Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is an interesting, and slightly deceiving game. Interesting because it serves as a companion piece to the horror masterpiece, Corpse Party: Blood Covered. With many great characters, side stories, and questions raised, it was only natural that some things would go unanswered from the first game. Book of Shadows serves to take you back and answer any nagging questions you might have, while setting up a sequel. Make no mistake though, this is no reboot, and at the risk of mentioning a spoiler, is instead based on the Time Loop ending from the first game. Now you may be wondering to yourself, “how is this game deceiving?” Well, the first twenty-five minutes is yuri, and the art-style is anime, and almost moe-esque at that. If you can look past these two points, then you are in for one of the best horror experiences that any media format can provide.
First thing, calling Corpse Party: Book of Shadows a game would be doing it a huge disservice. This title is, in fact, a visual novel; a genre that is popular in Japan, but not as well know here in North America. Being a visual novel, the emphasis is on story and character development, while gameplay takes a back seat. As such, gameplay is broken down into two different sections- novel mode and search mode.
While in search mode there will be some puzzles to solve, and you can still wander the dark halls of Heavenly Host Elementary, just not with the same degree of interactivity as in the first game. Instead of a 3rd-person, overhead display Team GrisGris and 5pb decided to shift the perspective into 1st-person. Exploration has now been delegated to pulling up a map and clicking “X” on the area you want to go to next. Once you reach an area you will be greeted with a static screen of the area and you will use a cursor to discover clues and other various interactive sections. Some of the clues will help you advance through the chapter, and others are just red herrings to throw you off.
Corpses and ghosts litter the halls of Heavenly Host, and they may scare your character. The more frightened your character is, or the longer you take to finish a chapter, the more your darkening meter will rise. This meter will naturally rise while progressing, and gives you a good idea of what your character’s psychological state is, but certain things will make it rise faster than normal. When this happens the screen will start to take a blood red tinge, and you will start to hear things that are not quite there. Don’t let the meter reach 100% though, a person can only take so much before they snap.
Most of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows will take place in novel mode. This means that most of your time will be spent listening to the Japanese dub, which features an all-star cast from the Japanese voice acting industry, and reading of the localized script done by XSEED Games. The perspective is always in first-person, so you will only see the character portraits of who you are talking to. Most of the story is excellent, but may seem a tad slow if you are doing multiple play-throughs or if you received a wrong ending. Thankfully you have the option to fast forward through the segments you already saw, and it doesn’t hurt that you can save at any moment during the game, which helps put to rest the largest complaint about Corpse Party: Blood Covered.
Being more of a companion piece to the first game, Book of Shadows focuses more on the side characters from Blood Covered. While Naomi and Ayumi are still featured in this tale, Mayu, Morishige, and Ms. Yui receive significant screen time and have their backgrounds built up substantially. The character development, while not as strong as Blood Covered, is still some of the best that has been featured in gaming for a really long time. The whole cast will resonate with, and you will even feel sympathy for the more villainous ones. To put it plainly, when you actually feel the character’s physical and mental pain, you know the writing is great.
While you do not necessarily have had to played Corpse Party: Blood Covered to enjoy Book of Shadows, it is highly recommended. Several scenes in the game are retellings from the first one, albeit sped way up. For instance, a scene with Naomi in the nurses office in the first game had around 15 minutes of screentime, and was boiled down to a few lines of dialogue for Book of Shadows, which is perfectly fine given the whole plot set-up. The over-arcing theme is destiny, and if you knew what had happened to you in the past would you be able to change it for the better. Given this plot hook, it is highly recommended that the first game be played before tackling this one.
Corpse Party is a series that not only built its reputation on excellent writing, but also on the very graphic deaths that are depicted. I warn you, while not as extreme as the first game, Book of Shadows is not for the feint of heart. While there are no motion cutscenes in the game, the stills are highly graphic in the depictions of death and the voice acting will make you wonder if the grisly actions were actually recorded for the game. Do not dismiss this as pure torture porn though, there are plenty of psychological scares to be had, and some of the things will stay with you long after you finish the game.
Graphically, there is not much to say. The static stills are wonderfully drawn and highly detailed, and the art direction works great. Some people may be dismissive of the anime art style, but don’t let it fool you. The characters might look all moe, but that is only a false comfort used to lure you into its haunting embrace.
As said earlier, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows features a cast of highly popular Japanese voice actors, with the most recognizable one for Western gamers being Ikue Otani (the voice of Pikachu), and just wait until you discover what her role was. The voice actors did a fantastic job bringing their characters to life, and they did an even better job voicing their deaths. Death screams, gurggles, and moans all sound eerily realistic, and will make you cringe at times.
Overall, the sound design is some of the best in gaming. The soundtrack is haunting and oppressive, yet still conveys a sense of hope that the characters will make it. Creeks from the floor board, the hiss from ghosts, and the sounds of flesh being torn from bone is highly unsettling. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows uses binaural 3D effects, which means noise will only come out of one speaker if your character is being whispered to. Headphones are a definite must in order to have the full experience, and do not be surprised if you turn your head in the direction the noise is coming from. Throw in the fantastic voice acting, and the overall sound department is as close to perfect as possible.
There is quite a bit of replay value to Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. From discovering all of the wrong ends, that is if your heart can take it, to unlocking short testimonials from the voice actors, there is plenty to keep you coming back for more.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a triumph in horror storytelling, and the only true fault is the lack of actual gameplay. However, if you want a story with great characters, writing that will mess with your mind, and may possibly have you holding back a tear or two, then Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is the horror game you have been waiting for. Just be warned, once you enter Heavenly Host Elementary School you will never leave. Enjoy your stay.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by XSEED Games