Welcome to Heavenly Host Elementary – we hope you enjoy your stay. I’m terrible at solving puzzles in a horror environment. Hell, I don’t thrive in horror games at all. That said, I jumped into Corpse Party cannonball-style and the resulting splash was very satisfying.
I’ve heard of worse souvenirs
First, an overview of the cult classic I’m about to review: Corpse Party was developed by Makoto Kedin and Team GrisGris in 1996 using RPG Maker software for the PC-9801. The game was re-released in 2008 as Corpse Party Blood Covered with more characters, more detailed interactions, darker story elements, over 5,000 lines of voice-acting (all in Japanese) and dozens of shocking, gruesome endings. XSEED Games has recently published the game as Corpse Party for Windows PC through Steam, GoG.com and the Humble Store by Humble Bundle.
Players control nine main characters – seven Japanese high school students, their favorite teacher and one classmate’s younger sister (junior high) – who stay back late to clean up after the school culture festival. The day following, one of their friends is due to transfer to another school and so they decide to perform the “Sachiko Ever After” charm to stay friends forever. Immediately after performing the charm, they are spirited away to a dilapidated otherworldly elementary school, the site of a horrific incident which occurred many years in the past. The characters are split across the school, which is now full of corpses, vengeful spirits and information surrounding a deadly mystery. You are tasked with unraveling a decades-old mystery and must make choices which determine both how the story ends and who lives to see it through.
Nah, these vengeful child spirits would never hurt me
On loading up the game you’ll notice it pops up in a small window; this can be changed to full screen but not without a system reboot. I highly recommend the use of headphones because the music is simple yet perfectly unsettling. It really gave me the creeps, especially when the music changed depending on the area or situation. Likewise, the sound effects are truly gruesome and the voices are crisp and are lovely to listen to. All of the audio is very crisp and I can’t praise the soundtrack enough; it’s absolutely perfect for every situation.
In terms of art style, Corpse Party‘s character portraits – to me – lack correct anatomy and on certain characters the proportions and distribution of facial features can feel a bit off. This sometimes detracts from the seriousness of the situation and can be a little distracting. However, the 2D sprites and 16-bit style environments are very detailed given the RPG Maker style and are pleasant to look at.
Due to the simplistic visual style employed in the game, players are required to focus intently on the story and engage their imaginations to make the most of Corpse Party‘s frequent use of description. The environment, death and gore descriptions are truly horrific, but not in an over-the-top way. I found that description was used to good effect and allowed me to stay immersed and allow the horrible, creepy events wash over me in chilling waves. Likewise, when being pursued by some enemies, the combined description, sounds and graphics made these encounters terrifying even if the enemy sprite was only a slow-moving black shadow.
You interact with the environment by examining bodies and objects, using said objects and fleeing from danger. Generally speaking, the controls are smooth (arrows or WASD for movement and the space bar for interacting), though on occasion the game will lag when you enter an area where an audiovisual effect is set off. For example, I lagged every time I walked over a particular patch of broken glass because the ‘crunching glass with foot’ noise had to be set off. It only lags for a second and in a way this makes things slightly scarier because it puts you on edge the way a newer game might if it autosaves and lags before entering a new room – possible boss fight? Who knows? However, if you’re retracing your steps over the same area many times, it can get a bit tedious and disrupt otherwise smooth gameplay.
In terms of difficulty I was prepared to say that Corpse Party is hard. However, having beaten the game – a task which, I will admit, required extensive guide use in some sections – I will say that is is tricky, but not excessively challenging. I will argue that certain puzzles or the acquisition of certain items simply require the use of a guide, although I don’t always have the best head for puzzle sections in games, especially in a horror setting. The game gives you three save slots, which I recommend using in order to test out different combinations of choices. Despite my repeated failures, I thoroughly enjoyed Corpse Party all the way to the end even though I had to sacrifice myself to guide usage on occasion. I liked the way the game challenged me to look at things in different ways.
The story is progressed by finding the one true ending for each chapter (note: in later chapters there may be more than one true ending depending on player choices). If you find yourself consistently getting “Wrong End”s like I did, you’ll be glad for the Skip feature, which allows you to hold down the Esc key to fast-forward through cutscences. I won’t go into great detail about the endings, but the true ending I received in the final chapter was both appropriate and disappointing. Players can also unlock special extra chapters by completing certain tasks during each chapter. I haven’t played through any and only unlocked the extra chapters for chapter one and two, so I’m unable to comment on their content.
I would definitely recommend fans of the genre and wary horror-wusses like myself to try out Corpse Party. The game is firm but fair in difficulty, but don’t expect to get through it without at least one use of a guide if you’re not familiar with games of this sort. If you’re a fan of games where manga-style character portraits are the norm, the character art may bug you a little in terms of proportions and anatomy. Environments are recycled a lot, so you may grow weary of retracing the same building over and over with different accessibility tacked on for different parties and chapters. I can’t praise the soundtrack and narrative description enough – both of these are perfectly crafted for each area in the game and will keep the hair on the back of your neck standing up. The game can be completed in less than 10 hours if you know what you’re doing and about 15 hours if you flail about helplessly like me. Corpse Party is a short, enjoyable horror experience. Regardless of how you feel about horror, give this one a go – you won’t regret it!
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Great story, soundtrack and mostly smooth gameplay
Story - 8/10
Soundtrack - 9/10
Gameplay - 6/10
Simple graphics paired with excellent sound effects, soundtrack and mostly smooth gameplay make for an enjoyable, eerie game that is sure to delight horror fans and newcomers to the genre alike. Considering the genre and style of game closely, I believe a high rating and praise is well earned.