Corpse Party Review

Corpse Party (Available only for PSP)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Horror/Adventure
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Team GrisGris
Release Date: November 22nd, 2011

Parent Talk: Corpse Party is a dark, violent, disturbing horror-themed video game. The grim tone, profane language, and horrifying subject matter make this game completely inappropriate for children.

Plays Like: Old Japanese role-playing games from the Super Nintendo era (i.e. Final Fantasy IV, etc) mixed with elements from the visual novel genre (i.e. Phoenix Wright, 999, etc).

Review Basis: Completed every chapter and saw the game’s “true” ending.

Details: Corpse Party is only available via the PSN store and is only playable on the PSP.

The Great:

Corpse Party may not look like the most intimidating horror game available. Compared to modern horror games like Dead Space, how can this be considered scary? The truth is that Corpse Party is far more disturbing and creepy than you imagine. The grim tone and absolutely cruel atmosphere make this game one of the most memorable and haunting game experiences available on the PSP. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Corpse Party for some kind of retro-throwback role-playing game, complete with pseudo 16-bit visual design. The truth is that there are no battles or combat here at all. The goal is to simply survive—and not lose your mind in the process.

The cast is comprised of defenseless children who must try to find an escape from the hell they’ve stumbled into. No one is exempt from harm though. In addition to murderous ghosts and dangerous traps, the entire school is out to kill you—making the adventure far creepier and more stressful than you may imagine. Like any good adventure game, Corpse Party strongly encourages you to be curious. You never know what may be around the corner. The exit may be right down the hallway. However, the developers also punish curiosity in equal doses. That seemingly-harmless newspaper may in fact cause you to be cursed. That switch may result in the death of your teammate. Death here is visceral and upsetting.

The Good:

+ A solid story. It could be argued that making a legitimately scary game is one of the most difficult tasks for a game developer. To elicit a sense of fear, the player must have some kind of connection with the experience—it’s not enough to be simply afraid to “fail” the game. Thanks to a strong narrative and an interesting cast of characters, Corpse Party draws you in and doesn’t let go. Though it pays strong attention to introducing all of the characters, the game frequently reminds you that no one is invincible. For the sake of this review, spoilers will be avoided, but take note that the story is particularly grim and terrifying.

At the start of the game, a group of eight children and their homeroom teacher meet at school after hours to engage in a little harmless fun. After performing what they assume to be a childish game, they wind up in the horrifying halls of the supposedly destroyed Heavenly Host Elementary School. Within its walls, many of died either through starvation, murder, cannibalism, suicide, or worse. Scribbles on the walls and notes scattered about give the grisly details of the building’s history, which includes how many of the victims met their ends.

+ A fantastic soundtrack. Corpse Party has excellent music. The music perfectly sets the right mood for the story.

+ No gimmicks. The developers did not tack on any unnecessary “mini-games” or unwelcome features, making the adventure as seamless and pure as possible. Corpse Party is an excellent lesson in minimalist game design. You don’t “need” to have action or battles in a horror game. Simply exploring and surviving is core to the experience. Though the game could benefit from an interesting hook or new gameplay concepts, Team GrisGris has proven they can do a lot with only a little. Sometimes the text alone managed to upset me more than a dozen onscreen deaths in more “advanced” games.

+ Multiple endings. Death is a frequent visitor over the course of the game, but the severity of your loss will vary significantly. There are technically over two dozen endings, with hardly a “happy” moment to speak of.

+ Extra chapters. In addition to the nine characters introduced at the beginning, there are many others who have been trapped inside Heavenly Host. After unlocking the “extra chapters,” the player can gain some perspective on other characters stuck in the cursed school.

+ Great character artwork. Character portraits are detailed and perfectly convey what emotion the character is feeling. The more humble character sprites are not quite as effective, but the simplistic animation does a surprisingly effective job at delivering expression.

The Bad:

-Not much to interact with. Gameplay options are rather limited. Most of the time, you will walk around and explore the building, read text, or pick up objects. The amount of puzzles or actual interaction is rather limited though. If reading copious amounts of text just puts you to sleep, then Corpse Party may not be for you. It’s considered a niche title for good reason. The specific audience for this game may be small, but it’s perfectly tailored for people who enjoy visual novels and horror games.

-Slow paced. Corpse Party takes some time to get going. You will need to invest time in the story, which means this game is not ideal for quick pick-up-and-play sessions.

-No interesting hook to the gameplay. Games don’t need gimmicks, but an interesting gameplay system goes a long way. Ghost Trick has a unique and compelling story, but it also has an innovative puzzle game system. 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours doesn’t have any combat scenes either, but survival hinges on the ability to solve context sensitive puzzles (finding keys, making an escape route, etc).

The Ugly:

-Some of the death scenes are beyond unpleasant.

The Lowdown:

I’ve used a lot of hyperbole in describing this game, but it really is something that sticks in your mind. Corpse Party does an excellent job of preying on your mind and turning your imagination against you. Subtle bits of text have never been so terrifying. I’ve played quite a few “scary” games, and this managed to surprise me thoroughly. Despite the slower pace and limited amount of interaction, this is a horror game worth visiting. If you have $20 to spare and want a good horror story for your PSP or PSP Go, buy this game. If you find text boring and don’t have patience for something with a slower pace, pass on this one.

Score: 8/10

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