Title: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
System(s): PSP (compatible with PS Vita)
Release Date: January 2013
Publisher (Developer): XSeed Games (Team GrisGris)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language
I love horror, especially Asian horror. So I was intrigued by Corpse Party, especially due to the urging of a friend to check it out. However, my first exposure to the game is in this pseudo-sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. I’ll just say this before getting into the details, I was drawn in instantly when I was able to spot references to at least five good and in some cases, iconic, Asian horror movies before the game even started.
For people who played Corpse Party, events might seem familiar as Corpse Party: Book of Shadows does cover much of the same territory, only at different places in time and alternate realities. Part of the reason, and this is revealed rather quickly in the first chapter so don’t worry about spoilers, is that some event in the first game caused a time loop. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows asks the same question that Silent Hill: Book of Memories asked. If you could change a past event, would you? There is one major difference between the two though. With Book of Shadows, the attempts to change the past are attempts to change the fate of characters from the school’s cursed grounds.
The presentation is fairly simplistic. If someone ever played the first person perspective point-and-click adventure game on a PC, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows‘s mechanics are a lot like that. Search the area in front of the character. Select whatever you can to find items or solve puzzles. Then you move from shot-to-shot/tile-to-tile as the story continues to grow in depth. It’s different from the previous Corpse Party, but still equally nostalgic.
Now part of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows does hinge on pivotal points of the story, ones that usually result in death. If you fail to change the past for the better, you’ll get the equivalent of a game over and an option to save. If you do, you’ll reload back to where you could save a character and your knowledge from the previous failure would be added in as a part of a “think on it” action option.
There is a lot of good to Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. The story dealing with curses, charms and time loops is compelling and made all the more human through the intention of trying to reverse decisions that you regretted and led to your death. In this regard, it is also usually an intelligently written game that has a lot of heart. I say “usually” because not all of the writing is all that deep or intelligent. There are occasions where it just goes for brashness and immaturity, but it’s for comic relief, which is sometimes good. The sound design just works at heightening the atmosphere, which is beautifully and rather simply animated, and emotional resonance of the content. Seeing as how topics that are brought up cover everything from friendship and love to loss and death, there is a lot of emotional resonance that is successfully built up. Speaking of sound design, the casting for the voice acting is done really well and actually does make for a more complete package.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is also broken up in the right way, being a series of linked short stories. If it was done in any other way, especially for the style of gameplay that it is, it would’ve ended up being pretty confusing for the people who haven’t played the previous game. As someone who hasn’t played Corpse Party yet, I thought the characters were developed and story told in such a way that it all still made sense to me. I also liked that Corpse Party: Book of Shadows followed characters both before and after the events of the original game, to provide more perspective.
I do have some personal gripes with Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Some of the humor seems forced or, at the very least, misplaced. It’s not all the time, but the sexual tension between Seiko and Naomi is an example that appears early in the game. The humor behind it is overplayed to the point of being awkward, poorly composed and making things predictable. This isn’t saying that it’s bad, but that it could’ve been better.
Another problem I had was the fact that Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has no real consequences for failure. It almost encourages you to fail, since knowledge of what went wrong with each option is added to the next load if you save after getting a “bad ending.” Branching storylines based off of whose fate a player changed, in the same vein as Heavy Rain, would’ve worked better in adding actual weight and urgency to decisions. It would also dramatically increase replayability. But as I said, that’s just a personal gripe. As a point of narrative coherence, it works as it is.
Overall, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a very good game. It has some relatively minor flaws, sure, but it is a good game nonetheless. The characters are strong and well realized. The haunting atmosphere is incredible. The depth of the concepts and issues addressed within the story are actually things that really need to be addressed in more games, though Book of Shadows could’ve addressed them in stronger ways. The humor of the game is great, but occasionally overplayed or misplaced. The presentation is a very nostalgic point-and-click is well utilized here, even though it is presentation that usually isn’t optimized for non-PC consoles. For a price of admission, you’re getting a lot for your money, especially if you like deep games.