Review: Corpse Party Book of Shadows
Team GrisGris, now known as Grindhouse, stole my heart away with its release of Corpse Party: Blood Covered for the PSP. Not knowing what to expect from such a cute looking anime styled horror game, I pessimistically approached it. What soon followed was a realization that I was playing one of the most disturbing horror titles that I have ever witnessed. Combining excellent sound, writing, use of imagination, and drama, Corpse Party blew me away with its attack on my senses. Now, its sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has been localized for English speaking countries, a year after its release in Japan. Having finished the original PSP release just a few months ago, I was ready to continue my tour of Heavenly Host Elementary School.
Book of Shadows is an odd game: it’s part re-imagining, part deleted scenes, and one part sequel. With eight chapters (the eighth being the locked sequel chapter to the first Corpse Party), BoS tells several stories that may not be directly connected, but all share a connection to Heavenly Host Elementary and its sadistic ruler Sachiko Shinozaki–a once innocent little girl now turned into an evil entity. Without dropping its penchant for goofy humor and awkward sexual jokes, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows lays down the horror in some interesting, new ways.
The game begins with chapters that toy with the concept of fate. We find the survivors from the first game at a point in time before or during their ordeal in Heavenly Host Elementary School, an evil embodiment of eternal pain and anguish. Those who survived the events of the first game’s true ending find themselves inexplicably having feelings of deja vu—remembering or feeling like they know what’s going to happen. Naomi is one such character that we revisit who experiences deja vu the night before the Sachiko Ever After ritual that cast her and her classmates into Heavenly Host Elementary. In following chapters, other characters struggle to get a grip on why they’ve found themselves back in Heavenly Host, even if they had escaped. Others try to change their fates with their new-found knowledge.
The “rewind” chapters of BoS slightly come off as a cheap way to retell and reuse parts of the first game. I’m not even sure if they can be considered canon—that the kids can never escape and are stuck in a loop. These chapters, while entertaining, seem to act as filler for the rest of the game. The remainder of BoS consists of further exploring characters and scenarios that were not fully fleshed out in the first Corpse Party. Morishige, Mayu, Yuka, and Ms. Yui, among others, are characters that given much more screen time. These chapters further explore what these limited characters experienced during or prior to their stint in Heavenly Host. I found myself enjoying these chapters more so than the “rewind” ones. The further exploration into Morishige’s descent into insanity was interesting to watch as he was definitely my favor performance in the game. The chapter that follows Ms. Yui was chilling and heartwarming.
Unlike its predecessor, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows lacks total exploration and control over a character. BoS adopts a play-novel style along with point and click gameplay. What would once required walking around environments has now been simplified into clicking a room or area to visit, waiting until your character arrives there, and then scanning the environment for context sensitive spots that require examination. The jump in gameplay was jarring for me, and while the storytelling remained intact, I felt that it didn’t exactly work for me—often leaving me in a state of frustration when I had to visit every single spot on a map, then pan repetitive hallway or room images for a clue. I reached a point where I would have preferred if the whole game was a play-novel and drop the segments where I had to explore a grid-like map.
Despite this change in gameplay, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows excels at doing what it does best: freaking out the player in multiple ways. Playing the game with a simple set of ear buds is enough to send chills down your spine, because the dev team did a great job of moving audio through the left and right channel to simulate surround sound. Some scenes use sound to enhance the actions of a threatening force, such as an unseen entity moving around your character. It’s fantastic. Combining this attention to audio detail with Corpse Party’s writing left even I, someone who has not been afraid of a video game or movie in quite some time, unnerved. BoS successfully freaked me out when even the likes of Amnesia, Resident Evil Remake, and Fatal Frame 2 failed to do so.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a delight to play. It’s disturbing, filled with interesting characters, its well acted, and well written, but I can’t help but feel that this game is more of a compliment, an extension, of the first. It doesn’t feel like a true successor, and not entirely because only one chapter is an actual sequel to the events of the first game, but due to how disjointed its story can be if you’re not playing it immediately after the first game. Events and character choices can easily be forgotten from the first game, leaving you to feel confused. With a $20 price tag, Book of Shadows does provide a lengthy experience with a few bonus extras to play around with, but it’s definitely a game that can’t be played without the first deeply engraved into your mind. It does an amazing job at engaging players even in just in cutscenes, but not enough of the content stands on its own. Regardless, I had a pretty good time and can not wait for the informally announced sequel, Blood Drive.