I guess I’ve just been in the mood for this. After I finished up with the Witch’s House, I started up its fellow Japanese RPG Maker developed horror game, which seems really too specific to be a thing but it totally is, Corpse Party. Corpse Party isn’t a freeware game like the Witch’s House, so although it’s got the same basic DNA, it’s got a much more professional presentation. And when you think of professional, of course you think of your main man Aether, so given that totally excellent segue, let’s get down to our review of the game.
Corpse Party is a version of a game that’s a remake of another game from like 1996 or something. There’s a couple different versions of the game, and they all seem to be slightly different in presentation. Basically a horror adventure. Trapped in a school. An evil school. Have to pixel hunt and solve the occasional puzzle to get out. All the while avoiding things that will happen to you. Bad things. Just in case you were thinking you might have to avoid ice cream or something. Wanted to be clear on that. The school is full of traps and also haunted and some of the traps might be haunted to. Maybe you’ll get possessed. Maybe you’ll go crazy. Maybe you’ll make the wrong move and find yourself sliced in half. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And if you die here, there’s no pearly gates waiting for you on the other side. Your soul will linger, feeling the pain you felt at the moment of your death for all eternity.
So it goes without saying that the death scenes are some of the best parts in the game. But let’s get into that later.
So, like I said, Corpse Party is an RPG Maker Horror game. That should give you at least some idea of what you’re looking at. Sprite art everything, text boxes with occasional options the main means of progressing story, simple chase scenes mixed in sporadically, the works. And let’s get the conclusion out of the way here. Horror games are always going to be a ‘your mileage may vary’ type of thing. It’s so personalized, so built on tapping into just who you are and what makes you tick and twisting that against you, that how you react to it is definitely going to be an individualized deal. And I’m going to say that Corpse Party is going to be even more that than most. The horror is really all it has to it. The gameplay is as white bread as it gets, the puzzles barely require thought, plot is totally ehhhhhhh, so it’s all atmosphere here.
And there’s a lot of ways that horror media. Some go the psychological route. Some fill themselves with jumpscares and play off the fear of that momentary panic. Some will present you with things from your everyday life and twist them into freakish interpretations of themselves. Corpse Party goes the route of just being straight disturbing.
The ghosts aren’t particularly scary, in themselves. Nor are the traps. It’s what they do with you that gets to it. You know how most media, right before it does the horrible gruesome thing, will cut away and leave it up to your imagination? Corpse Party doesn’t do that. Corpse Party shows you the horrible thing the whole way through. And the creators are very creative with their horrible things. You get a few stinkers, sure, but for the most part, the game is full of cruel and unusual ways to die, rendered in disturbing detail. You get spared a bit by the fact that it’s all in pixel art, it’d probably cross the line into being rather disgusting if it was in a more representative form, but the descriptions and audio bits do a really good job of carrying that through. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And if it’s not yours, nothing wrong with that. You’re probably what the professionals call “well-adjusted”. If that is the sort of thing you’re into, well, it’s what really carries the experience for you.
I do really have to give props to the game for its audio design. You don’t get the usual freesounds.com bits here, the audio is used very, very well to match the scenes. They’re unique, and really carry along the activity, and most of all, are the biggest piece carrying along that horror atmosphere that’s so important in this type of thing. The soundtrack is notably strong, as well. The voice acting was all recorded binaurally, meaning that if you’re listening to the game through headphones, you’ll get some pretty sweet 3D sound out of it. I’m too lazy to walk across the room and pick up a pair, but I imagine it’s a pretty interesting experience.
Well, I just gave the whole mechanical experience right there. What’s left to talk about? Ah, plot stuff. So, at the outset, you’re part of a group of students cleaning up at Japanese High School after Japanese High School Festival. One of your friends is going to be moving away soon, so you perform one of those little kid urban legend charms that’s going to make you friends forever. Soon after, an earthquake hits the school, your group blacks out, and wakes up separated from each other in an old ruined elementary school. Doors are locked, windows are barred, there’s nothing outside but forest as far as the eye can see anyways. The school keeps going through earthquakes and reshaping itself anyways. Worst of all, there’s a corpse in the classroom with you. And a ghost coming off of this corpse. Says that the school is deadly dangerous, that it’s consumed a lot of kids already, that all your friends are stuck in pocket versions of the school that are never going to interact with each other, and that if you die in here, your soul will suffer from your death for all eternity. So, not fun times. Especially given that there’s absolutely no food or water to be found in the school, madness waits to infect you around every corner, anything may be trapped, and there are ghosts who can take over your mind and force you to do things just by meeting your eye.
It feels blasted threatening, in all. And all throughout the school, you find other students and teachers laying as striking monuments to the total threat level. For most of the game, the atmosphere is very oppressive, which does really help with those post-halloween spooks. And you have to go through with it. Well, your characters. There’s a guy who’s obviously supposed to be the protagonist, in that he’s more generic and boring and declared leaderly than anyone else in a Japanese story, but you take on a varied cast of protagonists as they try to uncover the mystery of this school, the ghosts, and how they might escape.
I have to say, it did really draw me in. In the same grisly mystery type of way that Higurashi did. Corpse Party isn’t as psychological as Higurashi, but it did have the same kind of effect on me, in that I found myself pondering so many implications and mentally exploring a lot of different scenarios though. It ended up blowing it with me, though. It had a very solid twist at the end of the fourth chapter, presented in a stunning manner, but I completely lost patience with the game shortly after that. Largely because of the gameplay aspect. As with many horror adventures, sometimes you’ll do something that leads to you having a bad time later on. At the start of Corpse Party, there’d rarely be much time passing after you did the Bad Thing before your game came to an end. It got a lot sloppier with it as it went on, though, and at the end, it was no big thing to be playing for an hour or more after you doomed yourself before that came through. I ran through repeated runs a couple of times, and at the end found myself less driven by a need to see the story through and more to just cap off the game so I didn’t waste the hours I already put into it.
Making it worse, throughout the game, it’s not always obvious what you did to doom yourself. The best example is early on, in the first chapter. To finish that without dying, you have to read a certain document. In a room the game warns you not to go into. And the game tells you not to read the document right before you do. And if you don’t you die in a way that’s completely unrelated to the document itself. This happens throughout. The game almost necessitates a guide to get through cleanly. Good luck if you’re not on the PSP version, though. The final chapter sees some subtle changes between versions that renders a walkthrough somewhat inaccurate in a few vital ways, and the PSP version seems to be the only one getting some real play on the internet.
So, yeah, that’s that. It’s not for everyone. You have to have a stomach for rather interesting fantasy brutality to enjoy it, but it does have a really interesting atmosphere for the first bulk of it. Wears on towards the end, though.