About a month ago, our friends over at Destructoid reported that XSEED Games had picked up a mysterious little PSP title, Corpse Party, for digital release. Being in Japan, I figured I’d pick up a copy and give it a whirl in an attempt to see if I could get the scoop on what this horror story was all about. Without going into detail, I fell in love with it and I’m excited that western gamers will get a chance to experience this gem. If you enjoy horror yarns like Higurashi When They Cry, you definitely need to keep your eye on this one.
I got in contact with the delightful localization specialist over at XSEED Games, Tom Lipschultz, who agreed to answer some questions about the game, localization process and how he managed to find his way to XSEED.
Check out part one of the interview after the jump, and keep a look out for part two coming soon to a front page near you!
Elliot: I would just like to take a second to thank you for agreeing to this Q&A, Tom. I actually recently played and completed a Japanese copy of Corpse Party that I picked up last week and found it to be a blast. I think horror fans have a lot to look forward to come the game's release in the west.
Tom: Couldn't agree more! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about this game.
Elliot: To start off, could you tell the readers a little about Corpse Party? What kind of game is it and what makes it so special?
Tom: Man, you had to start with a hard one, didn't you? ;)
In simplest terms, Corpse Party plays like an RPG without battles-or, alternatively, like a point-and-click adventure game, but with direct control over your characters. Other titles with similar gameplay styles include Shadow of Destiny (Shadow of Memories in Japan and PAL regions) on the PS2 and PSP, and the new Telltale Games take on Back to the Future.
Most of your time in the game is spent wandering around an elementary school that shouldn't even exist (it was supposed to have been torn down decades prior), picking up items and talking to ghosts and examining things and trying very hard not to die (often in vain). The whole game is presented in a 16-bit RPG style, with 2D sprites and tiled backgrounds and occasional full-screen art stills to drive the story along.
What makes it special is... well, pretty much its writing, to be honest. This is a horror game that understands what a horror game is supposed to do. It sets up an uncomfortable situation that simply oozes atmosphere, then lets you wander around and explore your surroundings, knowing that you could die at any moment. But of course, even though death is lurking around every corner, it doesn't actually come out to play all that often-instead, you're left wandering unfettered for long periods of time, anxiously waiting for something-anything!-to happen. And the longer nothing happens, the more you begin to worry that something is *about* to happen. And then just when you start to become complacent and accept that you're probably safe... that's when it finally jumps out at you and singes itself in your nightmares for the next few weeks.
It's absolutely insidious!
The 16-bit style really helps make this more effective, too, in an oddly roundabout way. Basically, since it's so removed from reality, you begin to accept what you're seeing as proxy for reality. And when something gruesome occurs, it's detailed as best as it can be in 16-bit graphics and art stills, yet it's still clearly very "game-y". Nonetheless, you've already begun relating to these characters and attaching real-life emotions to them, so in your mind, you begin to envision the things that are happening in a more realistic sense... and as all good horror fans know, the human mind is capable of producing much more horrifying and nightmarish imagery than any video screen can possibly convey.
The audio helps a lot, too. The voice-acting in this game is top-notch, and much of it was recorded with binaural audio technology-basically, two microphones positioned strategically (in this case, right on the ears of a dummy head) to create the illusion of depth in the sound recording. This effectively means that if you're playing with headphones, you'll hear people speaking directly into your ear, or talking from the corner of the room. And this is often used to great effect during death scenes, as characters will be screaming for their lives (convincingly!) for several minutes on end while they're slowly and painfully killed... and the whole time, it sounds like they're right there in the room with you. Even with no visuals at all (which is often the case, as it'll occur while your character is blindfolded or in a dark chamber), this is about as creepy as creepy gets.
Add to this a great mystery story with a really relatable cast of characters, and yeah... you've got something pretty special. In short, Corpse Party is just a genuinely creepy game with well-written, well-acted dialogue and a great mixture of surprisingly effective low-tech graphics and *astoundingly* effective high-tech sound. It's unique, it's terrifying, and it's also extraordinarily engaging.
Elliot: Corpse Party is in many ways unlike any other survival horror game released recently and something of a niche title. Even in Japan, Corpse Party isn't exactly a household name, so I'm curious as to how you stumbled upon it. What exactly led to XSEED picking up such a unique little title?
Tom: I stumbled upon it... pretty much by stumbling upon it, honestly! ;) I have a Japanese PSN account, and every month or so, I log in and look for any cool new PS1 classics or PSP demos to check out. Shortly after Halloween of last year, I logged in and found a demo for a game called Corpse Party that sounded a lot like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (a.k.a. When They Cry) based on its description – and being a huge fan of Higurashi, I decided to check it out. I wasn’t expecting much – I had no idea it was a remake of an indie game from 1996 – but, you know, it was free, so I was like, why not give it a try?
So I did... and I loved it! I loved it so much that I tracked down a Yahoo Japan auction for the game’s already out-of-print Japanese LE, bid on it via proxy service, and had it shipped to me at work so I could play the whole thing.
Before I even had a chance to pop it in my PSP, though, I told our marketing guy that I’d gotten a copy of it sent to me (after previously raving to him about the demo), and he asked if he could borrow it and check it out.
Well, he loved it too, so he lent that copy to Mr. Jun Iwasaki, our company president. And wouldn’t you know it, he loved it too! So now, we were all asked to play it and evaluate it in an official capacity. Which we did... and it turns out we *all* loved it!
And the rest, as they say, is history. (And I finally got my copy of the game back in the end, too!)
Elliot: As I'm sure you're well aware, Corpse Party is pretty graphic despite its old-school graphics. Will the violence be intact for its western release? Additionally, there are a few sequences in the game (such as a certain bath scene) that could be confusing for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese culture. How exactly are you going about localizing these very culturally specific things?
Tom: Is that culturally-specific? I dunno, even the native Japanese guys in our company were pretty horrified by that bath scene. ;)
That having been said, though, there will be no censorship whatsoever. I mean, the only reason to censor it would be to get a lower ESRB rating – and we’d have to censor a *lot* to get anything other than an M on this baby. But we knew we were going to get an M rating (which we did), so we ran with it!
As for other culturally-specific things... again, I really don’t think there are a whole lot of those in the game. I mean, yeah, the whole concept of “day duty” in a classroom is pretty Japanese, and I guess the game does open on the day of a school culture festival... but none of that is so inherently Japanese that westerners couldn’t possibly understand what’s going on or anything. It’s always pretty clear from context what’s happening, even if some of it seems a little odd by American standards. So again, none of that’s been changed. It’s been localized, sure – class 2-A is serving red bean soup in the English version, for example, and the kanji for the name of the elementary school has been directly translated to “Heavenly Host” so it can retain the same ironic impact it has in the Japanese version – but everything is still 100% accurate to the original.
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