|Release: January 15, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Shelby Reiches
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a difficult title to review. This is in part because I am a woeful pansy, incapable of playing games with grotesque imagery and helpless characters for more than brief stretches of time, and largely because Book of Shadows is not necessarily what one would consider a “game.” Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is more or less a visual novel, as Jenni Lada mentioned in her article on their Western proliferation. This entails lots of text, long stretches of time without any sort of interaction, and choices that have a tremendous impact on how the story plays out.
That isn’t to say that Book of Shadows is all text and images with nothing resembling gameplay. There’s a form of exploration, during which the title seems to pull elements most notably from point-and-click adventure games of yore. It’s a bit unwieldy to select items in the environment with the stick or D-Pad (it makes one wish this were a native Vita title, just for the touchscreen functionality), but it works. You won’t really be solving complex puzzles, though. Inventory items don’t exist to be combined in creative, if obtuse, ways. They’re taken at face value, acting more as triggers for interactive elements in the environment or hidden story paths than as pieces in a riddle.
And there are a lot of hidden paths to uncover. Book of Shadows, like its more free-roaming predecessor, is divided into discrete chapters, each of which comes with at least a couple of “Wrong Ends” and only one true ending. Some have five or six bad conclusions, each of which occurs under different circumstances and can prove as compelling as the chapter’s actual ending. The next chapter won’t unlock until you’ve achieved the current chapter’s true ending, though.
This structure makes a bit less sense in Book of Shadows than it did in the original Corpse Party. While Corpse Party was a single narrative split among many characters, the events of their stories interweaving to unveil the whole and come to an eventual climax and conclusion, Book of Shadows is more like a series of side-stories and vignettes. While the opening cinematic hints at a continuation of the original game’s storyline, the actual chapters, save for a bonus one that only unlocks once certain requirements have been fulfilled, all take place either before the original game or expand on events that occurred within it (though twisted into alternative what-if scenarios).
Most of the tales see the player returning to Heavenly Host, where they see things from the perspective of less central characters from the first game. Morishige, for instance, or Byakudan’s Tohko. One of the game’s more interesting chapters is actually a fever-induced memory of Ms. Yui’s, which takes place in Kisaragi Academy and foreshadows some of the events at Heavenly Host. It’s also one of the more enjoyable chapters to play because it doesn’t mess with the standard choice-heavy visual novel style.
Most other chapters get bogged down with aimless wandering, by which one hopes to stumble upon an item or trigger that allows one to proceed. The school is divided into spaces that one selects from a menu, which is how one travels the halls and enters rooms. Once on a space, the player is presented with a mostly static view and a cursor for selecting items in the environment. The problem is, progression-critical items might be found on seemingly random hall squares, which can be passed through without any indication that they contain anything of value.
When the trigger isn’t an item, it’s a specific square one must pass through, at which point the next event kicks off and the story advances. In one particularly frustrating case, a key event can’t be triggered unless one’s “Darkness” meter is high enough. There is no indication in the world, in anything any character has said, or even in the general mechanics of the game, that this is what must be done. This occurs in the very first chapter of the game.
Darkness in general is an odd mechanic. It’s supposed to serve as a sort of “sanity meter,” with characters reacting in increasingly terrible ways as it rises higher until, at 100%, the character outright dies and the player receives a “Wrong End.” As with most deaths in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, this is rarely a quick and simple ordeal. It’s just an odd mechanic since it really doesn’t tend to rise unless one spends an inordinate amount of time checking out corpses one has already viewed. Bad decisions don’t generally affect the darkness meter, either, since they mostly result in immediate death.
Death is everywhere in Book of Shadows, as one might expect from a game with the word “corpse” in its very title. There are human remains throughout Heavenly Host, many of which suffered grotesque injuries that sealed their fates. Additionally, almost every “Wrong End” results in a graphic description of a character’s undoing, accompanied by chilling sound effects and voice overs (the game is voiced throughout in Japanese, and the cast isn’t afraid to ham it up). The visuals themselves don’t always live up to what the audio and text promise (in content, not in quality; the illustrations are very well-drawn), opting for restraint in even the most explicit of cases, but this is probably for the best. Imagining the events as described allows the player to see it in a way that is most unsettling to them, facilitated by the game’s incredible atmosphere.