Corpse Party is everything you want in a scary game. It’s mood and tone pull you in and never seem to let you go. The haunting story is one that’s guaranteed to make you cringe and explores some heavy themes and horrifying scenarios. While the game does show its age, the developers are like no-armed artists who have painted a fantastically frightening landscape with their feet alone- so it’s easy to forgive. I’m having trouble stating any problems I have with the game- and that’s probably why it’s a growing series to this day. Anyone who enjoys classic RPGs or games with a lot of gore and frights should pick this one up.
Is it October? Including my latest game review of Goetia, I’ve been having some fantastic luck when it comes to horror games. Corpse Party was a pleasant surprise. Evidently, I’m super late to this party, as the game was originally released back in ‘96 in Japan, and in the States and Europe in 2011. No matter, because now it’s on Steam, and while it may show it’s age, I was thoroughly impressed by a game that was originally designed in RPG Maker before the turn of the millennium. That’s an achievement all by itself.
The game seems to foreshadow many Asian and Japanese horror and gore motifs before they were mainstream, reminding me of films such as Suicide Circle and Battle Royale after they’ve already come out. It’s use of yōkai and other Lovecraftian suspense is well suited with the fears of adolescence and growing into adults, confused by what direction they should go. The creator Makoto Kedoin and his crew at Team GrisGris have certainly established themselves as true OGs, and have a wake of manga, anime OVAs, and now a live action film to prove their impact on the culture.
Corpse Party is about a group of high school graduates who decide they’re going to put a ring on their childhood friendship and partake in an ancient ritual to seal the deal. Who needs a friendship bracelet when you’ve got creepy folk rituals that require chanting? This seance involves a paper doll that they all pull apart, each teenager keeping one piece as a way to remember their time together in high school. They just don’t want it all to end; but sadly, neither does the building. It turns out, the school’s playground myth of ghosts from a horrific past turns out to be true. They all end up trapped there, where a bunch of young children were murder, each kid in their own separate plane of existence. It doesn’t help that everything is caked in misery and blood.
The game is split into five different chapters, with each chapter offering insight into each level of this horrifying multiverse. While the game was originally released in chapters, I was amazed when some unexplained items ended up playing significant roles in the story further along. Find a pile of crimson chunks in a room, and you might see later on one of your friends becoming that stain in an entirely different realm. Like a Tarantino film, finding these visual clues and then seeing them happen is very rewarding if you’re an astute audience member. The use of foreshadowing and set up is exceptional for such a low-budget game, and I simply have to tip my hat over how many times I exclaimed a horrified and entranced sigh whenever the plot hit levels of pure exceptionalism.
Like Clock Tower (there’s even mention of a ‘Scissor-man’ in the game), the chapters can end early if you do something stupid and get yourself killed. When you do, you’re treated to a unique sequence that plays out, heralding in your death. In fact, the game encourages you to seek out all of these ‘wrong endings,’ and a convenient save system makes this a welcome scavenger hunt for your every possible demise. Sadly, in this earlier version of the game, these screens are usually blacked out and only have the dialogue to paint the picture, but maybe in some scenes, it’s for the best.
Sadly, this game is the original experience. There are better versions of the first entry out there, but they’re hard to get and require modding and region-free hardware to enjoy. So if you’re someone who just wants to try out the original, it may be worth picking up. I enjoyed it- blemishes and all.
While this is a fantastic game, it is built off a very limited platform. Expect some control issues, some possible crashes and for the game to run poorly no matter what rig you’re doing it on. With that being said, this is the kind of game that makes me want to hop back into design. They push the software to its max, using smart camera pans, lighting effects, and thoughtful sound design to instill so much fear into the audience. Like Resident Evil, maybe these limitations helped inspire creativity and awkward controls can add some fright to the user.
Because this was designed in the RPG Maker engine, the game does have a menu system that’s laid out for item management and armor selection, and it feels out of place. Any items you find are treated as essential items, so you will rarely need to access anything in there. You have an HP bar which only comes into play maybe two times in the game. In fact, I know some may even hesitate to call this a ‘game.’ Like empathy titles of today, there are no guns, no ways to fight off an enemy- it’s pure avoidance of any obstacles. It makes you feel helpless, and for me, that is ten times scarier than Dead Space or any other game where you can best your captors. You’re at their mercy, and they spend the game letting you know that there is no escape. They’re the Allied Mastercomputer, and they hate, hate, hate you.
It wouldn’t matter if you had a weapon anyway- because they don’t need to kill you. Finding your school dilapidated in the middle of a surrounding and endless darkness, unable to escape the death and apparitions; it quickly eats away at your students. Many feel compelled to off themselves in the most grotesque and horrific ways just to end it all. In fact, one of the first posters you’ll find after your last moments of happy time with your BBFs is a poster saying that you’ll kill them all. It mockingly asks you to “admit it; you hate all of your friends.” There’s also an aura of the whole school being staged, with everything feeling like a facade. All the doors seem mounted into the walls like a setpiece. In fact, you’ll find desks with books on top that are as if they were cut from the same wood as the desktop; a possible nod to how some Asian youths look at their education system.
There’s a lot to find for the collector out there. Each chapter has a journal entry that you can track down, discovering more about other students (some from over 50 years prior) who have ended up trapped in this demonic school. You’re warned that seeking out these stories will lead to your death- but sometimes you have to know what happened to the kid who ended up eating his friend after losing Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everybody you come across has a student ID, giving a nice incentive to seek out every corner, in every dimension, trying to find every tag to experience the real ending. While this all may sound tedious, especially in a game that’s so story-centric, you’re able to breeze through the conversations once you’ve seen them already, giving you very little reason why you can’t go back to catch ‘em all!
The pixel-based artwork may not wow you, but it certainly looks like it fits in with what the SNES had to offer at the time. The characters do lack the expressive traits that many Square Enix games perfected at the time, but the story makes up for that. The game does feature Japanese voice work, and while it’s hard for me to judge the delivery, it never sounds overly whiny, and at least seems like care was put into it. It also helps that the music is a brilliant blend of suspenseful and adventurous, reminding me of 8-bit soundtrack greats like Shadowgate.
I’m one lucky guy- my recent assignments have all been fantastic, and Corpse Party is up there with the best of them. If you’re interested in game design at all, this is a must play. For the developers to take an engine that has the reputation of dirt and make something so frightening and engaging, it’s a prime example of how to overcome limitations in your goal of impressing your audience. If you’re at all interested in the slow build up of sound suspenseful horror that’s been coated in the blood of a Troma film, than Corpse Party is just as good today as it was then. Now, if you’ll excuse me- I’ve got a new franchise to obsess over.