For those that haven’t heard of Corpse Party, it’s a game I can’t recommend enough… unless you’re of a delicate disposition. As a love child of JRPGs and visual novels, Corpse Party might make people shy away from 8-10 hours of reading through pages of text and notes and newspaper clippings, but I’d consider it a milestone of the genre, with far much more going on in it than you initially think.
You remember watching a good horror film right? The ones that make you so scared that you feel sick to your stomach and your shoulders ache from tensing... Well, this isn’t one of those sorts of affairs. Corpse Party offers something far more disturbing in a way that really doesn’t sit right in your bones, and sometimes that’s worse. Originally developed and released only in Japan in 1996 by Team GrisGris, Corpse Party has certainly come a long way in two decades. With a popular remake in 2008 for the PSP, numerous video game sequels, manga and a couple of rather graphic OVAs, it’s certainly deserved of its cult following and popularity.
"In any game reliant on horror tropes, it’s important to be exposed to the right amount of fear at any given time... It’s a slippery slope, but one Corpse Party navigates very well indeed"
Yet despite its travel from platform to platform and through different countries, the reason I have so much respect for this game is that it hasn’t changed much. With today’s next-gen features and demand for good graphics, I had questioned for a while whether the pressure would change Corpse Party like it has a number of Sega and Nintendo classics. But, sure enough, and apart from a small upgrade for PSP, it’s still got that original flare to it. In fact, the PC version is inclusive worldwide with all of its original art work and voice acting, just in case any die-hard PSP fans noticed a difference between the two versions.
Corpse Party follows the story of eight school friends (and one adorable teacher) who complete the "Sachiko Ever After" charm to bind them together forever for their transferring classmate, Mayu. Obviously things don’t go to plan and an earthquake sends them careening through the floor and into another place/time/dimension: Heavenly Host Elementary. From this point it’s a race for survival as you try to reunite with your friends and unravel the mystery behind a series of gruesome murders. All before the school, and its spirits, claim you as one of their own to suffer for all eternity. With five chapters and a collective 27 endings, there’s a lot that can happen in between. Bear in mind that only one ending per chapter is considered "the best". Feeling the pressure yet?
In a simple way of thinking, there are horror lovers who enjoy the fast, palm-sweating, pulse-racing games that rely on repetitive jump-scares like those in Emilys Want to Play, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and so on. Then there are horror lovers who revel in the slow, mental torment that sends you quaking at any sound or slight movement like those in Corpse Party, Alien: Isolation and Amnesia. In any game reliant on horror tropes, it’s important to be exposed to the right amount of fear at any given time. Too little and you get bored. Too much and you get used to it. It’s a slippery slope, but one Corpse Party navigates very well indeed.
To those who haven’t clicked away at the mere mention of "visual novel", good – this part’s for you. Yes there is a lot of dialogue, especially in that crucial beginning section, but it’s all necessary. It makes the story more than just a paranormal hack-and-slash horror. But just to add to the excitement there’s plenty of interaction too, many moments of which have sent my hands shaking under the pressure of getting it right and not killing my characters from too many stupid mistakes. You’re faced with plenty of choices in your exploration, some of which you don’t realise have consequences until afterwards – that is something I very much like.
"You’re faced with plenty of choices in your exploration, some of which you don’t realise have consequences until afterwards"
The soundtrack is the next thing that makes Corpse Party the phenomenal experience it is. Though I’d recommend taking a moment to sort out your sound volumes because the collective use of music and sound effects just scared the absolute pants off me at times. That’s one of the things I love about a lot of JRPGs, such as The Witch’s House; the use of sound. Perfectly-timed phones ringing, boards creaking, and a sudden burst of music that is more ambient than obnoxious. Though I found it a bit odd at first, I also thought the voice actors did a great job as well. I only wish the voices were more consistent and, actually, I wish there were more points where they were used.
Gameplay-wise, Corpse Party is your standard JRPG, using WASD to move and the spacebar to interact on PC, there’s nothing really to complain about. What did set me in a rage at times was when I’d attempted the game using a controller – even the D pad, god forbid – and the movements were oversensitive. During the exploratory gameplay it wasn’t so noticeable, but when you’re trying to get around, or away from, something your steps can be overshot and therefore catastrophic in terms of what ending you’re trying to get. Other than that, in keeping with its 16-bit predecessor, the classic 2D figures and similar backgrounds make it that much more endearing and no less terrifying than the graphics of today’s modern horrors.
On the subject of raging, I can’t really class this as a negative so I’ll just call it a neutral point that needs to be spoken about. Corpse Party takes you back to the days of the save point, and save points in this game are pretty far apart and usually in-between long sequences. What bugs me about that is if you’ve forgotten to save and then the game pulls one of its "oh, you touched that? No, don’t touch that! Surprise! You’re dead now" moments, it throws you all the way back, forcing you to retread back through lots of dialogue sequences. It can get pretty aggravating at times but that’s the risk of the game. The only point where it starts getting tedious is if you’re trying to get a specific end and you keep failing. For example, in Chapter 2 you have to avoid the boy ghost touching you, otherwise the ending changes. In the end it took me at least a dozen tries to succeed, all the while backtracking and going through cutscenes and dialogue. Eventually it eats up a lot of time and patience, so be prepared for that if you’re determined to get a particular ending.
Overall Corpse Party is a game that doesn’t leave you hanging. It also tends not to leave you, full stop. From its disturbing events to horrific plot line, it’d just as soon give you nightmares as it would thrills, and I’ve had a few since playing. My advice would be to buy this game and make sure you have the time to play it properly. Don’t skip the dialogue, investigate everything properly, and experience Corpse Party in its full glory. Then maybe sleep with the light on for a few nights, just in case.