Now you must die!
Corpse Party is a cult classic horror video game series that got its start in the 90s on the PC-9801 as a product of RPG Maker and the doujin developer company, Team GrisGris. It wouldn’t be until more than a decade when the Internet era started to get into full swing that the game would get remade for Windows under the new title Corpse Party: Blood Covered, which finally allowed it to become known outside of Japan, and developers started eyeing the game as something they could make a franchise out of. Not only did renowned visual novel developers 5pb and Mages join in on the fun, but now the series boasts two sequels to the original game, a spinoff that I know nothing about, drama CDs, manga, a short anime series, and two-live action films – none of which I have any experience with. And of course, the first game has been ported to many systems. Hell, it’s on Steam right now.
Of course, the one I’m reviewing is the 3DS version, which is basically an enhanced port of the PSP version, which in itself is an enhanced port of the Blood Covered remake. Unlike the one on Steam (which is an enhanced port of the Windows version), the 3DS version has a more modern anime-esque presentation in terms of the sprites, character models, and cutscenes, plus it has all the bonus content and characters to boot, which makes it the ideal game to play as long as you own the system.
It’s not the most critically acclaimed anime/horror game of all-time, but Corpse Party does have a very devoted fanbase, with a good chunk of them discovering the game through Pewdiepie’s Let’s Play of it. I’ve been curious about the series for some time myself, because while I’m certainly well aware of Japanese horror movies and games, I know next to nothing about anime horror games aside from Ryukishi07’s stuff – and let’s be honest, his stuff is not a good benchmark. And seven months after owning the game, I finally got around to playing the damn thing. How does it stack up? Read on to find out.
Corpse Party centers on a group of high school students (that look like they’re five years than they actually are) who become trapped in an alternate dimension after performing a strange ritual during the middle of a ghost story sharing session. The original cast composed of a generic do-gooder named Satoshi Mochida, his imouto Yuka Mochida, the female childhood friend Naomi Nakashima, the token tough male friend character Yoshiki Kinamura, and the good-natured girl Ayumi Shinozaki. However, since then, the original cast and plot had been expanded to include the playful girl Seiko Shinohara, popular student Mayu Suzumoto, corpse-maniac and general douche Satoru Moshirige, and responsible female teacher Yui Shishido. That’s nine main characters to keep track of, although you can tell who was included later on since you mostly physically control the original five throughout the game.
Upon arriving in said alternate dimension, which composes of a ruined version of their school with haunted kids roaming around who will give you an instant game over if you so much as look at them, the characters are split up from each other and must discover a way out whilst dealing with the setting trying to kill them, other people who have been trapped in the dimension, and the truth behind a serial killing that apparently fuels the haunted kids’ vengeance. I think the plot details pan out differently depending on what version you’re playing, so it’s a little hard to summarize the true version of events, but in my experience, everything gets traced back to an unfortunate accident and a young girl named Sachiko Shinozaki, who kind of reminds me of a Hell Girl victim who turned into a Hell Girl murderer with no restrictions and no focus on who to actually kill.
While there are many endings to the game, there’s only one true path to take, while everything else plays out like a non-standard game over. Just know that if you’re not using a guide, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid any of the bloody images I’m posting in this review within the actual game. Or if you have a fetish for finding all of those bad endings, you’re going to need a guide, because some of them are about as obscure as finding the true ending. Obviously, I’m not going to spoil what any of these endings are, because there has been no situation when spoiling how a horror story turns out improves the experience.
Corpse Party is basically a third-person top-down adventure game with some visual novel elements mixed into it. You’ll walk around the school trying to find the items or clues that will allow you to progress forward, all whilst avoiding contact with one-hit kill enemies and the occasional floor trap that will slowly drain your arbitrary HP bar. The school isn’t particularly large, so it doesn’t take long to find the plot to move forward as long as you search everything, but the progression can get a little obtuse at times, and there are moments where if you don’t remember the right facts at a critical moment, your character will instantly get scissors shoved down their throat. Other than that, the only gameplay is scrolling through dialogue accompanied by character faces, so there’s not really too much else to say about it.
