Before I get into the bulk of the review, a word of warning: This is a Japanese visual novel about high schoolers, primarily high school girls. There’s a fair amount of fanservice of characters about seventeen years old. If this bothers you, this game is probably not for you. For the remainder of the review, I’ll be judging it based on all its other merits while leaving this particular issue at the door.
A Change of Pace
Ok, first off, a confession: I’ve not played the original Corpse Party, but from what I understand it’s a horror adventure game with a top-down view that has you exploring very much like an RPG.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows would struggle to get any further from this style. The majority of the game is presented as a visual novel, with some episodes consisting ENTIRELY of the visual novel format: reading the story with the aid of wonderful backgrounds and character art, voice acting, and sound effects with the occasional choice to be made.
That’s not to say it abandons its roots entirely. A core element of the game is the “Search Mode” where you can move between the rooms of the haunted Heavenly Host Elementary (With a rather old school map screen) and examine elements within the rooms to solve puzzles and obtain collectibles.
That said, it is primarily a visual novel, and once you’ve found the next dangling plot thread be prepared to sit back for a lengthy section of high school drama and bloodshed. If you’re anything like me, you’ll sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show, but if you’re the type to skip cutscenes, you may find yourself a tad frustrated at the frequent breaks from gameplay.
A Spirited Story
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is split up into multiple episodes, each taking place around the events of the previous game. This includes not just prequels and sequels, but also alternate timelines that explore if events had gone differently or even just focusing on background characters.
The plot centers around a group of high schoolers, one of whom was set to transfer away to another school. They decided to perform a ritual that promised to keep their friendship together as a farewell present, not expecting it to do anything. Instead, it wound up opening a portal to Heavenly Host Elementary, the school that used to sit on the grounds of their own school until it was demolished following the gruesome murder of several of the children. Within they find deadly traps, the remains of other students who attempted the ritual, and sadistic spirits who’d love nothing more than to tear apart their warm flesh.
Each episode centers around a different character, and in doing so offers a different emphasis on the experience. Each individual has their own things they care about, their own attitude towards the supernatural phenomenon, and their own skeletons in the closet. It helps keep the experience fresh even as you explore the same environment.
If there’s one thing Corpse Party: Book of Shadows does well, it’s the aesthetics. As usual for visual novels, the character art is outstanding and the background scenes are lovely. Or, at least, as lovely as a corpse-ridden dilapidated school can be. There’s not much in the way of animation, but many of the more important scenes have collectible stills to paint a vivid picture, whether it’s a dinner with family or finding a classmate decapitated.
What really sells the adventure is the sound. The voice-overs are done well, but the real star is the gruesome sounds accompanying the many deaths the game has to offer. There are few quick deaths, and listening to such things as flesh being torn from bone and legs being pulverized with a sledgehammer definitely made this one of the more unsettling games I played this year.
Lastly, I was quite surprised at the music. I’d gone in expecting your typical somber violins one would find in most horror games. What I found was a wide range of tracks including upbeat ones for scenes before everything went dark and spooky, and even a pretty rocking exploration track. Best of all, some of the core collectibles are the music tracks, art, and interviews with the VAs, allowing you to go back and enjoy any of them to your heart’s content.
A Halloween Treat
Overall, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a spooky and unsettling experience, but it’s not without some flaws. There is the occasional line that’s at a significantly lower volume than those before or after, making it hard to hear. The exploration mechanic also becomes quite repetitious over time, especially when events in an episode make it so any room could have something new in it, requiring players to go back and check every room they have access to for anything new.
In the end though, despite these minor issues, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows proves to be an unsettling horror story for those who love ghouls and gore.
~Final Score: 7/10~
Review copy provided by XSeed for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.