An anime-based game developed by XSEED Games the Corpse Party exclusively available on PSP and PS Vita. Corpse Party begins, as much contemporary horror does, with a familiar bluff: an urban myth told by candlelight that ends with a well-orchestrated false scare. It’s a deceptively playful start to a resolutely dark-hearted adventure, and after ten minutes of tapping X to scroll through yet more dialogue, you realize this game is playing you in more ways than one.
Fortunately, this ghost story is told with real skill, complemented by strong localization. Publisher XSEED sensibly retains the original Japanese setting, characters and voiceovers, with the result that its eastern horror motifs – vengeful spirits, curses, matted black hair – feel right at home. While the game’s tale of teenagers trapped in a school haunted by the victims of an unthinkable crime is hardly original, the unremitting bleakness is startling. Deaths are sudden, vicious, disturbing, and rarely gratuitous. Aside from one or two lingering moments of aural unpleasantness, developer Gris-gris realizes the most potent horrors come from the imagination. Half-legible newspaper reports and blood-spattered letters spare the worst of the gruesome details, leaving gaps for a troubled thalamus to fill.
Corpse Party’s RPG trappings are merely cosmetic, though, and your actions carry little resonance in-game, merely guiding the narrative toward one of several macabre conclusions. Yet it stands out from its peers in the visual-novel genre by ceding basic movement to the player, conferring weightier responsibility for the fates of its characters. Your role is small but feels pivotal, adding a frisson to even simple interactions, given the knowledge that the next one might – and all too often does – prove fatal. There’s masterful string-pulling, with warning notes teasing your inquisitiveness, and a subversion of expectations: we know what curiosity can do, but here it’s as likely as not to save your life.
But such caprices will put off some, and send others scrambling for an FAQ. Corpse Party is often too rigid in its ways, requiring players to examine objects several times, occasionally in a very specific order.
Still, Team GrisGris retains its convictions, holding fast to a grim downward spiral, and providing a clutch of memorably shocking moments, despite clear budgetary limitations. Indeed, such thrift is in the J-horror tradition, and walking the path trodden by the likes of Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu is no bad route, even if this does take a few wrong turns.
Corpse Party was released in 2011 and available on PSP and PS Vita at Playstation Store ($19.99).