Long-running, manga-spawning, ghost-fest Corpse Party has a large cult following in the Far East. Now, one and a half years after its Japanese launch, the most recent sequel – Corpse Party: Book of Shadows – has finally been localised for a Western audience. But is this a party you should RSVP?
By the time the one hour mark rolled over, I was very aware that I hadn’t pressed a single button. Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The last ten minutes or so saw me spamming the X button with increasing rapidity in order to speed up the rate of wearisome dialogue, but the fact remains that I’d been sitting there for an entire 60 minutes and not interacted with anything. I was reading a book.
Not a particularly good one either, if the previous use of the word “wearisome” hadn’t already given that away. Even after the seemingly endless set-up of two Japanese schoolgirls and their sleepover semi-chemistry, the sudden introduction of the horror aspect had little impact. Stumbling upon a blood-written message on a blackboard, the heroine remarks: “I don’t know if it was a person or a ghost who did this, but either way, it was a terrible thing to do.”
So just how did she end up in this position? In much the same way as she did in the previous game, as it happens. It plays out as a kind of prequel, where a group of teens conduct a supernatural ritual that results in them being dragged into the malevolent Heavenly Host Elementary School, and your job is to get them out again. In fact, each of the seven chapters sees you playing a different character with a background that wasn’t really touched on in the first game.
The RPG elements have also been traded in, in favour of a point-and-click game that’s sadly a little light on the actual clicking. Eventually, when the talking is over, you are given freedom to explore your haunted surroundings screen by screen and solve puzzles that could lead to any number of bad endings. I’m not even sure if good endings are possible.
The puzzles themselves aren’t exactly taxing, and your inventory will probably never have more than about four items in it. The crux of the game is really about decision making. Will you pull the lever? Will you open the door? Will you launch your Vita at a wall if you’re interrupted by another 45 minutes worth of dialogue boxes? The kind of decisions where the answer will always be “yes”. The original Resident Evil gave us generic selection options and hammy chit-chat, but it also challenged us to solve real puzzles – and above all gave us the option to liquefy a zombie’s think-box with a pump action shotgun.
Maybe that’s an unfair comparison, but they do actually have one more thing in common: they can both be very, very scary. Despite Corpse Party’s flair for idle teen gossip, when it sporadically settles into its horror groove, it can be massively satisfying. The setting has a certain dark menace and the use of music and sound – the game’s heaviest reliance for atmosphere – is chillingly effective.
Some of the situations in which you find yourself later on are almost jarringly adult for a game that seems so squarely aimed at the pre-20s crowd. A sanity system – known here as your “Darkening” – monitors just how bonkers your character is going, and has the now industry standard effects on your visuals if it gets too high. Interestingly, but for reasons I can’t quite fathom, some levels require you to actually attain a certain amount Darkening before you can complete them.
At one point my Darkening was building up nicely, I’d encountered some pretty ghastly traps and even had to solve a puzzle that involved using a portion of my brain usually reserved for wrapping things like a tennis racquet at Christmas. And then, when the eerie piano music faded out in favour of slow echoing footsteps, the fear really took hold. But who could it be? Well, the very person I thought I was looking for, as it turned out, who promptly confessed their feelings for me over the course of 20,000 dialogue boxes. We’re in a phantom school and there’s a corpse on the floor! Prioritise.
Calling Corpse Party: Book of Shadows a good game would be a stretch. Calling it a game at all might be a struggle. It certainly has plenty of good ideas, but implements them so thinly that you’ll find it difficult to experience one. Dragging yourself through hours of melodramatic non sequiturs and Japanese kids burbling on about who they fancy and how they’ve always loved them but could never tell them would be tough enough if you hadn’t paid for the privilege, let alone shelled out £20. There’s a manga adaptation of this very game. It would make a lot more sense to buy that.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, by XSEED and Team GriGris/5pb, is available now for PS Vita.