It was a little over a year ago that I parted my review of Corpse Party by wishing that the sequel would also end up getting localised. Here we are with another game in the series in a language I understand, and while it's not a sequel per se, I was pretty psyched to finally get back into Heavenly Host Elementary School.
While Book of Shadows serves as an expansion of the fiction, it also features some large differences from its predecessor. Gone are the dated looking sprites and directional control over a character, as we now have a point-and-click style game. I'll get into more detail about this later on.
What I will say before the jump is that I don't believe I've had any other game leave me in two minds for so long. I've had this review floating about in my head for about a week, my thoughts in perpetual debate about what I actually think about this game. I'm going to try my best to turn those into words, so hit the jump to see what I think.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (PlayStation Network)
Developer: Team GrisGris
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release date: January 15, 2013
First of all, there really isn't any point in you playing this game if you haven't reached the end of the first game. Doing so will leave you confused about most of the characters and events, as well as why certain characters end up with memories from the first game. That's a little misleading I suppose, as like I've already said, this isn't a sequel. Book of Shadows takes scenarios from the first game and expands them a bit. Some things happen differently for one reason or another, so you get to see some new things along the way.
For example, the first scenario you play follows Naomi and Seiko. However, instead of heading straight to the ritual scenes, we get to see Seiko...have a sleepover at Naomi's place? There's also some nudity and plenty of touchy-feely antics? Okay, it starts off a little misleading, but soon enough we're wandering the halls of Heavenly Host. The events play out a little differently this time around, but I'll get back to that.
As I mentioned in the intro, gameplay is a little different this time around. When you aren't in the typical visual novel-style conversations, you'll be navigating a map of Heavenly Host to systematically explore different rooms to figure out how to progress. While you are in a room, you enter 'search mode', which allows you to move a reticle around the screen in order to explore the environment and potentially pick things up. Half visual novel, half point-and-click. Nothing wrong with that at all.
Ditching the sprite art certainly improves the overall look of the game. The art is very impressive and looks great on the PSP, so while I personally didn't mind the sprite art in the first game, I wasn't too hung up about it. Everything is static, so don't expect to see any moving images. Most of the dynamic effects are done using image layers, camera shakes and colour flashes, which works pretty well at making it look like there is more action happening than there actually is.
The music is as great as the last game, there's no question about that. One thing I did want to point out is that you should definitely play this game with headphones. The game uses directional sound extremely well, making people speaking behind you actually sound like they're coming from that direction and so on. It definitely helps to build the right kind of atmosphere, so be sure to try it out. It's kind of a shame that a lot of the sound effects are terrible, in particular the sound of a hammer being dragged. It sounds almost like it was ripped from the Internet, so it's kind of a shame.
There are some real gruesome death scenes waiting for you too. One in particular during the second scenario left me feeling pretty ill, as while it isn't graphic visually, it did a good job of describing what was going on. This isn't a criticism, far from it, as they are undoubtedly written extremely well. I'm also certain that people will find them, well, enjoyable. On the flip side, if you aren't a fan of seeing the shocking demises of school children, then perhaps you will want to consider giving this game a miss. The 'bad ends' far outweigh the interesting dialogue, so just be aware of that if you got squeamish during the death scenes in the first game.
Decision making certainly doesn't hold as much importance as it did in the original Corpse Party, for a few reasons. As you are largely playing scenarios you have already seen, you tend to know where to head and what to do. This isn't the case for every scenario due to the differences in how the stories play out, but it also seemed that decisions really didn't have too much of an effect, either. When you go to pick up an item, you'll be prompted to decide whether you want to pick it up or not. 90% of the time you simply have to pick it up to progress, and leaving it only serves to make your game last a little longer while you work out that there's nothing else to do and you need that item.
One of the most annoying new features of this game is the school map, in particular the number of rooms there are to explore. You are often given a section of the school to explore at a time, with obstructions and holes stopping you from walking all over the place. However, because sections of the hallway count as separate locations, there are often around 25 or more screens available to explore at one time. The first time I saw this menu, I was well and truly overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start.
I soon learned that the hallways usually had nothing going on, and that if they did, the game would stop you when you 'walked through' them to play whatever scene you had triggered. That's fine, right? Well no, as near the beginning of the second chapter, you need to look in the hallways to find a particular item, and it doesn't stop you if you manage to walk through the room it's in. There are way too many of them (on the second floor I counted 18, and this doesn't count those on the floors above/below), they reuse the same two or three pictures and most of them serve absolutely no purpose. You'll spend way too much time stepping through each section, looking around and finding out yet again that you've wasted your time in doing so. Key hallway sections, sure, keep those, but there really was no need for all of them. It's not a deal breaker, but it's definitely the most aggravating feature in Book of Shadows.
Can I really say that this game is a simple expansion of the story in the first? No, not really, and that's because there isn't any mystery. Throughout the first game you were kept on your toes, curious as to what was really happening in Heavenly Host, thinking about who Sachiko is and wondering whether you can make it out alive or not. The horrific death scenes fit well, but you were soon back at it, trying to lead the students to survival. There is none of this in Book of Shadows, because we already know what happens. Rather, Book of Shadows is a large collection of gruesome student deaths.
The charm of the goofy characters is also somewhat lost here. It's not like they've really gone anywhere, but we don't really learn anything important. Most of the dialogue involves characters in terror, pain or both, and we aren't finding out more about what kind of people they are, as we largely already know. I guess you could argue that in the case of Seiko, we did learn something new (or rather, we had something confirmed), but it was unnecessary from a story standpoint. We've swapped the adventure gameplay for a clunky point-and-click system and changed the death/s at the end of each scenario. That's about it.
I guess I wouldn't have felt nearly as disappointed if it wasn't that Book of Shadows seems more about seeing the 'bad ends' than seeing the conclusion of a gripping story, like the original. For me, Corpse Party was about the narrative and the characters, both of which we seem to have lost somewhere in the transition. It's still going to creep the hell out of you, and for that it should be commended, but it's a darn shame that there isn't more too it.
6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)