Hey, who wants to play a horror game? On the PSP? With all the voice acting in Japanese? That has gameplay mechanics more in tune with an 8-bit era JRPG? If I haven’t lost you yet, Corpse Party’s slightly strange presentation might just surprise you with an experience that you might find hard to shake.
Releasing on a system that’s not in the forefront of your average North American’s mind, in the middle of the holiday release season, being only available via the Playstation Store, and it playing far from a typical horror game, Corpse Party seems like a recipe for disaster from the start. Blessedly, this is another one of those “little titles that could” games that XSEED Games, who handled the localization and publishing in our neck of the woods, seems to have a knack for finding.
Made by Team GrisGris (it’s okay, I didn’t know who they were either), the original version was done using RPG Maker as the building blocks for the “game” portion of Corpse Party. After a few remakes, this version, which has been added to since the original 1996 version, has found its way to your PSP with a lot of the simple mechanics intact.
I don’t want to inadvertently give something away, so I’m going to try to be as vague as possible with the story. It starts out with a simple after school get together of a few students, their teacher, and the younger sister of one of the students. After performing a ritual to make sure that they remain friends forever, they find themselves in the halls of a school that existed on the same site their current one stands. This new school they find themselves in has quite the messy history and you learn quickly that even though it’s been torn down, its dirty past continues on in the ethereal plane.
You take control of a varying combination of the characters throughout the game’s five chapters. In these five chapters you come across, as well as have happen to you, any number of unspeakable horrors. As you switch from one group of characters to another, you often find yourself in the know of more than the group you’re currently controlling. The fate of the group you were just controlling might be totally unknown to your current group. As you progress though, you might find you were more in the dark on a situation you thought you were controlling than you thought you were. The game’s narrative likes to throw curveballs at you, along with the regular fright. Corpse Party can have you on edge through some situations.
As you go through and try to piece together what exactly happened to get in this situation to begin with, you come across some basic “find item to use in certain place to continue on” puzzles. These really do tend to be the main weakness in the game, as they do emphasize the game’s roots a little heavily. To be fair, most of these items end up playing some part in the narrative, so keeping them in the game despite the remake is almost necessary. I would have liked to have seen some of these items done away with and their contribution to the story be implemented in some other way, but I feel like I’m picking at something minor that might take away from the experience if not handled properly.
All in all, Corpse Party plays more along the lines of a visual novel (Hotel Dusk: Room 215 or an Ace Attorney title, for example). The game has a story to tell and you’re along for the ride. Like other games in the genre, there are bad endings. You can get your cast killed in some horrendously brutal ways if you do something incorrectly. Unfortunately, that’s something that is likely to occur as you’ll find yourself wandering the halls and checking every room over again to make sure you didn’t miss something. While some parts are fairly straightforward, you will find yourself occasionally wandering through the halls of the school looking for the next “trigger” to keep the story moving forward. One thing to keep in mind as well, there are some things you can do incorrectly that will leave you to an untimely demise. Often times, these are trial and error, so you’ll find yourself at the menu loading up a save to figure out where you went wrong. There are a few instances that you can do something towards the start of a chapter that will cause you to fail further down without any real indication of the consequences. While these can be frustrating at times, there is a fairly comprehensive and spoiler free walkthrough over at Game FAQs. I recommend checking that out if PSP-throwing rage occurs.
Failing isn’t all bad. You’ll have the chance to go back to your last save point and try again. Sure, that’s not exactly ideal sometimes, but to get the full story, you’ll need to let your cast die in some horrible methods. Some of these “bad ends” unlock extra chapters that tell the tales of some of the less fortunate (and less alive) students that have been drawn into the school before you.
Graphically, Corpse Party is something different. The entire game is presented in something more akin to a 16-bit era JRPG, save for the anime-style character portraits that pop up during most conversations and used in stills that act as cutscenes. The look is in stark contrast to the extremely dark and often brutal story. While sprites seem like an odd choice for something that has some grisly circumstances and situations, it frees up your imagination to fill in the blanks visually.
Much praise should be given to XSEED Games for their translation of the game. From the character interactions to the item descriptions, the translation does a wonderful job of making you more emotionally invested in the cast and helping paint a picture of events that the sprites just can’t convey.
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on, what I feel anyway, Corpse Party’s star: the sound. The music, while not a constant part of the game, helps set the mood wonderfully. It will help drive the home the few instances when there’s hope to be found in the game and also immerse you in the cast’s desperation and terror, which is far more prominent. The voice acting, which is in all Japanese, is incredibly strong. The actors do a marvelous job of convincing you of the emotions that their characters are going through at any given moment.
As good as the music and voice acting are, they all take a backseat to the sound effects. I pointed out this game could be gruesome and brutal, well that point is REALLY driven home by the sound effects. I absolutely can’t recommend a good set of headphones enough. The faux surround sound is simply something that must be heard to get the true experience of Corpse Party.
Graphics – While not quite 16-bit sprites, the game’s characters and some of the no longer living remains of characters look like something pulled out of the “blast processing” era and put in hi-res. The character portraits are well done
Sound – Simply put, the sound design is top notch. The music is fitting, the voice acting spot on, and the sound effects add a layer of grisly reality that might be just a little too real sometimes. Headphones are recommended over the PSP’s diminutive (and unfortunately inadequate) speakers to get the full effect.
Gameplay – Simple puzzle stuff that fits more in line with a visual novel than a horror games. You’re definitely not going to be seeing any “survival” aspects here, just horror.
Story – You’d think that playing a horror game on the PSP wouldn’t be horrifying. You’d be wrong. The mystery of the school unfolds with well fleshed out characters and unexpected twists.
Replay Value – While fairly linear, you can always go check out how not going down the correct path turns out, which in turn, opens up extra chapters to check out.
Overall Length – A single run of the game could be done in as few in as 5 hours. Checking out the “bad endings” let’s you see how things could turn out very wrong (if you’re morbid) and also unlocks extra chapters which add a couple more hours to the game.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting with Corpse Party, but I can tell you I wasn’t expecting a game that freaked me out more than anything else this generation. The story is quite the experience, the gameplay is minimalistic, and the sound design is way beyond what you pay for. XSEED Games has dug into the depths of Japan and brought another wonderful addition for the PSP that deserves to be played. As one of the last real PSP titles we’re likely to see in North America, it’s well worth dusting off your PSP, grabbing some headphones, turning off the lights, and experiencing one of the most horrifying games in years.