As an old school, Japanese manga and anime fan, one of the components to Japanese geek-pop culture that I wish would have caught on more in the US is the light visual novel. These “create your own story” type PC and console games really used to attract me when I was getting more and more into anime and manga during the 90s but would cost an arm and a leg to import because they were not as popular in the US as the other two. As such, my exploration of the visual novel was limited, even still a bit to this day, because of that. Still, every once in a while, I get my hands on some and enjoy the hell out of them.
Which brings me to the latest PSP/PS Vita release from XSEED Games; a sequel (of sorts) to a niche popular game released in 2011, Corpse Party, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a sequel in the sense that it is the next chapter in the series – but there is a twist with this game. If you are familiar with Corpse Party, you will notice it right away, if you are not, play the first game before starting this one and you will understand what the big twist is. Beyond that, I will not give away anything of the story here.
Granted, that will limit the appeal of who will play and enjoy this game on the PSP or Vita, but if you can endure both playing the first game and playing a visual novel on your handheld, then you will enjoy the story that unfolds in this game. I really, really want to tell you about the story in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, but I, like my Pop Cults colleague Chris Perry, absolutely hate spoilers and hate spoiling stories for other people. What I will say about the story is that is heavy on the horror, heavy on the gore and completely unapologetic for presenting the player with disturbing imagery with scenes of death and torture of several Japanese high schoolers.
While I may not give you much detail on the story (other than it is completely captivating if you love a few good scares), let me talk about the gameplay and setting that Corpse Party: Book of Shadows presents to you. As with most visual novels, expect to read more dialog than interact in any way with the game. Again, this is the kind of presentation that will limit the appeal of the game to many gamers, but to those who enjoy this kind of thing, the reward is tremendous. Every once in a while you get to make a choice or two or interact with the surrounds that will progress the story further along, but don’t expect any kind of Siren or Silent Hill type play here (just the scares). This is a smart game for the patient. Think of the game as a very scary point and click adventure game if that helps you any.
The music and “animations” of the game help set a very dark and ominous tone for the majority of the game. I say majority because the very beginning of the game seems a bit out of place with the rest of the story. I can see why it is so – it does lure the gamer into a false sense of light-hearted feelings – but it quickly transforms from this hentai-esque story (though everything is conveniently censored by soapy suds) to this completely brutal horror tale. While the visuals in the game are gory and horrific to look upon, it is the music of the game that does the best job of setting the tone and setting up the scares in the game. The way the music leads into emotional and heartbreaking scenes and quickly transitions to something that lets you know that something major is going to happen is done beautifully here. Even from the moment the opening theme song plays (titled Hana no Saku Basho sung by Asami Imai) you know that things are going to be pretty dark and grizzly.
Another thing that I am extremely grateful for in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is that the original Japanese dialog is kept intact in the game. No horrible translation to English here. Not that English dubs are bad, but there is some loss to the aesthetics of some games when they are dubbed over. Call me a purest, but I believe that some things are just better left in the original Japanese than dubbed over for appeal to a wider Western audience. With the original dialog left intact you get the true emotion that the game was originally crafted under. It may just be me, but this game simply works better being untouched in this way.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a very interesting and engaging game. I do enjoy good visual novels and this game tells a compelling tale. I repeat, this game will not be for everyone; indeed you can tell that it is made for a very niche and small fan base – but if you don’t mind a good gory visual novel with some really creepy settings and middle-aged kids being killed off is some amazingly gruesome ways, then Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is one game you will certainly want to play for yourself. Believe you me, it doesn’t disappoint in many areas. It will require that you do your research of the first game but it does offer one of the best horror stories out for the PSP/Vita right now. My biggest complaint about the game, and I am being completely honest with you here, is that after completing the game, there really is no reason to go back and play through it again. Still, for a cheap price $20 over the PlayStation Network, you get this great horror story that is on par with the great Japanese horror movies of the last 20 years. I just really wish there was more reason to play it again when you finish it the first time…