COG Considers: Ten Years Later, Heavenly Host Elementary is Still Terrifying
Today on COG Considers, let’s talk about how one little RPGmaker horror game went on to become a J-horror gaming franchise, and why it’s still compelling today. No, really, how did this goofy game with the cutesy anime art style last so long? Why is a new game in the series being teased? And why am I so hyped about that? The original Corpse Party game was released for PC-98 way back in 1996. It had a fairly solid premise–four high school students, plus the protagonist’s little sister, jokingly carry out a spooky ritual and are dropped into the haunted ruins of Heavenly Host Elementary for their trouble. In order to survive, they must escape hostile spirits, gather clues, and piece together the truth of what happened to a little girl named Sachiko years before.
If that sounds a little too simple to you, then you’re quite right. The original game has been remade twice since then, first as Corpse Party: Blood Covered, and then again as Corpse Party: Blood Covered …Repeated Fear. Both remakes greatly expanded the scope, adding in new lore to be uncovered, new characters to see die, and lots of new dangers to Heavenly Host. Despite this, the core plot of young people stumbling into the vengeance of a dead child remains unchanged, and for good reason. Sachiko’s reality-warping fury makes for one very effective villain. Especially once the grudge outgrows her control and Heavenly Host begins to take on a life of its own.
But story alone isn’t enough to carry an indie horror game to cult status. Corpse Party‘s greatest strength, aside from its surprisingly solid characterization, would have to be its tone. Specifically, the fine balance it strikes between incredibly dark comedy and visceral scares. Even the somewhat generically cute anime art proves very memorable when it’s contrasted with the gory graphics. It’s funny and charming enough to get you attached to the characters, which means you care when they die. The struggle to keep as many of the kids alive as possible gets more difficult with each installment. Not everyone can be saved, and some of the monsters which stalk the halls of Heavenly Host are still human.
Why do I still love Corpse Party? Because it’s a fun game with characters whose relationships I’m still really invested in, and every one of those characters can die horribly if I make the decision. There’s a bad ending or a fate worse than death lurking around every corner, and if it’s not happening to one of the protagonists, then it’s definitely happened to someone else. The little discoveries–notes left by a girl slowly dying of starvation, corpses than mumble the name “Kizami” when examined, the notes of a psychic who was trapped in the school–really add to the feeling of dread that permeates the game. Corpse Party may not take itself overly seriously, but whenever the laughter stops, I find myself wondering just how many lives have been lost to the curse of Heavenly Host.
Also, I just really like Seiko Shinohara and Yuuya Kizami for opposite reasons, okay? Best girl and worst boy. If you’re into horror, you should play Corpse Party just for them.