Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a bizarre little game. Within the first hour of starting it up, two of the main characters are bathing one another and saying things like, “I’ve just gotta grab dat ass!” Mind you, both are high school girls. One is a lesbian, though. The other isn’t, but is sort of okay with what’s happening. Then suddenly there’s a séance… and people start getting shredded. It’s all rather weird. Yet, at the same time, Book of Shadows has a compelling story to tell. So long as you’ve played the first game, and anime on top of reading scores of text to the tune of Japanese voice-tracks isn’t off-putting, 5pb.’s visual novel may be worth the investment.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is both a prequel and sequel to the first game that appeared on Sony’s PSP back in 2010. The first Corpse Party followed a troupe of seven high school classmates who got trapped in a cursed elementary school and were subsequently attacked and heinously murdered by malicious spirits. With plot twists aplenty, the game ended with a whole host of unanswered questions. Shadows, then, goes back in time to flesh out certain details, while also jumping ahead and picking up shortly after the events of the original. The developers have enabled players to view situations in the first game from different perspectives through this design, even granting them the opportunity to make new decisions to alter the fates of characters that may have otherwise been axed.
The most satisfying part of the story, aside from there being multiple endings, is how it’s told, which is through a compilation of short stories focusing on new and old faces. This makes for a unique and interesting narrative, but only if the player has knowledge of the events from the first title. Make no mistake, without having played the previous entry, or looking up the rather lengthy plot synopsis, Book of Shadows will make very little sense. This is made worse by the fact that the plot can jump around quite a bit, merely compounding the confusion, and making it all generally more difficult to follow.
But, if there’s already an understanding of what’s transpired in the initial Corpse Party, then the story here is worth the price of admission. It’s dark, gruesome and wholly unsettling, made all the more captivating by its characters that are expertly crafted and better yet, full of life. Each feels one-hundred percent unique, making for an ensemble of sundry personalities. Over the course of the adventure, the cast will undoubtedly grow on you, making their grisly death scenes all the more chilling and impactful. Let it be known now, however, this game is not for the faint of heart. It’s graphic, explicit and occasionally disgusting. After all, it’s firmly rooted in the horror genre of storytelling, so one should expect a certain level of violence and gore to be present. One should also expect softcore hentai, because the game often treads that path, as well. Though it keeps everything PG-13, it’s there all the same… and rather awkward. Oh, and uncomfortable.
Calling Corpse Party: Book of Shadows a “game” isn’t exactly accurate, though, because it’s really not one. As mentioned, it’s a visual novel with segments that are sort of interactive. The majority of the time will be spent pressing the ‘X’ button to plow through the piles of dialogue. Between poring over all the text and watching cutscenes, players will minimally navigate corridors and such, but all this is comprised of is moving a character from space to space on a map. When entering a new room, there’s a chance to scan the surroundings in first-person mode with the analog stick, at which time there might be something in the environment to click on and read about, but that’s the extent of “playing” the game. It’s up in the air whether or not fans of the first title will take a liking to this change, as Book of Shadows’ gameplay is ultimately quite different from the previous installment’s.
Nevertheless, the art here is top notch stuff, if anime is something of interest. Characters and environments are vibrant and imaginative and considering the fact that this is a horror story, the carnage and killings are all vividly illustrated, too, providing more than a few shocking and revolting moments. Seeing the mutilated body and entrails of a person who has been thrown against a wall so hard they’ve basically exploded all over the room is unnerving, to say the least.
That’s actually what Book of Shadows does best; it creates a haunting atmosphere that incites genuine emotionality. There were several occasions when my heart was pounding because I was afraid to see what the next room had in store. Better still, though, were the times when I couldn’t put the game down because I was so caught up in the magic of the wonderful marriage of a damn near perfect localization on the part of publisher XSEED and the gripping music. If Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has one, unequivocally delightful aspect, it’s the soundtrack. It knows when to smother players with a thick blanket of melancholic overtures, and when to boil their insides with suspenseful, sinister requiems. In this respect, BOS knocks it out of the park.
In the end, whether or not you enjoy Corpse Party: Book of Shadows really depends on if you want to play a game or read a story. After all, this is a visual novel heavily embedded in the zaniness typically found in such anime endeavors. There are droves of text blocks to scour, no true gameplay to be experienced and a deluge of weirdness happening at every turn. At the same time, however, and aside from being completely bizarre, Book of Shadows has a fascinating tale to disclose. For $20, it’s about the price of a graphic novel, which is exactly what it is. So if you can stomach the gore and overall obscurity, then this super niche PSP title may be worth checking out.
Platform: PSP (PSN)