2011 saw the release of Corpse Party, a PSP title that took everyone by surprise. It changed the way the average gamer saw visual novels, and brought the genre to the attention of mainstream media. It showed that a game with little gameplay and 16-bit visuals can tell a horrific tale of a haunted school and have the audio to back up those scares. The good people at XSEED decided that we weren’t scared enough and brought over Corpse Party: Book of Shadows from Japan.I should start by mentioning that Book of Shadows isn’t a sequel to Corpse Party. In fact, it serves as a “recap/what if” for the original cast of characters, and gives a deeper background for them, as well as a new set of students who were only mentioned in the extras section of the first game. Is Book of Shadows just a rehash of the first game with a new coat of paint, or do the new additions bring new scares?
LIFE OF THE PARTY
Untold Stories of the Dead - In the first Corpse Party, we got to meet the students of Kisaragi Academy High School Class 2-9. Throughout the game, we followed their descent into madness and despair. Though with some of the characters we only get to know them for a short while before they are brutally murdered. In the extras section of the game, we are also briefly introduced to different students from a different school that somehow got dragged into the same hell as the Kisaragi students. And just like some of the Kisaragi students, their tale of torment is brief.
Book of Shadows recaps what happens to the Kisaragi High students. Some of them even get more character development and we get deeper into their minds, while others are able to change the events that happened in the previous game. As for the students from the other school, Book of Shadows also tells their stories in more detail and how they are connected to Heavenly Host Elementary.
Hybrid Gameplay - Exploring the haunted surroundings of Heavenly Host Elementary has changed in Book of Shadows. Instead of just returning to a third-person top-down view, Book of Shadows has incorporated a first-person view in conjunction with the third-person view. This new viewpoint will serve as the game’s way to investigate the character surroundings while the third-person view has been regulated to mini-map duty and the primary way to move from place to place. I liked how first person view immerses you even more into the game as you get a close look this time around instead of exploring from above. The mini-map makes it easier for players to keep track of where they have been though I have an issue with it (more on that later).
The Darkening - A new gameplay element introduced in Book of Shadows is the Darkening. The Darkening is represented by a paper doll meter being slowly filled by a dark aura. This measures the sanity that each of the characters have during their time in Heavenly Host. If players choose to do more exploring around the school instead of pushing the story forward, the meter will start to fill up and the screen will start to change. Depending on the character, the screen will go dark or blurry, and they will slowly start to see things that are not there as they lose their sanity. Once the meter is filled, the characters crack and a very descriptive “bad end” happens. The Darkening forces players to make sure that they don’t linger too long in one area or they will start to go insane then die a gruesome death. It adds to the mood of the game, letting players know that death is constantly watching and waiting for them.
Return of Binaural Recording - The star of Corpse Party was the binaural recording. For those who are not familiar with this recording technique, two microphones are used during recording to give a 3-D stereo sound. This then allows listeners to believe that they are in the same room as the recording. A lot of the narrative and horror from Corpse Party was played back through this technology and it allowed for tense, creepy, and downright scary moments, all without using visuals. With the Kisaragi students getting extended background stories and the addition of the other students from the extras section of the first game, Book of Shadows brings more creepy and brutal sounds to the game. Death sounds just as gruesome as before, and hearing the students lose their minds through how their speech patterns/mannerisms change really brings home the sense of desperation and hopelessness.
DEAD AS A DOORNAIL
Not for the Squeamish - This is more of a warning/disclaimer for the game than my actual dislike. In my review of the first Corpse Party, I mentioned that the game had “some really grizzly and gruesome deaths that I have both seen and not seen”. Book of Shadows takes those grizzly deaths and ramps them up, and even shows new deaths for the new characters that unfortunately found their way to Heavenly Host Elementary. Eyes are gouged out with scissors; ghost children will knock you over and start to rip out your innards while you’re still breathing; friends will start to go insane and start lashing out before jumping to their demise. This is just a sample of the deaths that are in Book of Shadows, with some almost going too far in some cases. So if you’re squeamish or don’t like visualizing cute anime girls dying in horrific ways, this game isn’t for you.
Have to Start With the Original - While Book of Shadows does recap the events that happened in the first game, those who have skipped out on Corpse Party might be a bit confused when trying to understand the story. As I mentioned before, Book of Shadows expands on the stories of the characters in the game, giving them more character development. So those who haven’t played the first will not understand why the characters act the way they do or the whole history behind Heavenly Host Elementary.
Identity Crisis - Even with the addition of a first-person investigation view, Book of Shadows is trying to be two different games. The game keeps the overhead third-person view as a map and uses it to move around the school, though it uses first-person view to look around the current area to search for clues. For me, having to look at the mini-map to move to the next area and stopping to search around in first person takes me out of the mood that Corpse Party is known for. It should have either gone total first-person view, which in my opinion would have been better since being in first-person players would have been more immersed into the game, or just keep the overhead third-person view from the last game.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows takes what Corpse Party brought over and doubles it. More gruesome deaths, more characters, a deeper backstory for said characters and Heavenly Host, and new gameplay mechanics are all new to the game. Having the Darkening meter gauge how long characters have until they lose their mind keeps the players on their toes as to their actions when exploring the school and the addition of a first-person view make you feel that you are really in a school full of vengeful school children spirits.
A word of warning though, if you are of the squeamish type, Book of Shadows isn’t for you aas the deaths are more gruesome. Also, if you never have played the first Corpse Party, then you might get a bit confused about the characters and story’s background.
My personal issue is that Book of Shadows seems to be trying to be two games. Having two points of view on the same screen takes me out of the mood of the game. If you braved the screams and cries of high school students being killed in the first Corpse Party, then you will enjoy being scared again with Book of Shadows.
*This review was based on the PSP version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*