, Book of Shadows has a large amount of collectables, including: name tags of dead students, CG images, songs, and short interviews with the voice cast.
Gotta unlock ‘em all.
I have to earnestly advise that Book of Shadows be played with headphones. The game liberally uses surround sound, as the pitter patter of ghost feet and voices come at you from every audible direction. The game doesn’t rely on visual jumpscares, instead it relies on jolting stingers and intimately close line delivery. A few times, I was unsure if a sound effect I heard came from the game or what was currently happening in my busy abode. The music doesn’t slouch either, expressing some of the most fitting and well delivered tunes found in these types of games. The voice acting sells the whole product as many Japanese veterans of game and anime lend their chords to the drama. It’s interesting to see many voice actors I’m familiar with, deliver emotions I honestly didn’t know they were capable of. On a side note, it’s very interesting to see actresses: Rina Saito and Satomi Arai reprise their character’s relationship and voices from the franchise: A Certain Magical Index (albeit to a more ghastly conclusion).
It was in your throat.
$20 is a very reasonable price for a visual novel, and you’ll be definitely getting your money’s worth with the amount of written and voiced content in this game. The whole experience ended up taking a little more than eight hours to reach the “Final” conclusion, but upwards of twelve or more could be spent achieving all the wrong endings, and collecting every asset for your collection.
Book of Shadows isn’t without some lack of satisfaction though. From a narrative standpoint, the game feels more like an expansion than the “sequel” moniker some people give it. The chapters don’t change anything about the core game and if anything, add some confusion and theories to what is really transpiring. Since there are broken up into non-sequential chapters, with some of them being “what-if” stories, it makes the whole thing a little disjointed as well. This was the biggest boon for me, but it can be overlooked if you’re just looking for more Corpse Party.
On that note, and at the risk of spoiling an aspect of this game, it ends in a rather ginormous cliffhanger that promises to lead to a future title. But like Spec Ops: The Line and Journey, the immediate after-hype does inspire one to go online and look up discussion topics on the game. So mission accomplished in that respect.
While some series try to open up the appeal of their titles to a broader audience, Book of Shadows limits itself to a niche market, but succeeds in delivering a solid experience to those who want to get invested in it. I have a bunch of friends that I cannot respectfully recommend this game to; but there’s also a handful, who like visual novels and/or Corpse Party, that will eat this title up.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows gets a:
This version of the game was played on a PS Vita and was provided as a review copy by XSEED. All chapters and several bad endings were achieved within eight hours. Additional images in this review were provided by XSEED’s site for the game.