I ran into quite a few bad endings caused by the game not making it all that clear what I was supposed to do combined with some bad luck on my part. However, I did run into one bad ending caused by the sensitivity of the controls, which accidentally caused me to choose a decision I didn’t mean to pick, and I blamed Zero from Zero Time Dilemma for my misfortune. For the most part, the 3DS port is well-optimized with fair loading times and good movement speed for the characters and dialogue, but the decision moments could have done with the sensitivity toned down.
It took me a little while to adjust to Corpse Party since I’m not used to these sort of top-down adventure games. Once I did adjust to it though, I admit to finding the game mildly absorbing, which if you know my opinion on anime horror, is a really rare thing indeed. Sure the characters are stereotypes and the plot doesn’t have much to it besides the twists, but horror is allowed to get away with that as long as it delivers on the atmosphere. While some of the death scenes are ridiculously over-the-top, they’re nowhere near the ultraviolent gorefest that Corpse Party eventually got flanderized into unless you count the two times when they depict sprites like the bodies blew up from the inside-out, and several of them managed to legitimately unnerve me. Of course, you also have to remember that Corpse Party is a video game, and it’s easier to draw people into the atmosphere when they’re required to interact with it, as many Silent Hill fans can attest to.
Nevertheless, my heart was racing when some sister-loving maniac started chasing Yuka all around the area whilst I was in control of her. And what made it even scarier was how the guy just never gives up no matter where I run into, although this did get silly when always teleports from the door you entered out of three seconds later, even though that should have been physically impossible in some cases. The ghost kids themselves were scary when they suddenly appear in rooms whilst standing still and when you’re required to talk to them to progress the story (but make sure you have the right item first or you’re screwed), but when they’re just chasing you, they’re more of an annoyance than a scary presence. Also, the final chase scene at the end was scary too, and I had to cheat for that one because I didn’t know where I was supposed to go for the life of me, and even with looking it up, I only had one second left before I got another freaking bad ending.
Like most people, my favorite character was Yoshiki because while he doesn’t really shed his stereotype, he’s also a really determined and really loyal guy, and I have to respect that. The girl he has a crush on is mostly hated across the fanbase, but I found her tolerable here, even though she doesn’t do much to stand out in exchange. Really though, the most interesting characters were the ghost kids, because they actually had arcs to them, whereas the leads mainly react to things or get turned into murderers due to the dimension’s influence. It reminds me of when I recently saw the movie adaptation of Valerian and how the only time I really cared was when Rihanna’s alien slave character appeared because she actually had real problems beyond Dane DeHaan acting like a douche again.
Aside from the obtuseness, nothing about the game is unfair. There are save points spread out regularly so you can restart at a decent place if you get a bad ending, and as long as you know to avoid the easy route, you’ll mostly avoid accidentally getting Ayumi stuck in a drain. That said, the obtuseness is a big sticking point for me, and when something becomes a problem that it devolves into trail-and-error, I’m going to call it out. This especially becomes true in the final chapter, where there’s absolutely no indication that taking a little detour will suddenly turn one of the nicer characters into a murderer. And the moments when you had to switch between two different parties was a pain as well because I forgot to turn one little pulley and couldn’t figure out where it was and who I was supposed to play as to get to it.
Corpse Party’s gameplay can be a bit frustrating at times, and the frustration increases with each subsequent chapter due to the rising number of bad endings that can trigger if you so much as accidentally press the “A” button one too many times. I managed to get it through it because the story seemed interesting, and when I finished the game, something about the way it turned out really stuck with me to the point that I wanted to buy the sequels in order to continue the story – although I haven’t decided how I’d acquire them, plus I’ve been told they’re pretty bad. Well, even if they are, the first game can easily stand on its own as a complete product, so it doesn’t really matter either way.
It’s a very flawed, but very engaging piece of interactive horror fiction that managed to legitimately scare me at times, especially when I got a bad ending that I didn’t see coming because I didn’t realize draining a pool while someone is inside it will probably cause them to get sucked in the large drain and be crushed by the pressure. And while I could have used more characterization to have these characters stand out beyond the stereotypes they’re assigned, Corpse Party is definitely something I’d recommend trying out at least once. Just don’t make another shitty “oh my god this is so scary” Let’s Play out of it. I think the human race has had their fill of that gameplay style by now.
- Yes I’m aware of Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient, but I’m not going to give that any attention until it releases more than one fucking episode.
- I have heard that the anime is so bloody that it puts Elfen Lied and Ninja Scroll to shame, so make of that what you will.