Corpse Party is an exploration based puzzle game set in the haunted school known as Heavenly Host. We play as multiple characters over the course of the 5 chapters it takes to complete the main story line. The first thing we see while starting the game is a nice little intro though I would suggest skipping it as it contains a lot of spoilers which is less than ideal for a mainly story centered game. We kick off the story with a bunch of teenage friends in a classroom far after everyone else has left. It turns out that it’s the last day a character named Mayu will be attending this school and they all decided to perform a weird ritual that insures that they will all be friends forever. After some scary stories and one of the character’s little sister shows up to bring an umbrella for her big brother they decide to go ahead and perform the ritual. All the students and even a very childish teacher perform it. Everything appears normal for a while but an earthquake suddenly occurs and causes the floor under them to crumble.
When they regain consciousness they find that they have all been separated and are now in some very run down looking school they’d never seen before. This is where we are finally given control of a character and must find out what is happening. Walking around you will notice that you move in a grid based manner and you don’t have much room to move as something seems to block your path every few feet be it a hole in the floor or a simple chair. It seems kind of pointless to have to navigate around an object every couple of feet and makes exploring kind of annoying right off the bat. That design decision does not stop and makes me really wish that I could simply walk in a straight line from time to time instead of swerving past objects as if I was playing Snake. It is nothing game breaking though it does become far more annoying once enemies come into play. Enemies in this game will kill you simply by touching your character once. Having enemies that kill you in one hit, very narrow environments and level design that has something stopping your movement far too often makes for an annoying experience instead of a frightful one.
You have no means of defending yourself and your only hope of survival in those situations is to run. The first time you encounter an enemy it comes out of the blue and you have very little time to react. It feels like a cheap way to get you to view one of the “dozens of endings” they boast about in the store page. Endings depict the character you are playing as killed in very gruesome ways and they will have you cringing as the combination of great voice acting, sound effects and nicely drawn art complementing each other perfectly. No character is safe and if you think this game won’t harm some of the more innocent among them as I did, then you will shocked at the explicit suffering they will be inflicted with if you fail. So, just be better at avoiding the enemies you may be thinking. Well thankfully enemies are few and far between since that would have made this game abysmal. Unfortunately your real danger will come from trying to figure out this game’s inconsistent and strange logic. As an example during the first chapter you will encounter a door that once opened will have your character comment on having a really bad feeling about going in there. So you don’t, end up failing the game and having to restart.
“Well okay then” you figure and make your way back to that room. You enter and come across a corpse that seems to have painstakingly scratched a warning into the floorboards saying “Do not read the newspaper” and you decide to heed its advice. That means you just failed the game, congrats. Worst part is that you won’t know you did something wrong until far later and unless you get into the habit of having multiple save slots you will have to restart the whole chapter again since you can easily & accidentally decide to save in a point of time where you can no longer continue the story. The “dozens of endings” selling point of this game is technically true in the same way that Gears of War can also technically have this selling point since it has dozens of endings as you can get chainsawed in half, blown up or have your batteries die on you with no spares in sight. In truth there is only one ending, there are no other endings that don’t lead to a dead end or continues the story so don’t expect branching paths or anything of the sort. None of your decisions carry over between chapters, however doing something wrong on the final chapter does have some very memorable and more impactful consequences compared to any other chapter.
The puzzles in this game are very simple though made artificially harder at times. Such as having an item that disappears into another room whenever you enter and you must leave a party member on the exact precise spot where it was. Stand a little further to the left then where it was and you have to try again. There are a few other puzzles that are reused over and over again until the end of the game. From the first chapter you will see all the puzzles they have to offer and no new ones are introduced until the very end of the game. Most of the gameplay comes from exploring the school, finding an item and then taking said item to where it needs to be in order to continue the story. Minus the movement issues I mentioned earlier, these parts of the game are pretty enjoyable as whenever you pick something up and walk back through an area you know it is now unsafe. The atmosphere in this game is fantastic and makes you feel very unwelcome. It is mostly due to the great work they did on the audio. Floorboards creak, the sound scissors opening and closing is just as frightening as you’d imagine and you just feel like you are actually in that horrifying school. This is a game you must play with headphones as the PSP/Vita speakers doesn’t do the audio justice. On the topic of audio, the voice acting of the characters are great as well. I don’t speak a single world of Japanese but you can feel the emotion in the character’s words and their screams are gut wrenching.
There is no voice acting in English, only subtitles so expect a lot of reading if you don’t speak Japanese. Music is also excellent and the main reason I looked into this series. It is as equally catchy as it is unsettling. Nothing is more unsettling than having the music cut off and being left in silence with nothing but the sounds of flies buzzing around. As much as I have ragged on the whole endings thing the actual story it has to tell is creepy, cleverly written and very interesting. It is a crazy ride that has you wondering a great many things such as how does this school exist, what’s its goal if any at all and if you can really trust those around you. All the characters are rather memorable though it takes a while to get a grip on who is who since there are plenty. Seeing them all being worn down and losing more and more of their sanity as the story goes on is just as disturbing as any gore that you will come across. This is a very graphic game. While most of the game is shown via sprites which greatly diminish the shock value of the environments, there is very detailed artwork thrown in from time to time that shows you just how awful and violent this place truly is. This is not a game for those with weak stomachs. Through certain conditions you can unlock “extra chapters” which are tiny scenes that show you the characters talking in their regular school life, things that happened within the game from a different point of view or even one where you play as an entirely new character for a short while. I’m not sure exactly when these extra chapters were unlocked but they do contain spoilers so caution advised.
It is a game I truly want to love but it has many flaws that drag it down. Most of them stem from Corpse Party trying to be a game and failing to understand how to actually make one resulting in a mish mash of poorly designed ideas. For example your character has a health bar. Why? The enemies kill you in one hit and minus a single instance with random green globs on the floor you never take damage. You also have multiple endings that all lead to a dead end. It is a very cool idea that shows you the grisly consequences to your failure but the problem is that we have to follow your insane logic. Something as insignificant as telling your little sister to hold on to her lucky scented bottle so she can feel safe will instantly bite you in the backside and have you killed. Following the first chapter’s logic of ignoring an obvious warning and putting yourself in harm’s way will have you killed at times and work in others. It is very inconsistent and requires sheer luck or a walkthrough to survive. Every time you fail you are thrown back to your last save point and must skip tons of text to get back to where you were. That is if you were lucky enough to have saved at a time where you can still fix your mistake. Having a huge open environment to explore and save points few and far between is awesome for a horror game but having narrow & annoying to navigate halls, grid based movement and one hit kill enemies is not. I could go on but as you can see they had very good ideas but no clue on how to implement them into the game. Corpse Party is a heavily flawed game but I can’t deny it had me hooked from beginning to end due to amazing audio and great story. If you think you can get over the flaws and are looking for some good horror this is definitely one of the most memorable and disturbing ones out there.