Corpse Party ReviewEdward Cheng
It's been almost fifteen years since Corpse Party first debuted in Japan. Most in America probably haven't even heard of it until only recently, but make no mistake, this little Japanese title is no joke. If horror is what you're looking for, then Corpse Party more than delivers a haunting experience you won't forget any time soon.
The game starts normal enough. A small group of students at Kisaragi Academy are telling ghost stories at night as one of their friends prepares to transfer to another school. Unfortunately, the world turns upside as a seemingly harmless ritual and mysterious earthquake transport them to Heavenly Host Elementary School, the previous school which was torn down after a series of gruesome murders. The victims continue to haunt the school and viciously murder any who end up here, including them. To make it worse, they are stuck in different dimensions of the school, all very much the same, but separating groups of the students. Using clues and messages left by those who failed to escape, the group of eight students and a single teacher navigate Heavenly Host Elementary School trying to stay alive and hopefully leave in one piece.
If my words haven't convinced you enough as it is, allow me to be blunt: Corpse Party is not a game for the faint of heart. While expanding further from the original 1996 version, little has changed in terms of the dread and horror which the game inspires.
Story is the biggest player here. The game is split up into five chapters, with you in control of a few of the characters per chapter. As you progress through the story, you gather tags of those who died, explaining their death and where they came from. Little notes, pages, and memoirs left behind by the deceased are also scattered about. Using these little bits of information, you can piece together the last moments of the victims and also gain clues to help you along the way. Be warned, as death comes quickly and with little notice here. Read a little too much and you may end up dooming your character. Make choices in the wrong order and its game over. Don't let the 2D character sprites fool you; fully illustrated images express just how gruesome and grotesque this game can get.
Sound is part of what makes Corpse Party so frightening. The music constantly shifts with your location and even events in the story. Moving from one corridor to the next and you may start with a slightly uplifting beat only to be crushed by the heavier and somber themes the next moment. It's well thought out and done so that it's noticeable, but not enough to be jarring and take away from the experience.
The game mechanics are straightforward and easy. You move your character around the environment and interact with various objects. For anything that can be interacted with, you will be able to pick up some while only getting a description from others. Once an item is picked up, it will automatically be used at key interactions. There are very few action sequences in the game, with exception of the occasional escape from chasing ghosts.
Being well over a decade old, Corpse Party's age is fairly evident in its outdated design, as it is the weakest area of the game. Important objects often blend in with the environment and are easily missed. I spent the first fifteen minutes of the game looking around, not realizing that I needed to use a very hard to see board to bridge a broken hallway and advance. These aren't isolated moments either. In the few areas where the action picks up, it becomes real detriment and will result in frustrating deaths where the object you need is right in front of your face but completely obscure. Backtracking is also necessary, but again never made completely obvious as objects will mysteriously appear when they weren't ever there the first time. Most of the chapters use essentially the same areas with some variation, so this will feel increasingly repetitive and boring. In a sense, the game tries to capture the feeling of powerlessness and confusion, but just does it too well and ends up needlessly frustrating the player in the process.
After the main story has been completed, you also can access ten additional chapters which add more back-story to the game. All in all, you can get about 9-11 hours from the game, more if you go back and get the other endings as well.
From start to finish, Corpse Party is an emotional horror ride with its ups and downs, but at the very end, upon looking back, it is still a satisfyingly dark and haunting. For all its chills and thrills, however, it's a pity that many won't be able to enjoy it due to antiquated and frustrating game mechanics which just don't work.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.