We can't remember the last time a game truly gave us goosebumps and messed with our heads quite like Corpse Party did. Can you say, "mind f**k?" It'll test your psyche (and stomach) with characters that puke blood, cruelly die right before your eyes, and, oh yes, you can expect to see their brains and bones splattered across the environments. It's a demented journey with haunting scenes around every corner... and yet, like a car crash it's impossible to look away. While there may have been several scenes we wish we didn't see, it's an experience we're glad we didn't miss. It's rare to find the type of scares that Corpse Party embraces, and even rarer for an overall experience that's quite this engrossing.
Corpse Party starts off on familiar horror ground: students gather and perform a ritual at their supposedly haunted school. See, before Kisaragi Academy was built, there was another school in the same place called Heavenly Host. Heavenly Host saw plenty of brutal murders, unexplained deaths, and mysterious disappearances that the school was shut down because people believed it was "cursed." Unfazed by the rumors, a group of Kisaragi students decide it's the perfect time to perform a ritual called "Sachiko Ever After," which actually carries a nice sentiment: it means they'll be friends forever. Like so many scary movies have taught us, if you don't exactly know what you're messing with, the consequences can be deadly. Even though the plot begins with generic tropes, after this scene, you're thrust into unpredictable madness.
Plenty of the magic from Corpse Party comes from it functioning like a suspenseful, psychological thriller – a testament to how old horror movies were made. It's all about creating the perfect setting, tone, and building up to the moment, not just repeating blood and gore. That's not to say there aren't haunting, unforgettable visuals that take disturbing to a whole new level, but the majority of the really brutal scenes are rarely visualized. How then does Corpse Party scare the pants off of you? It's all thanks to the atmosphere and sound; from the start, the eerie setting is perfectly set up - dark halls, flickering lights, and fresh pools of blood as a reminder that death is right on your tail. The biggest contributor to the frightening tone is the soundtrack, which is perfect for every intense and shocking scenario. The sound effects also crank up the scare factor – torturous screams, blood splats, and creaking floors make the experience feel all the more real.
It's not all about darkness, though: characters crack the occasional joke to lighten the mood. Corpse Party manages to have brilliant timing, and it's a perfect break for your suffering, horrified psyche. It also adds some extra characterization to form emotional attachment to your characters, which is vital in horror. It's difficult not to care about the characters, because Corpse Party contains extremely realistic, natural dialogue – these characters feel like real people. For instance, there's a big brother trying to protect his little sister while putting on a brave face at the miserable fate they've encountered. Moments like these where character bonds are showcased make all the difference. As far as the main narrative goes, it's solid – there are a lot of twists and memorable scenes. Its only flaw is that sometimes it tries to do too much - details often get lost in the shuffle.
Because Corpse Party is an adventure game, expect a whole lot of reading and a lean gaming experience. Like many other story-focused games, what gameplay does exist isn't exactly top-tier. Much of it is structured around finding clues and objects. It's sometimes fun to piece things together, but the majority of the tasks are rarely hard to figure out and don't leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Those hoping to fight the creepers are bound to be disappointed, as your only survival tools are your legs. Since you flee from ghosts with the d-pad, it's awkward and easy to overestimate where you'll end up. This becomes especially difficult with ghosts who throw out barriers to keep you from taking the path you intended. While it was initially challenging, it became easy to figure out an enemy's modus operandi to avoid death.
The only other obstacles to face are really small puzzles, such as maneuvering in a precise pattern, or timed sequences to get the adrenaline pumping. Also to its strength is Corpse Party's unpredictability – there was always a chance you could trigger a "Wrong End," which isn't as bad as it sounds... just save a lot! One thing to note is that the game is sometimes inconsistent – it's hard to always form a perfect strategy because Corpse Party changes up the rules. Sometimes things that will give you a bad ending in one circumstance are required to proceed in another, like looking directly at ghosts. Another minor complaint is that besides the bad endings, the game is pretty linear - there's very limited exploration, usually only a single “correct” way to advance, and a lot of choices that don't really matter. Corpse Party, at times, had an eerie resemblance to Maniac Mansion, but without the freedom that made Ron Gilbert's game so strong.
Despite its minor issues, Corpse Party should be played by those looking for a unique, chilling experience – there's really nothing out there like it right now. It's one of the better games at getting into your psyche and horrifying you beyond belief. And that's just it – not many games have the ability to torment you and really put you in the moment quite like Corpse Party does, and it doesn't even need 3D blood and gore to get it done. This party isn't for everyone, however, as there's some disturbing subject matter here – scenes of children getting tortured aren't going to be easy to endure for many. If you can stomach it, though, it's worth it for the overall experience because maybe you'll break the agonizing cycle and let these haunted children finally have some peace. That's worth the abuse, isn't it?