GENRE: Horror Adventure
SYSTEM: PSP (PSN download only)
COMPANY: XSeed (Official game website)
(still trying to recover a different pre-Thanksgiving review, bear with me. In the meantime, please enjoy this review for a truly terrifying PSP experience!)
Horror, like humor, can be quite subjective. Both rely a lot on what the audience brings to the experience – if they’re in a thoughtful, serious mood, it’ll be harder to make them laugh. Horror is similar – you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief. No matter how good the scares are, if you’re not open to the experience, it may well have no effect.
This, perhaps, is the biggest strike against Corpse Party, and one not entirely fair. I believe that many players, especially in the West, won’t give this game the time of day, due to the 16-bit graphics and the anime cut-in characters. Which is a shame. Because those who do allow themselves the chance to delve into the experience are in for far more then a traditional survival horror romp.
The story follows 7 high school students, one little sister, and their teacher. Cleaning up after the school’s cultural festival, class representitive and occult fanatic Ayumi decides they should celebrate the last day of transferring student Mayu by telling a ghost story and performing a charm she found online. Shortly after performing the charm, an earthquake devastates the building and the students wake up – in the elementary school that provided the setting for Ayumi’s horrific ghost story.
Relatively typical ghost story set up so far, right?
But there’s not much that’s typical about Corpse Party. The game started out in the mid-1990s as a NEC PC-9801 game developed by a small group of developers using the RPG Maker software. Over the years, the game garnered a surprising number of fans and with them, fangames. Those fangames lead Team GrisGris to return to Corpse Party and remake it – twice. The second (and further updated) remake, which was released on the PSP, is the game that XSeed brought to the PSN on November 22nd. The game maintains a 16-bit look that is updated and further expanded with anime portraits for the characters and occasional anime-style CG images depicting important images.
The gameplay that takes the characters through their horrific advneture is mostly reminiscent of a 1990s SNES RPG, without the random battles. Characters in your party do have HP, but it rarely means anything – by the time you’ve stumbled into danger, it’s already far too late. The majority of gameplay revolves around exploring the school, guiding your characters out of harm’s way, participating in timed events, solving puzzles, and retrieving items. The gameplay is minimal compared to most modern games and the game could be said to be more visual novel than RPG. But the gameplay plays an important role in making you feel connected to your characters and their fates. While dialogue choices can effect outcomes, the endings that may have the strongest effect are the ones achieved when you failed to save a friend from death in time. Or failed to run from a ghost.
Or accidentally ran into one.
The writing is the other thread connecting the player to the characters. The main cast at first appears to be your generic cast of anime regulars (with some adjustments), but they quickly develop well past mere archetypes. Past memories and conversations flesh out the character and make the player more cautious of just who they want to protect at all costs – and who they might be willing to sacrifice as well. Development continues well outside of a character’s immediate role in the game. The game’s central plot is well developed as well, leaving a few small lose ends, but otherwise tying up the mystery of the school nicely with several interesting plot twists.
The audio is this game’s other remarkable feature. The game is best played with headphones, not just to increase the atmosphere, but because of the game being recorded binaurally. This means that it was recorded with two microphones, which gives the voice acting the effect of sounding like the voices are all around you. A character moving sideways down the hall not only sounds like they’re getting further away, but the sound seems to come from where they are in relation to your character. When this is used to effect, it’s extremely chilling.
The voice acting is very good. Most of the cast are veteran voice actors and play their parts believably as well. The game’s audio is Japanese only, but I believe this will add to the effect. The sound effects are gritty as well and many of the games most horrific ending rely completely on text and audio, leaving the screen black. In these situations, your imagination has the tendency to produce things far more disturbing than any illustrated CG ever could. The soundtrack is also worth a mention. it maintains a balance between being true to the game’s 16-bit roots and having a more modern feel. But most importantly, it does a good job of not intruding on the effects the rest of the audio has on the game.
This game isn’t for everyone. If you hate the anime aesthetic or simply can’t get over games that don’t meet today’s graphical standards, then you won’t be able to enjoy this game. Which is a shame. I don’t think this game could have been done with modern 3D graphics (I think this video on the Uncanny Valley does a good job explaining one of the reasons I believe this.).
But if you’re ready to let your mind be taken to a truly horrifying place – one with well-developed characters you’ll actually want to see through til the bitter end of this spooky thriller – download this game for your PSP.