domstercool's Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (PlayStation Network (PSP)) review

This is not a bad attempt at a “fill in the details” follow up to Corpse Party. I just wish it was a true sequel.

After playing through the fantastic Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward on the 3DS, I had been looking to find more visual novel/adventure games to play. When I was told that I should check out Corpse Party on the PSP, I eagerly relented and played through its horror themed adventure. Despite not finding the experience with Corpse Party as polished as Virtue’s Last Reward, the game did manage to entertain me, while doing what I would think is impossible with a visual novel – feeling suspense and chilled to the core. Corpse Party managed to be tense by using music to its advantage, just like a classic Japanese horror film. A follow up to Corpse Party, named Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, has been translated and released on the PSN store for PSP (with Vita compatibility), but with some changes to the core gameplay, is this sequel just as thrilling to experience as the original?

Book of Shadows is a sequel to the original game – somewhat at least. It features the cast from the original Corpse Party, even the ones that technically should not be here, and builds up an alternative take on the events while also supplying a much deeper back story for key characters, making this feel like a companion game for Corpse Party rather than true sequel. Due to this, it is highly advised that you play the first game, because you will not understand some parts of the plot, events, characters and the déjà vu experiences that players will go through from having played Corpse Party, in turn, hampering the experience in the process. For people who never played the predecessor, Book of Shadows features a group of school children who manage to accidentally traverse to an alternative dimension, where the children’s school is transformed into Heavenly Host Elementary School, a place in history where ghastly murders of innocent kids took place. The ghosts of the deceased are left to haunt the halls of the school, and with the living students scattered around, they must find each other and work together to figure a way out back to their dimension.

One of the biggest changes is how the game now plays. The last Corpse Party featured a top down view very reminiscent of 16bit Japanese RPGs or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That style of play gave the player a feeling of discovery and adventure, as you could control the protagonist and explore the haunted school (although that did come with some of those awful ghost chases). Now, the game plays more similar to visual novel titles, such asPhoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, where the graphics are 2D artwork with character portraits presented while that character is speaking, simulating a first-person perspective for the player’s viewpoint.

Movement is more streamlined, as you now pick where you want to go by clicking on the room on a small map that you can bring up on the screen. The game will automatically walk you to that area, but stop your progress if you come across a room that features plot points as you travel to your destination. This does help keep the focus on the story, but because this game feeds you a large amount of backstory, the pacing is a little off and not as well produced as the first game. Moving through the game’s eight chapters has you jumping around characters and their origins; for someone who has never played the previous title, this will seem extremely confusing and disjointed. For people who have played it, some of the scenes seem to be there just to act as fillers. Sure, finding out backstories for characters is nice, but they could have been done at a much faster pace rather than spending too long on discovering how one of the teachers had an experience with the supernatural when she was back in school.

As a game, there aren’t really many “gamey” parts to the title. You click around to find objects in locations and move to different rooms. Most of the time is spent reading and occasionally picking dialogue options. Book of Shadows has multiple “wrong ends,” where the player gets a depraved ending to the game, usually resulting in some sort of messed up death. The idea is to make your way through the game to the real ending, but not to look at the “wrong ends” as a bad device – they add to the game and are used to acquaint you with details of the story, so getting strangled by a deadly ghost shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Yeah, I know, it is strange. In regards to getting endings, Book of Shadows does make it easier to revisit areas than Corpse Party, just because you can save anywhere and are not required to play from certain save points.

One problem with this new gameplay direction is that areas which are not of key interest look similar to one another. You will be seeing a lot of dark, wooden corridors repeat over and over again. Also, the darkening metre, which you can see when you access the game’s menu, is never explained, and it was not till I searched on the internet that I found out exactly what it did – it goes up when you look at dead bodies and other horrors and it affects some of the pathways towards the wrong ends.

Judging Book of Shadows is hard. As a standalone game for newcomers to the franchise, the story will leave you baffled compared to someone who would have experienced Corpse Party, and in that regard, looking at its way of storytelling comes off as a disjointed tale of horror that can give you a gloomy (in the right way) and uneasy time. However, I see it this way – go play the first Corpse Party and see how you feel about it. If you want more, then jump into Book of Shadows and enjoy it for what it is. Whatever you do though, do not start with this one as you’ll be left with a unfavourable impression towards what is not a bad attempt at a “fill in the details” follow up to Corpse Party. I just wish it was a true sequel instead.

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