Corpse Party (2021)

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PC, PSP, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Team GrisGris
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2016


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3DS Review - 'Corpse Party'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 3, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Corpse Party is a adventure game that promises to deliver a tense and bone-chilling experience for all who dare step foot into situations they may not be prepared to survive.

Buy Corpse Party

It's difficult to do horror well, especially in video games. The best horror games focus on foreboding by building up a threat and anticipation. Strong video game characters get scared and shoot the threat with a rocket launcher. Weak ones can feel frustratingly ineffectual. That's why it's impressive when a game pulls off horror well, especially when it wouldn't seem so at first blush. Corpse Party originally began life as an RPG Maker game for PCs in the 1990s and gained a cult following. It's not the most impressive big-budget title on the market, but it shows that you can do a lot with very little.

You control a group of Japanese schoolchildren who are staying overnight at school for a going-away party. Of course, the school turns out to be haunted because it was built over the remains of the Heavenly Host School, where a terrible tragedy had occurred. The group is pulled into a closed space, which is a haunted and hellish replica of Heavenly Host, and none can escape. Those who fall into this trap are doomed to walk the halls until their deaths, and they're forever remain bound to the locale as angry ghosts. The students must find a way out before they join the dozens of other victims for all eternity.

The script for Corpse Party is largely solid but occasionally veers off track. Sometimes it mistakes gore for spookiness, and those are probably some of the weakest moments in the title. Where Corpse Party excels is in setting up the horrific consequences, rather than executing them. Perhaps the eeriest moment is when it's revealed that someone who dies in the school will spend eternity reliving the pain of their death. That does more to build a sense of fear and horror than the reveal of exploded gore. When Corpse Party is unnerving, it excels at it.

The dialogue is good, and when it works, it works very well. When it doesn't, you'll want to roll your eyes, but fortunately, it works more often than it doesn't. Corpse Party is a much scarier game than you'd think just looking at screenshots. Having said that, the game has some pretty inexplicable moments. Perhaps the weirdest one involved a long-running sequence with the main character's little sister, who, despite being 14 years old, looks and acts like an eight-year-old and spends a lot of time discussing how badly she has to pee-pee. It's distracting in its weirdness during what should otherwise be some very tense sequences.

Corpse Party's biggest barrier to entry is the fact that it's not very visually impressive. The 3DS iteration is actually an upgrade to the original version, but the graphics are still extremely bare-bones and basic. To some degree, this helps the horror. Relying on minimal imagery and asking the player to provide their own imagination can do a fair bit with otherwise simple concepts. On the other hand, the simple and cute SNES-style sprites are not always up to the task of generating actual horror. The result is a horror game that, regardless of its strengths, won't work for everyone. The title does its very best with its minimal options, including using more detailed animated stills to emphasize certain scenes, but the effect is limited. It's easy to see this as being very hit-and-miss.

On the other hand, one area where Corpse Party must be praised is its sound design. Between the sound effects, voice acting and music, it does a fantastic job of providing atmosphere. Half the reason the game's tension and fear work is because of the audio. Subtle whispers, surprisingly intimidating music and some moments of solid voice acting really elevate the game. The voice work is all in Japanese, but that shouldn't be enough to prevent it from doing its job. In many ways, Corpse Party is carried entirely by its sound work. It's hard to convey just how well the subtle use of sound and music contributes to the overall spooky atmosphere. It might not be enough to carry you past the weak visuals, but if you get spooked by Corpse Party, it is due in no small part to the excellent sound work.

Unfortunately, the gameplay in Corpse Party is strictly perfunctory. The game is only a hair away from being a visual novel. The bulk of the gameplay involves wandering from room to room looking for hints or triggers for the next event. There are some puzzles, but they're largely straightforward and easily solved. Sometimes, you'll be asked to avoid or escape a ghost, but this is usually trivial and more for atmosphere than an actual challenge. The game even offers some handicaps to make it easier to get past the challenges.

It's clear the gameplay is largely there to push the story rather than being something you'd play on your own. Does it make Corpse Party a bad game? Not at all. The adventure game elements are clearly secondary, and they allow for the building of tone and atmosphere, but that drags down the game a bit. It's hard to keep building a sense of fear when you're randomly clicking various objects and hoping to find the one that has a hidden trigger to advance to the next segment. There are a lot of times I felt that Corpse Party would've been a stronger game if it were a straight visual novel rather than attempting to be an adventure game.

There isn't a lot of room for failure in Corpse Party. Your goal is to avoid what the game called Wrong Ends, which are bad endings where characters meet gruesomely awful fates. I'm torn about these because a horror game needs failure states to be truly threatening, but not all of the Wrong Ends feel fair. The ones that flow naturally from mistakes you've made are solid, but more than a few boil down to choices where there wasn't an obvious answer or you failed to examine a random object. It can be annoying to return to the point you messed up, since that can sometimes involve sitting through multiple cut scenes or even restarting a chapter. Fortunately, save points are pretty frequent.

All things considered, Corpse Party for the 3DS is a mediocre update. The updated visuals are unimpressive. They're updated, but this is such a minor update that nobody would be surprised if they were told it was the original graphics. The game pads itself with bonus chapters that fill in the gaps for certain characters, but none of these are particularly great. Some feel pointless, and even the well-executed ones don't add much to the experience. It's a solid port of a game that previously wasn't available, and it's probably the best available version of the game, but there's little that makes this a must-have for someone who already has Corpse Party on another system. It's also not a particularly lengthy game even with the additional content, and there's minimal replay value. It's a good experience, but if the 3DS isn't your first time playing Corpse Party, it's pretty skippable.

Corpse Party for the 3DS is an engaging horror title that is more than the sum of its parts. Solid writing and top-notch sound design elevate basic visuals into something more. If you're a fan of Japanese-style horror writing, there's a lot to like here. It can occasionally devolve into the ridiculous or repetitive, but there are enough genuine moments of horror to help the game over its weak points. Given the flaws and lack of replay value, however, it's difficult to give this title a full-on recommendation. If you're in the market for something spooky, Corpse Party is a good bet, but it isn't a game for everyone.

Score: 7.5/10

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