Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gameday Sunday: Corpse Party (PSP / 2011)


Sony’s PlayStation Portable may have been replaced years ago by the Vita but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some life left in the good ol’ PSP.

Ironically, it’s death – not life – that’s at forefront of Corpse Party, a horror adventure game that is surprisingly chilling and engaging for a handheld excursion, despite a number of glaring faults. Corpse Party originated in Japan back in 1996, developed with the aid of the famed RPG Maker software. It proved successful enough for a remake and several sequels to be released. Corpse Party: Blood Covered Repeated Fear, was imported to North America by Xseed Games back on November 22nd 2011. The game is available exclusively via download on the PlayStation Network.

Corpse Party tells the story of a group of high school students who, while attempting a seemingly harmless friendship ritual, get transported into a parallel dimension. The classmates soon find out that their former school, Kisaragi Academy, has transformed into the dilapidated confines of Heavenly Host Elementary – a haunted school with a cursed past. Throughout the game, your goal is to lead the students around Heavenly Host without falling victim to the grisly trappings that wait around every corner. Despite the game’s employ of retro 16-bit graphics and 2D sprites, Corpse Party is able to send a convey an overwhelming amount of dread, fear, and outright scares to the player; it will be sure to keep you on the edge of your seat, more so than many of the more notable console games (like the recent entries in the Resident Evil series, to name names).

Make no mistake, Corpse Party is all about story. The game is broken into chapters and by the end of chapter one you’ll already feel a bond to these characters – so much so that you’ll be carefully considering your path around the rooms and halls of Heavenly Host, taking every caution to ensure your character makes it to safety. Word of caution, those looking for rampant aspects of gameplay should venture elsewhere. Aside from moving your character around with the directional buttons and pushing ‘X’ to investigate your surroundings, there’s not much else that can be done. Corpse Party is not an RPG where the player can fight back. Instead, one is just trying to survive, and the limited controls often augment the feeling of futility and desperation as you hazard the dim corridors around you.

Most of Corpse Party’s story is told through onscreen text and some voice acting. To their credit, Xseed did a fine job of translating the game for English audiences. While the only soundtrack option is for the original Japanese voice acting – a shining example of phenomenal voice work, to be sure – the text screens convey the horrific details of the unfolding events. At times some of the dialogue seems unfitting for the treacherous situation at hand, but it’s not a deal breaker. The sound effects are eerie and effective in sending constant shivers up your spine, just be sure to wear a decent pair of headphones while playing for maximum results and to create an even more immersive experience.

Corpse Party stumbles in the frequent ways your character can die. On one hand, it’s interesting to see all the options that can lead to your demise, but it quickly becomes a maddening exercise in frustration – one that almost has you hurling the PSP across the room. In a typical game, you die and can start right back up from a nearby checkpoint. Not so with Corpse Party; once you meet your untimely end don’t think you can simply return to where you last faltered and pick up there. Instead, you’ll often have to retread the same ground you already covered and, worst yet, manually skip through pages upon pages of text you had read only moments ago. It goes without saying that you’ll see game over screens very often, since many of the game’s sequences rely on you performing a series of actions in precise order, or by either doing or not doing something that may inadvertently lead to your character’s death (like looking at a specific note). Playing without a strategy guide is not recommended.

Despite this, Corpse Party has some grand moments. One scene has your character trapped in a school infirmary while being pursued by a shadowy figure. The only exit is a door – it won’t open…it’s been shut tight, covered by strands of thick black hair. Fortunately, your character had found matches and a bottle of rubbing alcohol a short time ago…only by using these, you can burn the hair away and make your escape. It’s times like that when Corpse Party becomes a thrilling affair. The death scenes are surprisingly gruesome as well, including one where a possessed character shoves scissors down her throat!

Corpse Party isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Japan’s brand of the supernatural and America’s penchant for gory horror – and you’re looking for a reason to fire up that PSP or Vita (since it's playable on that as well) – you might want to give this one a try. A sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows was released digitally in North America in 2013 and the latest entry, Corpse Party: Blood Drive, received a physical release in the US back in October of 2015.

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