With the fervor of the holiday season well in the rearview mirror gamers everywhere have hit a bit of a dry spell. There has been very little in the way of new and exciting games over the past two months or so. Sure there has been some fantastic DLC for a few games, but nothing major released. Fortunately there is a new game of sorts for the PSP and PS Vita, which I have been indulging in for a couple of weeks now. Corpse Party is a Japanese PSP game that never made to North American shores. Sony’s PSP continues to thrive on the other side of the Pacific and regularly gets interesting and quirky titles like Corpse Party. XSEED Games thought enough to bring the sequel to our shores this time around in the form of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows.
To call Book of Shadows a game is a bit of a stretch since it is more like a graphic novel. The story and characters can be on the weird to bizarre side with a bit of that Japanese strangeness to them. Once I delved into the game I kept anticipating a time when I got to join the action, but the game consists mainly of simple button presses and clear dialogue. There a very few action sequences in which you will have to actually make decisions. This style of gameplay felt extremely strange at first, but the story makes up for that empty feeling with its bizarre subject matter. Some may be put off by the lack of any combat or animation, but give it a chance as the game begins to warm up after an hour or so.
Corpse Party has become a cult favorite with many gamers and Book of Shadows picks up from where the first game left off. The game tells a series of short stories that help expand and develop the characters introduced in the first game. It also ties up loose ends, fleshes out some of the games back story, and revisits certain events. With eight different chapters to unlock there is plenty of new material here to distinguish Book of Shadows from its predecessor. The story, in a nutshell, focuses on a group of high school teenagers that perform a friendship ritual. Things go awry, and somehow they transport themselves to a dark and evil elementary school. Various ghostly apparitions and a very disturbing young girl haunt this locale. You should be warned that some of the subject matter can be a bit disturbing and graphic on occasion, but never really too over the top.
The various chapters are well written and they have a bit of campy flair to them. I chocked it up to the language translations not being entirely descriptive enough in English. The presentations are a bit sparse, but the set-ups are quite good. Most of the game is done with static pictures with captions along the bottom; unfortunately there are very few moments of full motion animation or video. This does not take away from some of the shock value contained in the static images though. The scene of 2 young girls bathing naked in a bathtub together was a bit of an eye opener. So is the extreme description of mutilation and gore, interrupted by the innocent but haunting sound of children laughing, or the copious amounts of blood splattered over walls and floors.
No matter how good the content is most (myself included) will bore of the tedious amounts of script and button pressing. Sure, it progresses the story but there is no real gaming to be had here. To the games credit, this somewhat unorthodox format actually helps to ramp up the intensity levels, by having you control the flow of events. You never quite know when the next major moment will happen or where it will come from, and the anticipation amplifies the already bleak, unnerving atmosphere.
While the graphical quality is just nowhere near what we are accustomed to in this day age, the masterful audio treatment is excellent. The voice work is amazing and is perfect for a horror story. From the sounds of children playing and laughing to hearing limbs being torn out of sockets, everything provides that shocking background to help get over the sub-par visuals. The voices are very traditional Japanese, almost cutesy in nature, which makes the subject matter almost unbelievable. I must say that my next button press was almost fully dependent on what the next page would bring, more horror or a tension breaking run in the park. On a side note, playing this game on your PS Vita will show the resolution lines a bit, given it was made for the PSP and the Vita’s screen is larger.
Scoring a game like Corpse Party is very difficult. Is it a game or is it an interactive graphic novel? I quite enjoyed Book of Shadows, but it took sometime before the format felt comfortable to me. I needed to let go of my gaming expectations, and I’m presuming most gamers will have to follow suit. At the end of the day unless you are a fan of this kind of genre it will be tough to get through it. The obscure and bizarre nature of the games themes is also a stumbling point. In the end after investing a lot of time I liked Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, but I think most would agree it is merely an average to just above average game that belongs in the “cult favourite” category.