Who would have guessed erratically spaced typesetting could be so terrifying
My first experience with Corpse Party was, apparently, back in 2011 on the PSP. I’d swear it was a few years earlier, but I guess I’m mistaken. It unnerved me so badly, that I don’t think I made it through the first chapter. But here I am, impervious to horror game fear, and with a new remaster, it’s time to return to Heavenly Host Elementary School and unravel its mystery.
This is essentially the millionth remaster of the game, give or take a few hundred thousand. Corpse Party was originally made in RPG Maker back ‘96. In 2006, they tried remaking it for mobile, but when that fizzled, it was redone for PC in 2008. The remake completely overhauled the story and structure of the game, which is how it has been presented since. An enhanced version was then released in 2010 for PSP and iOS, then again in 2016 for 3DS, which leads us here.
This is technically just a port of the 3DS version, Corpse Party Blood Covered: …Repeated Fear with some extras tacked on. What you’re going to get from this release is going to depend on whether or not you played one of the previous versions and how much you like voice acting.
Those crazy teenagers; meddling in the occult again. The story goes that eight children and one teacher get together to tell ghost stories after school. They’re seeing off their friend who is transferring away, and they decide to try the Sachiko Ever After charm that one of the girls read about online. They screw the whole thing up and end up trapped in the decaying remains of Heavenly Host Elementary School.
Heavenly Host was shut down decades prior after a grisly murder was uncovered, followed by vicious rumors and further tragedies. It was subsequently torn down, but here these nine hapless youths find themselves.
It’s sort of a Silent Hill situation. The locale of this horror story is the general antagonist. Students from all over have made the same mistake and been sucked into educational hell. Gradually they’ve either starved, succumbed to madness and killed themselves, or killed each other. There’s also a chance that they ran into one of the many tortured spirits who roam the crumbling halls. Good times.
Corpse Party is broken into five regular chapters (and about a million extra ones). The goal of the game is to get through each of them without hitting a bad ending, which usually involves someone dying when they’re not supposed to. The fifth chapter is its own beast, but we’ll get to that.
Gameplay jumps from character to character as they try to figure out how to escape the decrepit school with their lives. It’s something between an adventure game and a visual novel, despite originally being made in RPG Maker. There’s a great deal of dialogue, sometimes just presented against a black screen, and other times over an illustration. The actual gameplay parts essentially just have you crisscrossing the school trying to find what will trigger the next event. It’s definitely narratively focused, but it was the investigation in between that had me so terrified the first time I played it, aided by an unsettling soundtrack.
The narrative, in general, is entertaining. Corpse Party does a decent way of setting up the characters, their despair, and the background of the school. Bit by bit, it feeds you information and misdirection on what’s going on before dropping a dragon’s horde of information on you in the last chapter. At the same time, it’s reasonably well-paced and well-told.
The biggest issue I had involved the final chapter. Previous chapters could only be completed in a single way, every other way is a bad ending, and you can’t proceed to the next chapter until you’re successful. However, there are multiple endings, and that’s where the finale comes in.
The finale is like trying to follow a partner’s dance steps with no way of predicting what’s coming next. If you want to get the best ending, you’ll be replaying this part over and over. I once derailed things in a bad direction because I triggered a cutscene before picking up an item. Reversing the order triggers a completely different cutscene, almost arbitrarily. It goes on like this, with you having to untangle exactly what the game wants from you with no indication that something you’re doing is wrong.
The story itself has problems, but nothing severe. Mostly, I was somewhat bothered by its overt descriptions of bodily functions. I get it, there’s gruesome death everywhere in this game, and I shouldn’t be bothered. Everybody poops. It’s the way that it’s presented that bothers me. One of the characters describes having “bloody BM.” Do you mean that there’s blood in your stool? You sound like someone’s mom telling the school why her child won’t be attending that day. Another spirit writes of the way she died and is sure to include that she soiled herself and that it was embarrassing. Okay, so you want to include that in your own post-mortem? It brings up the body’s process of voiding its bowels after death frequently.
The choice of language is rather strange, which is perhaps a problem with the translation, and not the writing itself. But I couldn’t get past the idea that the dialogue is fetishizing these human processes. This is made more bothersome by the fact that there are multiple panty shots of the underaged female protagonists more than once. Listen, I’ve said it before, I don’t care what your search history looks like. I just don’t want you showing it to me.
There’s also the voice acting, which I find unnecessary. Not because it’s entirely in Japanese and I’m not fluent enough to understand it, but because a great deal of it is just screaming and grunting. A lot of it. Corpse Party spends a lot of time screaming at you. Appropriate for a horror game, I suppose, it’s just a bit…much.
The extras that come with this port of Corpse Party aren’t all that exciting. There are a couple of extra side-chapters, and others that were added to the 3DS version have received voiceovers, which, as I said, I wasn’t big on to begin with.
With all that said, I can clearly see why Corpse Party is a cult classic. It’s a dismal, oppressive horror game that sinks you into the hell it has constructed. It presents a thick, sticky mystery to wade through and presents it with panache. It’s maybe not the most essential remaster of a game, but the same spooky tale of hopelessness is still present. I just wish it would keep its obvious fascination with human excrement to itself.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]