Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
Developers: 5pb., Team GrisGris
Platform: PSP, (Playable on Vita)
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Price: $19.99 – Available Here
There have been many casualties in the horror genre of video games over the last decade. Franchises long seen as scary or even terrifying have become less prevalent in the industry and have been transformed into action titles. However the horror genre is not dead, and XSEED showed North American audiences this when they released 5pb’s Corpse Party in English in 2011.
The move may have been a risky endeavor at the time, but it obviously paid off well thanks to a number of stellar reviews and enough sales to bring the game’s sequel/expansion, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Now that the title has been released on the PSN (and is playable on the Vita as well), is Book of Shadows the terrifying experience gamers have been searching for since the last time they ventured through the halls of Heavenly Host?
Before we begin, it is worth noting that familiarity with the first Corpse Party title is heavily recommended for anyone who wants to enjoy Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. The reason for this is that Corpse Party: Book of Shadows’ storyline is told through eight different chapters, each one focusing on a different student or group of students trapped inside of Heavenly Host. It is very important the player at least has a decent amount of knowledge about Corpse Party’s story before trying the game, as nearly everything that makes Corpse Party great revolves around its story telling.
The game begins at the household of Naomi, one of the few survivors who managed to escape from Heavenly Host Elementary. Unfortunately while Naomi’s escape may have saved her life, her mental state has become severely unstable. As such, her mother is desperately seeking help for her daughter who is obsessed with a girl who doesn’t exist. However for Naomi, this girl was her best friend in the entire world.
Now while the game may start from here, this is simply a little bit of after story to add emotion to the events the player is about to experience. The first chapter does go over a little bit about how these students found themselves in the cursed school, where a group of students hold a ritual for their transferring friend so that everyone will be friends forever. However this time around, one boy reacts violently to the charm and tries to stop it from happening but ultimately he goes along with it.
Thus these doomed souls are transported into a world of despair where any wrong move could spell their death. Now it is worth noting that Book of Shadows’ chapter storytelling means that there are actually eight separate storylines that focus on various students or people trapped within Heavenly Host. As such these chapters are often expansions on off-screen events, “What if?” scenarios, new stories focusing on new survivors. There are even some tidbits of information leading into events that occur after the first game and into a sequel.
Thanks to the new style used for Book of Shadows, players usually only change their story route through the answering of questions which usually involve what your character is going to do at any given moment. This, along with the fact that players can now save anytime they want to (even at a decision screen), makes it easier to avoid the game’s “wrong ends,” which I will discuss later, though it is still possible to lock yourself into a bad route with a poorly-chosen save file.
Now I choose not to go any further into detail about the game’s storyline than this, at least as far as plot goes, because doing so would be a disservice not only to the player but to the story itself. But let me say this, players already know the desperate struggle that some these characters have had to experience just to survive and even know the gruesome fates that await many of them. That being said some of the chapters are less impressive than others, though their inclusion still serves a purpose.
Book of Shadows manages to ensnare the player’s emotions with ease and I found it impossible not to feel hopeful during positive situations and desperate whenever things turned for the worse. The high level of emotional manipulation found within the story of Book of Shadows will be hard to find anywhere else. Therefore, the expansion of these characters’ storylines and the potential fate-changing decisions that can be made throughout these chapters is something anyone who has tried the first Corpse Party should not pass up and doing so would be as foolhardy as some of the decisions that can be made within the game itself.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows takes a number of queues from its predecessor with gorgeous character portraits, anime images and creepy atmosphere. However with the game’s new point-and-click adventure style, all sprites have been removed from the game and instead gamers are presented with dilapidated hallways, classrooms and school facilities presented from the first-person perspective.
The hallways appear rather similar to one another, minus an corpse here and there, though each classroom and unique area features a different design often with things that have to be explored. The first-person perspective does give the title a creepier vibe than the previous top-down presentation and when combined with the game’s quality atmosphere, simply venturing the halls can be a worrying experience.
Now Corpse Party: Book of Shadows isn’t for the weak of heart or those with paper-stomachs even. While there are a number of happy and even a few fan-servicey images, most of the anime artwork presented in the title is of something terrible happening to the characters. This can be anything from graphic hanging, strangulation, evisceration and more and many of these are presented for the player to see, though some are given a black screen but more on that momentarily. Along with these gruesome images, the halls of Heavenly Host are home to plenty of horrifying ghosts which can and will scare the hell out of the player.
Now earlier I mentioned that some bad ends and events that occur within Book of Shadows happen to a black screen. Whether this is due to the extremely graphic nature of the events occurring or something else, it should be noted that this is not due to XSEED’s censoring, and in fact these events are made even more horrible because of the black-screen. Why you ask? Because everything in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is voiced.
Everything from you’re standard dialogue to narration is voiced by the original Japanese voice actors/actresses and you will need to hear them to believe them. The voice work is superb for the title and the emotions of the characters appear real thanks to this fact… and because of this, the screams and cries of the victims being torn apart or murdered in horrible fashion can haunt you long after any image would.
Any horror title needs great atmosphere to pull off a believable scary story. Thankfully, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows pulls this off well. While the speakers on your standard game system will work well enough, it is personally recommended to play through this game with headphones on as the binaural audio makes every experience feel real. The sound effects of the ghosts around you and the well-selected music create an unsettling experience that is nearly impossible to come by in today’s basic horror genre.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, as I’ve mentioned earlier, departs form the exploration style of the previous game and instead takes on a first-person point and click adventure title. Players will venture through the halls of Heavenly Host in a first-person view and have to use the analog stick and X to check out various parts of the screen that need to be examined, such as items to pick up or environmental objects to interact with. It should be noted that the search reticule will appear blue over objects that can be interacted with, as to make things a bit easier for players.
As you venture through the halls, you’ll do so using a map that displays the basic layout of the school and where you can go. Players can choose to search area by area, but can travel long distances if they feel like. Thankfully any events along the way are triggered automatically and stop the player in their tracks, so they will not have to stop at a specific place or fall into a bad-end by moving too fast.
Ultimately, that is all there really is to the gameplay of Book of Shadows. While there are a few puzzles that can hardly be named as such, players will mostly be playing hide-and-seek with various events within the game. It is interesting to note that not everything is as simple as go here and do this and some events require repetitious movement or a specific amount of “Darkening” to trigger.
This Darkening is a new and mildly interesting feature for Book of Shadows, as players are free to explore and examine whatever they wish, however doing so may not always be recommended. You see, the more terrible things that the character goes through, the further they are to losing their mind. This means that a high darkness percentage can affect the screen and even some other special events.
Outside of adventuring, the only other aspect of the title is either decision making or the visual novel dialogue sections. These are handled in a rather standard way, though those who have experienced bad ends will be glad to see that it is possible to skip through dialogue to avoid listening to conversations multiple times. That being said, the exploration can be very tedious and monotonous at times and only truly enjoyable during the first few chapters while everything after feels like a chore to access the game’s exceptional story.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a truly terrifying experience. Though this trip down terror alley may require the price of knowledge, fans of the first game would be finding themselves in a sad end of their own to not answer many of the unanswered questions and expand their knowledge from the first title. That being said, the first title is always there for newcomers to try out and is just as worth of a purchase.
While some of the gameplay changes made for Book of Shadows are for the worse, this horrifying journey contains a smattering of unlockable content such as images, voices of the characters, creepy commentary by the Japanese voice actors and of course, a collection of your unlocked bad and proper endings. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows not only proves that a visual novel can work in the West; it also proves that a great story does not need the best gameplay to succeed.