March 2, 2013
Instead of taking the obvious direct sequel route, Book of Shadows is a mix of recapping the original game's events (with some differences) and some outright quirky side stories, capping off with some sequel-ish development near the end of the game. And to change things up even more, the developers went for a full-on visual novel approach instead of the top-down exploration of the original. So how does it all hold up, you might ask? That depends on what you're looking to get out of the game.
Book of Shadows opens up with the mother of Naomi, one of the survivors, trying to help her daughter who has become driven by rage. Namoi escaped from the events in Heavenly Host Elementary in the first game, but at the cost of anyone who perished in that alternate dimension being forgotten by everyone except the people who were there. One of her dear friends, Seiko, was one of those who perished and its tearing her apart mentally - she's at her breaking point.
The initial few chapters in Book of Shadows take place in an alternate timeline where the events of the first game have been turned back, allowing the player can relive the events before the horrors began. Similar to the first game, following a culture festival at school several students decide to partake in a charm ritual for a friend who's being transferred to a new school. Of course, nobody is aware of what will unfold except for one boy who those who played the original to the end will know full well. Without spoiling anything else, Book of Shadows is just as gripping as its predecessor, especially when the player has knowledge of the previous game's events.
Just like the original, Corpse Party's main highlights are its soundtrack and voice work. Unlike most other games, Book of Shadow's Japanese-only voiceovers were recorded "three-dimensionally", so those who play with headphones will feel like the voices are in the same room as you are. Complementing the voiceovers is an excellent soundtrack which is cheery at times, but also downright disturbing at others depending on what the situation calls for.
As stated before, Book of Shadows replaces the top-down exploration for a visual novel-style approach. If you've played other visual novels titles such as 999 or Virtue's Last Reward you'll have an idea of what to expect here on a basic level. Unlike those two games, however, the visual novel and exploration aspects aren't fully separated from one another. During each chapter players will switch between reading through text and moving from room to room in search of clues to further the narrative.
This approach has some issues, however. During the narrative sections players are presented with essentially binary choices. The original game was similar in this regard, but the top-down approach allowed for an illusion of choice as there was usually secondary methods which did the same thing but in a slightly different way. Book of Shadows' method makes the good/bad choices painfully evident at times.
The more pressing issues, however, take place in the exploration aspects. Book of Shadows does fix one of the original's major issues, as interactable items now appear with a blue highlight, but it keeps the issue of requiring players to go back and forth between rooms multiple times to activate events. For example, getting inside one of the optional rooms in the first chapter requires players to go back and forth five separate times to trigger a scene where a door opens. Granted this issue mainly is relegated to the optional events, but it's still annoying for those who don't want to resort to a guide to figure out what obtuse method the developers had in mind for the unlocking process.
That said, players that can overlook these faults and enjoyed the original will find a lot to enjoy in Book of Shadows. The alternate storylines and side-stories do a wonderful job of expanding on some of the side characters who didn't get their time in the sun in the original and the fan favorites from the original also get expanded upon. So if you haven't played the original you really should do that first as Book of Shadows pretty much requires that you have knowledge of that story as well - it doesn't do much to catch the player up.
Also, it's important to note that Book of Shadow's fixes one of the most common complaints from the original: you can now choose the text speed and even skip past entire lines if you want to replay a specific chapter to revisit a particular scene. The game also lets players scroll through previous messages at any time, which is welcome when you accidentally skip past an important piece of dialogue.
With Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, XSEED took a lot of risks. For the most part it worked out quite nicely, even if there's still some rough edges. This is a game that caters exclusively to its fans of the original and for them, there's more than enough to satisfy. For those who didn't enjoy the original, there still won't find anything to sway their opinion, but if you can get past the gameplay differences from the original you'll find a hauntingly good time in this book's shadows.