Game: Corpse Party
Release Date: October 20, 2021
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC, Switch
Estimated Completion Time: 10 hours
Party Like It’s 1996
The Corpse Party series has a complicated history. I could spend as much time detailing the differences between each version of the first game as actually reviewing the game, but I’ll try to keep things as simple as possible. Developed by Team GrisGris in 1996 for the Japanese PC-9801 using an early version of RPG Maker software, Corpse Party earned a loyal following with its story of a group of high school students trapped in a haunted elementary school.
The initial release lacked a proper finale, however, and it wouldn’t be until a second remake in 2011 that the story would be complete. That release, titled Corpse Party Blood Covered: …Repeated Fear was also the first time the game received an official English release for iOS and PSP. In 2016, an updated version was released for 3DS that added an extra chapter, making it the definitive version of the game… until now. The 2021 rerelease contains all of the content from the 3DS version, along with some shiny new additions.
Corpse Party‘s story begins with a group of friends performing a seemingly harmless ritual in their high school classroom. Moments after the ritual is completed a massive earthquake occurs, separating the group. When the dust settles, the eight students and their teacher realize that they are in a very different version of the school and unable to escape.
It doesn’t take long before the kids begin literally tripping over the dead bodies of those who were transported to the otherworldly Heavenly Host elementary school before them. There’s also the small matter of the numerous malicious spirits that patrol the school in search of their next victims. Only by solving a decades-old mystery and appeasing certain spirits can the students find any hope of escaping.
The main story is separated into five chapters – each primarily focusing on a smaller group of characters. Each group is in its own unique instance of the school and unable to interact with or communicate with the other groups. The layout of the school also shifts seemingly at will in order to prevent escape. So you’ve got parallel dimensions, vicious ghosts, and a school that thinks its in House of Leaves. Those elements make for a fun and unique horror story, but what really sets Corpse Party apart is its relentlessly bleak tone.
Smells Like Teen Spirits
It should come as no surprise that there is plenty of horrific content in a game with the word “corpse” in the title. The few non-violent spirits you encounter are all-too-willing to describe their gruesome demise to you. Worse than that are the deaths that you don’t hear about, though. A hallway might be painted red with blood, with intestines scattered about the floor, with no explanation of who it all belonged to. It’s generally unpleasant stuff – especially when you witness the inevitable demise of one of the central characters.
This game is certainly not for the faint of heart. The descriptions of violence are highly detailed and often accompanied by effective voice acting. You’ll probably have heard as much screaming, gurgling, and sputtering as actual dialogue when all is said and done. And as if that’s not enough, a handful of CG screens detail some of the most terrifying moments in vivid detail. There are plenty of “wrong” endings that all end in death and despair, but sometimes a beloved character suffers a tragic death and there’s simply nothing that can be done to prevent it.
On a personal note, I first played Corpse Party on the PSP in 2011, and didn’t get very far. The game wasn’t too challenging or anything like that. I just simply couldn’t handle its often cruel and hopeless nature. I put the game down shortly after completing the first chapter with the intent of continuing when my state of mind was a bit stronger. Here we are a full decade later, and after several attempts, I finally finished the game.
But How Does It Play?
With so much of this review focusing on the story so far, you might think the game is a visual novel. Well, it kind of is, but you wouldn’t guess that by looking at it. Corpse Party is presented in a top-down perspective with 16-bit sprites, similar to a SNES-era JRPG. Characters appear as cute chibi-style sprites with more detailed portraits at the corner of the screen. Rounding out the user interface is a list of obtained items opposite the character portraits.
You have direct control of your character as they search the school, rifling through desks and cabinets for clues. For the most part, the game makes it obvious when an item can be searched. There are, however, one or two frustrating instances of items on the floor near key locations with no visual clue. If an area looks even remotely suspicious, search everywhere with the “confirm” button. Some key items don’t even appear until you wander past a certain point, so don’t be averse to double-checking explored rooms.
While exploring, you’ll find plenty of newspaper articles and memos detailing the tragic history of Heavenly Host. Much of this expository material is optional, but there’s not much else to do while exploring. Seeing an “HP” meter under the character portraits might lead you to believe there’s combat, but there is not. There are a handful of chase sequences and some environmental hazards that can deplete your HP, but that’s about it.
Visuals and Sound
As stated earlier, Corpse Party is at its core a 25-year-old game, and it often shows. The low-res 16-bit sprites could have used a fresh coat of paint, but they get the job done. As for the pixels making up gory scenes, well… sometimes it’s best to not know exactly what you’re looking at. The full-screen CG images sprinkled throughout the game look fantastic, however. New to this version is some subtle animation for some CG images.
As a pseudo-visual novel, audio is a very important part of the Corpse Party experience. Sound design is phenomenal here, with high-quality spooky sounds adding to the atmosphere. This version of the game is fully voice acted with binaural audio providing 3D sound. Headphones are strongly suggested for the most terrifying experience possible. While ambient sounds and inspired voice acting (Japanese language only) add plenty of immersion, the game also has a surprisingly catchy and melodic soundtrack.
Whether you consider it an adventure game or a visual novel, Corpse Party is at the top of the bloody heap either way. It offers a compellingly bleak ghost story with plenty of sequences of abject horror. The violence and brutality certainly isn’t for everyone, and there are also some distasteful moments of “fan service” that feel out of place in contrast with the despair-inducing tone.
With upgraded audio and additional “extra” chapters, the 2021 release of Corpse Party is the definitive version of the game. Minor complaints such as the lack of a text log and being unable to remove a border (something that would be especially annoying in the Switch version) can easily be patched out in the future, and hardly detract from the otherwise excellent presentation. If you already have a version based on the 2011 release, you might want to wait for a sale. Otherwise, there’s no better time to jump into this series!