At first it can be quite hard to believe that a name so unrecognisable in the west like Corpse Party could have such almost a two decade long history. The original was created in an RPG Maker programme in Japan back in 1996, however it wasn’t until 2011 on the PSP that we saw the launch of Corpse Party Bloodcovered:…Repeated Fear which was a remake that expanded on the originally unseen Japanese survival horror with additional characters and a larger world, not to mention full voice acting and higher quality audio.
Each Corpse Party game is a mixture of three different styles; Visual Novel, adventure and survival horror. These games tell the story of a school named Heavenly Host which was torn down after tragedy struck as several students and teachers were brutally murdered. Cut a few years forward and the site of the school has been built over and has been replaced with Kisaragi Academy, learning place of our protagonists. Things go awry when during a culture festival at the academy the protagonists decide to perform a charm which would make them best friends for ever after (yes really) but instead this causes an event which sends the students to an alternate dimension Heavenly Host which is still standing and is now home to the tormented spirits of
those that were murdered. To cut a long story short, it doesn’t end well for all but a small group of survivors.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive follows on from this storyline and tasks a couple of characters from the first to go back to Heavenly Host via a new version of the ritual to go back and claim a tome called the Book of Shadows which supposedly has the ability to return those that died from the earlier games back to life. Either that or in the wrong hands it can cause untold consequences on the living world. This is of course a simple explanation of the story but you can expect all of the usual anime tropes with strange names, odd translations and overly complex plot devices/ macguffins. The game does an okay job of introducing new players to the franchise but there are so many quirks and nod backs to the original games that it would definitely benefit looking back at the previous titles to get a better grip on the franchise.
The biggest criticism I have for Blood Drive is its art style. While the anime still shots are nicely detailed and feature some incredibly gory depictions that are genuinely disturbing, the manner in which these stills are framed is quite jarring. Most of the game is played from an birds eye view point overlooking cutesy chibi anime characters that really don’t fit in with the overall tone of the game. I wouldn’t mind this style as such but when genuinely horrible things are supposed to be happening like a character stabbing themselves with a pair of scissors or their backs being snapped by an unseen force the characters just seem to flop around like disaffected ragdolls until the actual horror shows in the form of a detailed still shot. The lack of animation in general exacerbates this ten fold by making the characters incredibly stiff in their movements and reactions to events around them. The school is a broken down mess and the art style, minus the characters reflect this brilliantly.
That is not to say that the game doesn’t have atmosphere, Heavenly Host is dripping with it. The surroundings as you explore are incredibly dark and foreboding with most of the action taking place in the dark, broken halls of the school. Corpses litter the ground from the students that died of various causes in all manners of brutality and this extends to vast pools of viscera which are made up of piles of intestines, brain matter and other piles of gore.
Gameplay moments are quite fleeting as the game is incredibly story heavy with a lot of expository segments interspersed between. These storybook style sections are very long in the tooth and at can take anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour to pass and this is at a fair reading speed with fast text and the X button being constantly tapped. You could completely skip the dialogue entirely if you want to get to the nitty gritty but the story has some very interestin
g aspects to it. The story and the world of the Heavenly Host school is deeply fleshed out through character interactions and through the various texts you find littered around the world. When you do enter into the more explorative stages with the birds eye camera you have somewhat limited interactions.
An earlier repeated puzzle tasks you with finding a loose plank of wood to help bridge a gap in some broken floorboards so you can pass over. There is little that will tax your attention in the form of puzzles, however there are other hazards to be aware of, loose floorboards that you can fall into, broken glass to step on and as the game progresses you encounter gross fleshy mounds which can either summon violent spirits or tentacles (hooray!) that fix you in place and sap your HP. You are unable to really fight in Corpse Party so most of the spiritual encounters sees the character running and hiding in one of the cupboards that is dotted around the school. A lot of my problems with this approach to gameplay is that it makes things incredibly slow paced, and when the game does happen it doesn’t last long enough to maintain a strong impact.