Seriously, I do not plan these kinds of things. About a week back, I was browsing GOG sales and saw that Corpse Party was on sale for $5. I recalled that this game was popular way back on the PSP but I had never played it. I figured that $5 for a quirky J-Horror game was a good deal and picked it up. I literally knew nothing else about this game than that. Can I really be blamed for Japan’s apparent love of murdering kids in fiction?
So what exactly is Corpse Party? Well, that’s actually a pretty complicated question, one that I spent more time than I probably should have trying to answer. See, Corpse Party was originally made way back in 1996 using the RPG Maker software. Since then, it has been remade twice and each of those remakes has been ported multiple times. It doesn’t help that the sequel games for Corpse Party and the remakes use the same title format of Corpse Party: [insert spooky subtitle here]. It wouldn’t be too bad except that GOG simply provides the name Corpse Party and doesn’t say which version of Corpse Party you’re actually getting. So, after some digging, I confirmed that I was playing the version called Corpse Party: BloodCovered which is the first enhanced remake of the game and not the version that came to PSP/iOS/3DS.
The story of the game goes that eight kids and their assistant teacher are in their high school late at night after a festival and seem to be into occult stuff. One of their friends is moving away the next day and they find that there’s a ritual they can perform called ‘Sachiko Ever After’ that will allow them to remain friends for ever. Things go rather poorly though and they all wind up scattered in a hellish version of their school where ghosts wander the halls, people lose their minds and dead kids are scattered everywhere.
Unfortunately, when playing this game, screenshots I took simply wound up coming out as black nothings so I can’t post any images of my time with the game but here is a link to the GOG store page for some screenshots. Looking at the game, it’s obvious that it was once an RPG Maker project as everything uses 16-bit sprites with the occasional anime portrait when characters are talking. Everyone is fully voiced but only in Japanese so unless you speak Japanese, you’ll have to stick to the translated text which is really well done.
If you don’t like reading your games, you may as well put this down right now as the story is the primary draw for Corpse Party. Despite using nothing but 16 bit artwork and text, Corpse Party manages to create a rather unsettling atmosphere. Every choice you make could come back to haunt you as each chapter contains several “wrong ends” where you get to watch the characters meet their rather gruesome ends. The game is never scary and the vast majority of the gore is simply implied but it’s impressive how much they manage to accomplish with the style.
The story remained interesting throughout my time with it although some choices the writer made were questionable at best. While solving the overall mystery is fun as you figure out the history of Heavenly Host Elementary and the crimes that occurred in its past, it’s hard to miss the rather disturbing perversions of the original creator that permeate the game. They spend a relatively large amount of time talking about the female characters… *ahem*… bathroom habits. One character walks around for the majority of the game with an odd red streak on their sprite that turns out to be exactly what our adult readers will assume it is and no, this isn’t some kind of neo-feminism nod. It is very clearly made for one purpose and that certainly isn’t social justice. Throw in a bizarre incest storyline right at the end and it becomes all too much to ignore. I’m not one to criticize people’s tastes but by the end, it all became too much for me, personally.
If the ghost story doesn’t grab you though, the gameplay certainly won’t keep you hooked. Corpse Party’s gameplay consists of wandering around a rather bland school, examining everything you can possibly find and hoping that you’re making the right choices to reach the True End for each chapter. These choices are usually quite clearly marked such as “stay with your friends or split up” or “give the protective charm to your friend or keep it for yourself” but occasionally the game will expect you to thoroughly investigate your surroundings as missing an important clue may send your characters spiraling off in the wrong direction. Don’t worry, though, I don’t recall any point feeling like a pixel hunt but rather just the game ensuring you’re really investigating the school properly. If you put some effort in, you won’t fail due to missed clues.
No, more often than not, you’ll fail because of the game’s mixed logic. Early in the game, you have to try to fail with easy choices and obvious clues. Later on though, the lessons you learned from the early chapters become mixed. For example, in one of the first chapters, a message indicates that you should not read a newspaper on the ground. However, if you don’t read the newspaper, you’ll get a Wrong End. Another bonus chapter directly after that one has spirits telling you lies so in order to complete it, you should do the opposite of what they say. There seems to be a clear theme here but soon after this point, there are messages telling you not to read certain notes on the ground. Based on previous experience, you would be safe in assuming you should read the notes but no, this time, it’ll kill you.
This is far from the only instance of this. In fact, after working through getting all the different endings in each chapter, several of the ripple effects of your actions feel random. In one chapter, you have to make sure one of your characters doesn’t get caught by an enemy. Regardless of what happens in this segment, you will then move to two characters in an entirely separate area who have no knowledge whatsoever of what happened to the first character. If you succeed in the first segment, you will get a choice where one character can leave or stay with the group. If you fail, the choice is made for you. I can’t figure out any rhyme or reason for this beyond the game deciding that you’ve lost but it’s still going to make you play through another hour of gameplay to figure that out.
Another example puts you in a chase sequence where you run into the antagonist of the game who tells you to follow them. Normal logic would say “stay the hell away from the murderous psychopath” but no, if you don’t follow them, you will get caught and will die, forcing you to replay the relatively long segment. This doesn’t even make sense later as the scenes that play out would seem to imply you done goofed but moments later everyone is fine and the strange sequence of events is never explained.
One final example that was personally quite painful was near the end of the game. A random choice I made partway through the chapter that wouldn’t seem to have any impact on anything determined that at the end, I would get a bad ending and there was nothing I could do about it. The game still had me play through over an hour more of gameplay in the chapter and offer me several save points where I would inevitably screw myself out of the good ending unless I backed up and played the last three hours over again, completing the chapter as quickly as possible. Moments like this feel simply frustrating especially considering even going back and looking around for every tiny little clue, there doesn’t seem to be any hint as to what you are actually supposed to be doing in many places.
Ultimately, Corpse Party is interesting and has some impressive writing that keeps you going through its creepy Grudge-Meets-Battle-Royale storyline, ultimately reaching a satisfying, albeit not ground-breaking, ending. However, some (how should I put this) niche fetishes on the part of the creator along with extremely poor gameplay keep me from recommending this to anyone but the most desperate J-Horror fan needing a fix.
Versions of Corpse Party are available on GOG and Steam for $15 as well as PSP, iOS and 3DS. If you’re going to play this game, my understanding is the handheld versions are better than the PC versions, containing additional cutscenes and storylines. Being able to pick it up and play on the go also seems like the best way to play, in my opinion, so I’d recommend looking out for a handheld version before turning to the PC version. Getting all the endings for each chapter took me about 25 hours. A straight playthrough going for the best endings each time would likely take about 8-9 hours and could definitely be done without the use of a guide in all but a couple places near the end.