Visual Novel, Corpse Party is the PSP remake of the 1996 game Corpse Party PC-98, developed by doujin group Team GrisGris. The survival horror game is part RPG and part visual novel. It follows the story of eight students and one teacher as they try to escape the halls of Heavenly Host Elementary School. Scares ensue.
Despite not being good with horror games, I tried my hand at XSEED’s localisation of Corpse Party. Well, I may have needed a few pushes, but it’s the end that counts. While the game has its fair share of ghosts, jump scares and deaths, I found myself enjoying it for the puzzle solving, characters and story.
Corpse Party opens with eight high school students and their teacher as they tell scary stories at night. Once things wind down, the group begins to feel sad about one classmate who is soon transferring to a different school. The class representative suggests that they all perform a charm called Sachiko Ever After to stay friends forever. She produces a dubious paper doll and encourages everyone to grab a piece and chant. This ends with everyone falling into a different dimension where they wake separated in a run-down school of unspeakable horrors.
Corpse Party’s gameplay is a mix of RPG Maker-esque exploration with visual novel cutscenes. It’s broken into chapters where you take control of one or two characters as they explore the school and try to find a way back home. Although I was overwhelmed with so many characters in the beginning, each chapter only focuses on a few, so it’s easy to get to know the students and even come to like them.
Of course, getting to know and love characters has its downside. Not everyone is destined to survive Heavenly Host, despite how many times you reload your save and try to rescue them. Your job is to survive as best you can, even if that means letting some people die. Most chapters have multiple bad endings where your player characters die in horrible ways and you can only progress by getting things right. If you’re playing blind, it can only mean walking into a number of Wrong Ends.
While Corpse Party is a game you play more for characters and gore, it does deliver a solid plot. The characters struggle to protect themselves and their friends, try to deal with the guilt over messing up the ritual, cling to their sanity as death looms over their heads, all while unravelling the macabre story behind the Sachiko Ever After charm. Seeing each character go through these trials as well as downright gruesome scenes bring you closer to them and you can forgive some of the more elaborate plot twists. I think that the story has enough substance to draw in people who wouldn’t ordinarily play horror games, but at the same time it delivers enough blood, screams and suspenseful atmosphere that those who enjoy that should get their fill.
Corpse Party’s weaknesses are few but noticeable. As the game seems loosely based on the RPG Maker system, it also has the same setbacks. The auto-follow AI for ghosts is simple enough that you can easily trap anything pursuing you in floorboards or gaps in walkways.
Saving can only be done at certain infrequent points and in only five slots per chapter, although it can be said it pressures you to make the right choices. Some puzzles require you to run around for a certain period of time or look at specific objects in particular rooms. The conditions to clear an ending sometimes involve moves that make no sense, like falling into an obvious trap.
Sometimes paths are blocked off by a not-so-obvious push in the opposite direction. Despite all this, the game really shines when it comes to atmosphere. Dark hallways that can change at any moment, well performed voice acting, solid use of sound, and plenty of event graphics combine to make a quiet yet scary game. Players shouldn’t expect to run around vanquishing ghosts but rather prepare for creeping around barely-lit classrooms to find an item to move forward.
Corpse Party is available on the UK and US PlayStation Network for €14.99 and $19.99 respectively.
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