Horror seems to mould with action in videogames nowadays. A little look at the current generation sees very few true horror titles: the Resident Evil series has slowly edged toward a Hollywood action flick; the Dead Space series appears to be taking the same route and while some games do include horror elements (Dishonored, Metro 2033, BioShock) none can really say that horror was their main selling point. That’s why XSEED’s Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a breath of fresh air, even if it is technically more of an e-book than a video game.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is the latest addition to the Corpse Party series of horror titles. It’s not really a sequel or prequel but more of an addition to the 2011 hit Corpse Party. It must be noted that you’ll need to have played the original to really get the most out of this. The game features a series of short stories about Japanese high school students who are transported into another reality after visiting the condemned site of Heavenly Host Elementary School. Each story helps flesh out many of the characters introduced in the first game. While not connected, each short story tells a unique tale and explains why each character is there. To add a little bit of freedom to a rather rigid structure you’ll be able to make choices and decisions in the story which will affect the outcome. This means that like the previous game “wrong ends” are available. View any of these and you’ll be in a for some rather beautifully grotesque endings.
As mentioned above Corpse Party: Book of Shadows barely registers as a videogame. If you bought the title thinking there would be action sequences and traditional gameplay elements you’ll be sorely disappointed. And if you hate reading stay well away. You may play it on a PSP or PS Vita and yes you’ll press X a few thousand times, but that won’t be for anything other than reading text. You see the game plays like a partially interactive comic book with lots and lots of text and some beautifully crafted sound effects with some interaction. These sort of titles are a massive hit genre in Japan and if you’re into your Japanese anime or hentai (yes this game travels down that route as well) you’ll be right at home here, but it’s not going to be a game for everyone.
And that’s a shame really, because while it’s not scary to play it’s rather frightening to read and delve into. The more you read, the more you’ll become attached to certain characters and you’ll hate to see them reach a grizzly end. And they can: scenes in here are not for the faint hearted.They make open-heart surgery look like a litter of kittens. Add the binaural 3D audio effects and the chilling Japanese voice track and you've got some sleepless nights ahead of you.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is naturally narrated in Japanese with English subtitles which is fine for the most part, but if you find yourself playing for a couple of hours you’ll definitely start to become irritated with the voice acting. There were points throughout the game where muting your PSP or Vita was essential if you wanted your ears to stop bleeding. As Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is more like an interactive comic, its visual style is representative of this. Graphically it isn't much to look at and the lack of interaction means it isn't necessary. The still pictures are representative of what you would expect a Japanese anime comic to be like. The artistic depictions suffice, but there is always the feeling that titillation was the real goal rather than true artistic quality. It's a bonus to the game then to say that all the quality is in the story.
Which is why the gameplay here is severely limited, while for the most part you’ll just be reading there are parts of the game where you’ll be sent into first person perspective. This mode allows you to search different areas around the school for clues and objects that will help you finish each campaign. It also helps break up the monotony of each story. You see when you read a book you get very little in the way of a break, whereas here the search modes help you take the story at your own pace, while also letting the story plod along nicely. The search mode takes on an all-new point-and-click mechanic, thus allowing you to point and click at objects. Each clue/object (call it what you will) opens up different scenarios in each story and helps you progress.
Fans of the Japanese anime style games were worried by the previous instalment in the Corpse Party series due to its horror portrayal tending more towards torture porn than classic scares. And sadly this game does have numerous elements of this. You’ll come across scenes which portray young girls tied and gagged in nothing more than their underwear, brutally beaten and tortured. You’ll also come across more relaxed scenes of basically porn. These would included two naked girls soaping up in their bathroom just because they’re close friends and intrigued by each other. We all have close friends in our lives but getting nude in the shower together is not something many people feel the need to do. These graphic scenes don’t really add much to the game’s narrative and in fact become rather distracting . Unless you're truly focused on the story these scenes will actually hinder your enjoyment of the game’s narrative.
An interesting feature in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is its "darkening" system which slowly distorts the visuals and the students' decision-making abilities. These symptoms occur as the terror level rises for each individual character. This can lead to “wrong endings”, these are essentially gruesome and disturbing deaths that characters can run into if you make the wrong decisions in each story. Thankfully you can save anywhere in this game, meaning that should you run into any of these endings you won’t need play the whole story again. This is also made easier by being able to fast-forward through events you've already seen.
Thankfully the new save features allow you to pick up and play. Each chapter lasts from around one to one and a half hours depending on if you skip any text or how quick you are solving some of the point and click puzzles. However playing each chapter through at once can see the gameplay become more repetitive than it deserves to be seen. Leaving the game for a period of time and returning can make the story seem all the fresher and, really, that's the main reason for wanting to visit anyway.
Assigning a score to Corpse Party: Book of Shadows hasn't been easy. As an interactive video game it’s pathetic. Barely any gameplay, static visuals, and annoying voiceovers mean it gets old very quickly. However as an interactive novel it’s second to none. It’s grotesque, beautifully engrossing and certainly a great horror flick. However due to the lack of interactive gameplay and the price of buying a PS Vita onto the asking price on the PSN and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows makes as much financial sense as paid anti-virus software. Nevertheless as as a graphic novel Corpse Party: Book of Shadows deserves praise for its no holds barred attitude towards sex, gore and horror. As a horror stories go you’ll struggle to find better than this. As long as your stomach can handle it.