When it comes to scaring people, the Japanese do it right. Be it book, film, or game, some of the most shock-intensive experiences have been brought to us by their creative minds. The latest entry in this category is Corpse Story, a game that's filled with unbelievable moments and keeps your attention until the bitter end.
The story revolves around a group of eight students and one teacher. One of the girls in the group is transferring to another high school, so they all decide to perform a ritual to keep their friendship intact, even if they can't be close to one another. Unfortunately, thirty years prior, the school was the site of a horrific kidnapping and the murder of innocent elementary school children. After the events, the school was torn down, and the new high school was built in its place. But the horrors remain.
As the group performs the thought-to-be-harmless ritual, an earthquake occurs, which transports them all to the old school. They've been split up and are unsure if this is just a nightmare, if it's really happening, or if the true nature of their predicament lies somewhere in between. Now they must try to figure out how to reunite and escape before they succumb to the spirits that haunt them.The plot of Corpse Party is broken up into five chapters, and in each one you control different members of the gang. For the most part, this is a story-driven, puzzle-solving game where you need to scour the school looking for specific objects to progress the story.
What makes the game so interesting is how the environments change from chapter to chapter and character to character. These students are technically all in the same school--it is explained that they have been split up into different dimensions--but the layout for one group may be entirely different from that of another group. In one chapter, you may have easy access to the infirmary, but in another one it is completely out of reach. Not only does the school shift from one chapter to the next, but even within a given section, earthquakes might occur that alter where a character can go. Other tricks include having areas magically appear or disappear; you may visit a section and a door materializes, but when you return, the door is mysteriously absent. Because of theses changes, it can be easy to get lost while walking, especially later in the game when parts of the school change a few times.
While Corpse Party's narrative is fairly linear, there are many ways it can play out, and your decisions can alter the adventure. At the same time, there are numerous ways of making a mistake and ending your game. In each chapter, there are multiple ways to finish. There may be items that can help your character in certain situations, but they are not necessarily required to progress. Decisions such as giving items to certain characters, reading journal entries and visiting certain locations over others can impact the plot. Each chapter has one correct outcome that moves the story, but there are also multiple mistake conclusions that result in the character's death and the appearance of a "wrong end" pop-up.
Even when the character has technically died and you are forced to reload the game, you don't get a basic end sequence or death animation if you don't reach the correct ending. These "wrong end" situations have you watch and/or listen to the characters scream for their lives as they face impending doom. There are more than a dozen different "wrong end" sequences throughout the game and very different ways of getting them. In fact, there are many wrong endings that conclude the story, so getting the correct finale requires you to make the right choices.
There are also plenty of shocking moments in Corpse Party. Not only are the various "wrong end" scenarios quite gruesome, but there are numerous situations as you progress that may be a bit unsettling. These include bloody rooms, lynched students, headless foes, and other horrifying sights. These situations add to the feeling of craziness that these children are immersed in.
Although the story flows at a nice pace and the various endings in each chapter strongly encourage a second, third, or fourth go-round, the placement of save points makes having to go through a particular area multiple times a bit of a hassle. In one area in chapter four, a character has only a limited amount of time and is faced with a situation that could play out three ways. If you make the wrong decision or fail to complete the task within the given time, you have to go through the entire lead-up sequence from the previous save point, which can be annoying. Replaying these moments again is even more noticeable considering that most ending sequences, good or bad, last at least a minute. Add the fact that you must return to the main menu and reload the earlier save, which wastes time that could be better spent elsewhere.
The original Corpse Party was released back in 1996 and has seen two remakes since then. While the game still retains the 16-bit look, new character designs for the dialogue sequences have been incorporated. The game also retains the original Japanese voice actors, and they play their parts well. Considering these are school kids, their screams and the horror in their voices only add to the intensity. Music also plays an important part in the game. Early on, the music repeats itself, but as you progress, new tunes add that extra layer and reinforce the crazy circumstances these children are in. On top of that, there are even moments when no music is used; they rely instead on sound effects, such as creaking floorboards, chimes, and other sounds, to keep your attention.
Corpse Party's main story can take roughly six to eight hours if you manage to stay alive and avoid mistakes. There are student ID cards littered throughout each chapter that can be collected. These don't serve much purpose outside of giving you an idea of the other kids who have also fallen victim to the horror. Completing chapters and experiencing certain endings, both good and bad, unlocks additional chapters that shed some light on those fallen characters. These chapters vary from having you complete a task to having you watch little vignettes. These are nice additions that help explain some of the actions of the characters you meet along the way.
Given the rarity of scary and shocking games, Corpse Party is once again a fresh and welcome experience. It's not a difficult game by any means, instead relying on keeping you interested through its gripping story, unexpected twists, and horrific situations. If you crave something that will keep you up at night, this is it.