This space should probably belong to the discussion of ideas such as “the end of the PSP life cycle” and “niche Japanese games using an even more niche game mechanic” – or even the fact that this is my first review of 2013! However, I’m pretty sure I hear scissors opening and closing somewhere in the distance, so I should probably start reviewing the chilling sequel to XSEED’s 2011 PSP release “Corpse Party”
Let me save some of you some time – if you have not played the first PSP Corpse Party game, Book of Shadows will do nothing for you. Likewise, if you didn’t like the first game, Book of Shadows will not change your mind. The appeal of the first seven chapters of this game is completely centered around giving more backstory and depth to characters and events from the first game. The game’s unlockable final chapter “Blood Drive” is all about…
You know what? Let’s not talk about “Blood Drive”. Not yet. I’m not ready.
One of this sequel’s tough selling points is that it completely changes its gameplay mechanics. I loved the SNES-style RPG-without-combat mechanic from the first game. There was something about controlling the characters’ movements and what they investigated that added to the sense of immersion for me. When I heard Book of Shadows exchanged the first game’s mechanics for a point-and-click/visual novel hybrid style, I was very disappointed.
After playing this game, I definitely prefer the first game’s gameplay mechanics, but I do think Book of Shadows managed to make good use of the point-and-click search mode. Outside of visual novel-style story sequences, players usually explore areas in a point-and-click “Search Mode” and use a point-and-click map to move from room to room. While the slow-moving map definitely added atmosphere (executed best in Chapter 4), it got tedious at times – having to wait forever while moving from one end of the school to the other (though you can use the R button to speed the process along) Some of the “Search Mode” sequences were well done and very frightening, but I wish there had been more to them, particularly in “Blood Drive”. For all the emphasis placed on exploration in the first game, the “Search Mode” sequences would have been a perfect opportunity to add some scares.
Being a visual novel-style game, Book of Shadows contains a lot of new artwork. If you enjoyed the art style and CGs in the first game, you won’t be disappointed. I personally prefer this style over the more stylized PC version and really liked some of the CGs, but there were scenes where I felt the artwork took away from the game and atmosphere. The first game relied heavily on audio and written description for most of its “Wrong Ends”. This is a trend continued in Book of Shadows, but there are a couple endings or scenes where the developers did decide to display a CG, but the CG doesn’t fit what’s being described in the text. While I don’t know that I necessarily wanted to see what was going on, the addition of an inappropriate static image rather than a black screen takes away from the experience.
Speaking of the writing, it’s effectively creepy in this installment. XSEED once again takes liberties with the translation, but they match the tone of the first game. In most cases (particularly dialogue), they successfully capture the emotions of the characters better than a stiff translation and I think it’s in the dialogue sequences that the embellishments shine. The care taken in describing the sinister events on some of the bad endings makes them as uncomfortable to read as they should be! My one complaint in terms of writing is a complaint I have for many visual novels. The narrative sequences – where the current POV character describes the scene, events, emotions, etc – occasionally don’t fit that character or even someone in their age group. They use vocabulary and reference things it would be very odd for them to know. If it were delivered in third person, this would be a non-issue, but as the game is in first-person, the mismatch can be jarring. For the most part, it doesn’t take away from the game. It’s common in visual novels and I suspect it’s equally present in the Japanese text, but players will notice this from time to time.
The plot itself is splintered into seven chapters that must be cleared in order, followed by one “hidden” chapter that can either be unlocked by viewing 100% of the endings in every other chapter or by loading save data from the first game (also netting you CGs from the first game), in which case you only have to clear the first seven chapters. The main chapters either follow events prior to the first game or events that take place during/after one of the first game’s bad endings. The only chapter that could be considered a proper sequel to the first game’s True Ending is the hidden final chapter “Blood Drive”. While I enjoyed Blood Drive and found that chapter alone worth the price of admission, all of the chapters were enjoyable and added to the Corpse Party universe. There were definitely some endings that proved disturbing and some segments that were uncomfortable, but overall, I felt like this was a solid horror game.
Finally, the audio. The bone-chilling audio. The audio emerges as a strong point once more. The soundtrack is compelling and appropriate for the game’s atmosphere. This series is definitely one I’d love to have a physical soundtrack for! The voices are also recorded binaurally in this game. Even without headphones, the effect is fantastic! The game includes three unlockable audio bonuses: access to the music tracks, audio interviews with the voice actors, and an EVP machine where you match up characters’ voiced lines from the game to make a new “conversation”.
So if you played and enjoyed the first game, should you play Book of Shadows? Absolutely. Don’t let the gameplay genre shift scare you away from an enjoyable horror tale that takes the time to expand on its large cast from the first game.
As for me? I’m just going to go avoid sleeping because of something else. :D
Book of Shadows is available on the PSP/PSVita PSN Store for 19.99 now!