Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Review for PSP

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Review for PSP

Corpses Piled High

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a difficult title to review. This is in part because I am a woeful pansy, incapable of playing games with grotesque imagery and helpless characters for more than brief stretches of time, and largely because Book of Shadows is not necessarily what one would consider a “game.” Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is more or less a visual novel, as Jenni Lada mentioned in her article on their Western proliferation . This entails lots of text, long stretches of time without any sort of interaction, and choices that have a tremendous impact on how the story plays out.

That isn’t to say that Book of Shadows is all text and images with nothing resembling gameplay. There’s a form of exploration, during which the title seems to pull elements most notably from point-and-click adventure games of yore. It’s a bit unwieldy to select items in the environment with the stick or D-Pad (it makes one wish this were a native Vita title, just for the touchscreen functionality), but it works. You won’t really be solving complex puzzles, though. Inventory items don’t exist to be combined in creative, if obtuse, ways. They’re taken at face value, acting more as triggers for interactive elements in the environment or hidden story paths than as pieces in a riddle.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Screenshot

And there are a lot of hidden paths to uncover. Book of Shadows, like its more free-roaming predecessor, is divided into discrete chapters, each of which comes with at least a couple of “Wrong Ends” and only one true ending. Some have five or six bad conclusions, each of which occurs under different circumstances and can prove as compelling as the chapter’s actual ending. The next chapter won’t unlock until you’ve achieved the current chapter’s true ending, though.

This structure makes a bit less sense in Book of Shadows than it did in the original Corpse Party. While Corpse Party was a single narrative split among many characters, the events of their stories interweaving to unveil the whole and come to an eventual climax and conclusion, Book of Shadows is more like a series of side-stories and vignettes. While the opening cinematic hints at a continuation of the original game’s storyline, the actual chapters, save for a bonus one that only unlocks once certain requirements have been fulfilled, all take place either before the original game or expand on events that occurred within it (though twisted into alternative what-if scenarios).

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Screenshot

Most of the tales see the player returning to Heavenly Host, where they see things from the perspective of less central characters from the first game. Morishige, for instance, or Byakudan’s Tohko. One of the game’s more interesting chapters is actually a fever-induced memory of Ms. Yui’s, which takes place in Kisaragi Academy and foreshadows some of the events at Heavenly Host. It’s also one of the more enjoyable chapters to play because it doesn’t mess with the standard choice-heavy visual novel style.

Most other chapters get bogged down with aimless wandering, by which one hopes to stumble upon an item or trigger that allows one to proceed. The school is divided into spaces that one selects from a menu, which is how one travels the halls and enters rooms. Once on a space, the player is presented with a mostly static view and a cursor for selecting items in the environment. The problem is, progression-critical items might be found on seemingly random hall squares, which can be passed through without any indication that they contain anything of value.

When the trigger isn’t an item, it’s a specific square one must pass through, at which point the next event kicks off and the story advances. In one particularly frustrating case, a key event can’t be triggered unless one’s “Darkness” meter is high enough. There is no indication in the world, in anything any character has said, or even in the general mechanics of the game, that this is what must be done. This occurs in the very first chapter of the game.

Darkness in general is an odd mechanic. It’s supposed to serve as a sort of “sanity meter,” with characters reacting in increasingly terrible ways as it rises higher until, at 100%, the character outright dies and the player receives a “Wrong End.” As with most deaths in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, this is rarely a quick and simple ordeal. It’s just an odd mechanic since it really doesn’t tend to rise unless one spends an inordinate amount of time checking out corpses one has already viewed. Bad decisions don’t generally affect the darkness meter, either, since they mostly result in immediate death.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Screenshot

Death is everywhere in Book of Shadows, as one might expect from a game with the word “corpse” in its very title. There are human remains throughout Heavenly Host, many of which suffered grotesque injuries that sealed their fates. Additionally, almost every “Wrong End” results in a graphic description of a character’s undoing, accompanied by chilling sound effects and voice overs (the game is voiced throughout in Japanese, and the cast isn’t afraid to ham it up). The visuals themselves don’t always live up to what the audio and text promise (in content, not in quality; the illustrations are very well-drawn), opting for restraint in even the most explicit of cases, but this is probably for the best. Imagining the events as described allows the player to see it in a way that is most unsettling to them, facilitated by the game’s incredible atmosphere.

This is a title dependent on its overbearing sense of dread. While playing it, each move through the school is accompanied by the fear that it will lead to an irrevocable mistake, each decision fraught with the danger that it might prove terminal. These don’t serve to punish one’s progress, since the game allows the player to save at almost any time, even mid-decision. The tension is still there, though, because the results of one’s decisions can border on traumatizing. I really didn’t want to take a step and find out I’d been beheaded with piano wire, or ripped apart by Sachiko, my skull crushed by Yoshikazu and his giant hammer. Maybe that’s just me, and others will actually derive perverse pleasure from the myriad means by which it is possible to meet one’s end. It’s certainly necessary if players hope to get the most out of the game.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Screenshot

Unless one has a completed save of the original Corpse Party to import into Book of Shadows, the eighth chapter of the game, Blood Drive, can only be accessed if one achieves every possible ending in the other seven chapters. For those who beat the original Corpse Party, the bonus chapter will open up after receiving every true ending. Blood Drive directly continues the plot of the original Corpse Party, and is also the source for the titular “Book of Shadows.” It’s really just a prologue for an upcoming Corpse Party game of the same name (not to be confused with Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient, which is developer GrindHouse’s current focus). That it thus ends with numerous threads unresolved is not at all surprising.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is not a game for everyone, or even for all horror fans. It will appeal to those in the very narrow center of the horror/visual novel Venn diagram. Those people, however, can expect an extremely well-written, disturbing set of mostly-disjointed tales that are united by the terror they propagate.

Extremely well-drawn CGs and creepy backgrounds are only slightly marred by a somewhat clunky navigation interface. 3.5 Control
There isn’t usually a lot to control, but it would certainly benefit from a device with a touchscreen. It does the best with what it has. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Absolutely wonderful. Or terrible. What I mean is that the sound of awful things happening to decent people is extremely well produced. And the voice acting is terrific. 3.0 Play Value
This is an iffy area. You’re looking at maybe eight to ten hours just to “finish” the game, plus another couple unlocking “Wrong Ends,” and then the final chapter. It might not manage to hold your attention that long, though. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • More realistically proportioned and immersive first-person environments with ending routes based solely on player decisions eliminate reliance on reflexes over strategy.
  • Characters gradually become frightened and unstable, distorting the game’s graphics and altering their decision-making abilities.
  • The already robust cast from the original is further humanized, adding to the game’s immersion and preying on the player’s sense of empathy.
  • Original Japanese voices are kept intact for authenticity, and players can feel like they’re part of the action by hearing speech, screams, and spooky sounds coming from literally all around them when played with headphones.
  • Players caught by “wrong ends” can easily redo whatever actions may have damned them by skipping and fast-forwarding through any scene in the game, as well as keeping ample saves on hand at crucial turning points (even if they’re in the middle of conversations).

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