Horror is an interesting genre when it comes to video games. Outside of Silent Hill, and Amnesia, there have not been many successful titles that provide gamers with scares. So it's with great surprise that I found XSeed's Corpse Party, an adventure game in the style of a visual-novel. Maybe it was XSeed's localization manager posting a strange video on the company Facebook page, maybe it's because I'm a sucker for Japanese games, but something drew me in with Corpse Party. It wasn't until the first death that I realized that something is very, very wrong with this game. The 16-bit graphics mask what is actually a very sinister and gore filled game with scenes and imagery that will turn the strongest stomach. Coupled with some of Japan's best voice actors that give great and convincing performances, you have to wonder about all parties involved in this game, from the creators to the players, it takes a certain, something to appreciate a disgusting and disturbing game like Corpse Party.
Since video games are all about the visuals it's interesting to see a game like Corpse Party that comes along and eschews the current generation of PSP graphics and instead goes the 16-bit route. It pulls off one of the better techniques in horror in that it leaves your mind to fill in a lot of the blanks, until it shows you the drawing of a disemboweled body. But then it's back to the 16-bit look, and you can make out the slightest bits of anguish on a character's face from what they've just seen, but you fill in a lot of it with your brain thanks to this minimalistic approach, and really it's a brilliant tactic for this game. The interstitial drawings help convey the story a bit, but they really seem to be there to accentuate the gore.
So what sets about this violent chain of events that make up Corpse Party? It starts with a simple ghost story and a charm, split between a group of friends and their teacher. Surprise, surprise, the charm has dire implications, and the students and their teacher are spirited away to Heavenly Host Elementary, the site of a gruesome kidnapping and murder of four students that occurred over twenty years ago. A teacher had slowly lost his mind and in the end, was deemed responsible for the murders, but something is a bit off, and by the end of the game's five chapters you'll have an idea of why this game captured people's hearts when it was but a simple RPG Maker product back in 1996. With 37 endings spread across the main game and extra chapters, there's plenty of opportunity for the game to provide you with some rather shocking and disturbing imagery. I'm almost surprised this game didn't wind up with the ESRB kiss of death AO rating.
XSeed plays to their strength of having a quality localization team and lets them shine on with Corpse Party. Aside from a very questionable translation early on in the game, the story comes across cleanly and does a pretty great job of translating the Japanese dialog. The acting is from some of Japan's best, and it's quite surprising that some of them could even get in to a character that's snapped and on the brink of madness. Their fear feels genuine and helps the player slip in to that stage of vulnerability that a horror piece relies on. And with sound effects all about the dilapidated school happening at seemingly random points, the game pushes you to that edge of fear, but it never quite topples you over. The great minds at 5pb and Team GrisGris included some amazing 3D audio that you absolutely have to experience with headphones, and you would be doing a disservice to yourself to play the game any other way.
While Corpse Party does succeed in providing plenty of frights, it isn't without its own flaws. The 37 endings that can be found will obviously require multiple playthroughs, but for some reason there is no way to skip through dialog you've already seen. This makes it a bit of a chore to get some of those endings that require some rather obtuse steps and timing to pull off. I honestly had to look up a FAQ for a few endings because they require such specific courses of action. On the flip-side this will drive up your time spent with the game, but once you've gone through a scenario so many times, the chills and thrills kind of become old hat. Sure the sound effects can vary things up a little, but the overall experience is largely unchanged.
Corpse Party really is the most niche horror game one can find on the PSP. It's also one of the most shocking and at times revolting games you can play. I really would like to go in to detail, but really that would be spoiling most of the surprise. Let's just say that a number of the endings sent chills down my spine, and had me set down my PSP and go think about my life. As much as I like to think of myself as someone who can handle their horror, there were times where Corpse Party was just too much for me, Silent Hill experience and all. If you've been let down by horror games in the past, Corpse Party might be a celebration you'd want to attend.