Back in 2011, we reviewed the original PSP release of Corpse Party, which publisher XSEED Games localized and brought over to western audiences. At the time the Vita was fast approaching release the upcoming year, but the PSP was still getting a decent amount of releases and XSEED’s release during the late Fall season was good timing for a horror genre title. A retro-looking style title with SNES-era inspired visuals and gameplay, it gained a lot of attention.
With a PC release of the original entry (the PSP version was something of an slightly different and improved variation, especially in areas such as the character portraits) released earlier this year, there’s now a 3DS version based off the PSP version with some additional new content. So is it worth picking up if you’ve already played the other versions?
Corpse Party's origin dates back to 1996 when doujin soft developer Team GrisGris released the game for the Japanese-exclusive PC-9801. Being developed with the RPG Maker software, it featured a very traditional RPG-like visual presentation and movement, albeit with a lack of RPG-style gameplay mechanics save for a surprise RPG-like final boss battle at the end of the game (which didn't carry over into the title's later remakes). These features stayed with the later ports but were met with improvements in the graphics, voice overs and the sound effects utilized in the game while at the same time keeping the core gameplay focus of the original intact.
From the outset Corpse Party seems like your typically Japanese-style game. Your typical anime stereotypes are all present here: the kind-but-shy male, the short-haired tomboy, the hyper "genki" girl, the serious glasses-wearing male, the young and beautiful female teacher, the younger sister --- the list keeps going on. The story opens up in the local school with one of the group's friends, Mayu, having to move to another town because their father got another job far away, causing another member of the group, Ayumi, to suggest performing the "Sachiko Ever After" charm ritual that she found on a local occult site via the Internet. By making a wish to the spirit of the paper doll it's said that group of friends that perform it will be friends forever no matter what happens. So each member of the group takes a section of the doll in their hands, chants the incantation the required number of times according to the instructions and breaks off their own piece of the doll.
Of course, this would make for an incredibly dull video game, so all hell breaks loose right after the ritual is performed. A massive earthquake hits the school and the very fabric of the room begins to break apart as the floor disintegrates before their very eyes as each and every one of them fall into the darkened abyss. And thus begins the story of Corpse Party as the various characters find themselves separated from the others in their group in a strange and decaying school building that eerily resembles an ominous building known as the Heavenly Host Elementary School, which was the host of a horrible and strange murder scene and was supposed to have been closed up and kept hidden underneath the school from which the group hails.
How Corpse Party handles this premise is especially brilliant. Initially, the player is just as confused as the characters themselves. How did we end up here? Where is everybody else? How do we escape? Why are there decaying, mutilated and broken bodies of humans and pieces of bone fragments laying around everywhere?
Uncovering the secrets and finding out how to survive what awaits you in the halls of Heavenly Host plays out much like the classic adventure games PC players enjoyed back in the 1990s. Players need to search every room to find hidden items and figure out where they need to be used and to find the next means of progression in each of the game's five chapters. To break up this monotony, Corpse Party has thrown in some horror and puzzle elements such as using multiple characters to solve a puzzle, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the local malicious spirits that wander the halls or completing a timed task.
At first glance, this likely sounds quite basic and contrived, but how Corpse Party handles this is quite exemplary. The correct path to the chapter's end is never quite as simple as it appears as the game intentionally throws a minefield of dead ends in your path, many times on purpose to pit your own intuition against you. Oftentimes knowing how not to screw up a puzzle is completely obscure, but it fits in perfectly with the premise that anyone who enters Heavenly Host gradually loses their own sanity and gets taken over by the evil spirits that line the walls. Essentially, as the player you feel just as the characters do in the game as both you and them get pushed to the utter breaking point as the game progresses.
Initially, it appears like things aren't as bad as they seem. Sure there's a few rotting corpses scattered about and there's a number of spirits moving about, but it's nothing you as the player hasn't seen before. But then, all of a sudden, something unexpected occurs. A character might perform an act you weren't expecting --- your entire view of the events going on is tilted on its head and the game just keeps making things worse from there on out as you progress.
The 3DS version in particular has some unique aspects that are special to it. Since there’s two screens to work with instead of one, the UI that would have had to be placed on the top screen can now be placed on the bottom screen, leaving more room for the rooms themselves. The sprites also are of a higher resolution, which now scales perfectly against the backgrounds — this change in particular may be something that makes the port a instant buy for a subset of people who played the PSP version if this was a major issue for you. There’s also four new extra chapters exclusive to this version that weren’t in the PSP version, although one of the chapters that was in the PC version (and thus also wasn’t in the PSP version) isn’t in here unfortunately.
One minor issue that I noticed is that even though the binaural surround sound feature from the original PSP release is present here (highly suggest wearing headphones for this game if possible), unless you’re in a quiet room even at the max level it still seemed a tad bit too quiet for me.
If you were a fan of the PSP version, have a 3DS and want to re-experience Corpse Party with some new additions and features, this is a worthwhile purchase. And for those picking it up physically, there’s also additional bonuses in the form of a soundtrack CD, two figures and the game cart itself.