Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (2018 PC Release) Review
Release Date: October 29th, 2018
Developer: MAGES Inc., Team GrisGris
Platform: PC (Steam)
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows continues the story of one of the most engrossing visual novels and games possibly ever crafted in the medium. Initially beginning in 1996, Corpse Party has had well over two decades of storytelling within the horror genre about a group of students that find themselves in a supernatural scenario filled with abhorrent murder and spiritual massacres, and with it has brought multiple sequels, spinoffs, adaptations, and much more for fans to consume around the globe. While a delayed hit, it wasn't until Corpse Party hit the PSP back in 2010 where the series really took off and began to conjure a dedicated following, with sequels on the same platform and succeeding platform, the PlayStation Vita. With Book of Shadows, Corpse Party takes a much different approach to its predecessor where players could walk around the school of Kisaragi Academy and Heavenly Host Elementary, and staying much more faithful to the visual novel format by presenting mostly illustrated scenarios and prerendered cutscenes, with gameplay mostly being limited to a Hidden-Object approach where players can switch scenes to different parts of the school and progress by finding the necessary items and triggers. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows now has a chance to expand even further with a PC release through Steam, and if there's anything exciting about Corpse Party in general now being ported to PC, it's that it's great to see it get a breath of fresh air with HD visuals that really help further prove the point that Corpse Party's art direction is one of a kind.
The basis of Corpse Party has always been that Heavenly Host Academy had a string of events that occurred in the 70's that was so catastrophic that the school ultimately had to be torn down due to the stigma that had surrounded what took place. It ultimately got rebuilt into Kisaragi Academy, where basically all remnants of Heavenly Host were erased and whenever it's discussed by students, it's usually seen as a myth. However, Sachiko Shinozaki, the main antagonist and powerful spirit of Corpse Party, is the reason why the school still exists on another dimensional plane where students are taken and tortured by vengeful spirits for the crimes. Because Corpse Party as a whole is VERY serialized and should not, under any circumstances, be played out of order, Book of Shadows takes place immediately after the first Corpse Party where a group of students are taken to Heavenly Host elementary and mostly meet their demise. The ones that do survive, however, are left scarred and mentally broken, and reality is made even more terrifying when they realize in Book of Shadows that everyone that had died in the Heavenly Host dimension in the first game is practically erased from existence as their faces are blacked out and there is no recollection of them from anyone except for the survivors from the first title. They're left flummoxed as to why, almost by the snap of a finger, memories and everything that has to do with an individuals existence is erased from the world once they've died in Heavenly Host. This leaves the remaining group of students to, admittedly against their will, go back to find the answers as to why everyone has been permanently erased and a potential way to reverse the effects. Along the way the remaining survivors meet new faces and other brands of witches that are also trying to rid of this horrific dimension, but with varying agendas among them that may or may not cause more harm than good.
There's this almost God-like complex that the game flirts with and the themes between the supernatural, religion, magic, and science make for a very intriguing playthrough that's as profound as it is captivating. You're left with decisions wondering if the dead have any right to be reborn, and if there are any repercussions along with it. If there are, do the pros outweigh the cons, or should life just take its course without being altered? If they can be altered, where do we draw the line in manipulation, and is the power behind it too much for one person to handle? Lots of themes and ideas are explored here, but the amount of tension, sacrifice, and emotions that run through make Corpse Party: Book of Shadows a heavy subject to tackle and is not for the light-hearted by any means. The exceptional illustrations by the brilliant artists behind the series, along with an impeccable soundtrack with songs performed by some of the cast of the game itself, truly bring the entire world to life (or death) and make for a fantastic package that's as well thought out as it is evocative.
The PC port of Book of Shadows is well done outside of the fact that some of the keybindings are super odd. As is with 99.9% of games, ideally, and intuitively, the ESC button would naturally bring you to a menu or back to a previous frame, but not in the PC version of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. For whatever reason, the ESC button quite literally does nothing, and instead you're left having to press 1 - yes, the number 1 - in order to get to the menu. If you want to go back to a previous submenu, you have to actually click the Back button on the bottom right corner of the screen. For your items menu, which is separate from the normal system menu, you have to press F1 in order to bring that up. It's baffling as to why it's like that, but once you've gotten the hang of that then that's all you really have to worry about for the rest of the game, as the rest of the text and hidden object moments are all done by simple clicks of the mouse as expected.
While the story is fantastic, Book of Shadow's gameplay portion isn't without fault and frustration. The only real issue within visual novel segments was that audio can frequently become very quiet for no discernable reason, but outside of that there are times where puzzles are not that fleshed-out and are frustrating simply due to the nonsensical nature of it and the constant fear of obtaining a bad end that will leave you having to reload a previous save or a poorly placed checkpoint and autosave, despite exhausting all options at your disposal. The 3D spatial audio makes for an awesome experience, though, and this was present and also revolutionary at the time of its PSP release. It's highly recommended to play with headphones to feel true immersion as voices come from all directions rather than in a stereo image, but it still doesn't change the fact that some audio is lower than it should be regardless of placement. On the PSP version, I found myself frequently turning the volume to the highest it could go, and even having to add an amplifier to my monitor headphones at one point to adjust the gain further since ambience and sound effects could easily drown out voices. This is still the case here with the PC release of Book of Shadows, and should be taken into account when playing with headphones (and definitely speakers) as you'll find yourself constantly adjusting volume settings internally and externally throughout your playthrough, almost as if it's a feature.
There are a lot of goodies to treat fans and first-time players beyond the initial playthrough, however, as you'll be unlocking bonuses during the duration of the game and through hidden unlockables as well. Bonuses give a lot of stuff that increase lore for the game and extra goodies for fans to enjoy. Not only can you look at Gallery options to see all the beautiful art in HD, but there are 'Soulful Testimonies' where the voice actors talk about their time with the game, favorite scenes, what it's like to encapsulate the characters, and so much more. Cursed Phonograph allows you to listen to music from the game, of which there are plenty, and it's a real treat as I still listen to a lot of it to this day, years later. Throughout Corpse Party: Book of Shadow's 7 "episode" run - in addition to its Prologue which seamlessly leads into Blood Drive - Bad Ends and Good Ends among other routes give you access to a plethora of bonus content to consume outside of the game itself, and it's really great to see what is basically in-game collector's edition bonuses to give exclusive looks into the structure, methodology, and overall design of Corpse Party as a series.
Corpse Party, in my opinion, will forever be one of the most engrossing stories ever told. For nearly two decades after its initial release, Corpse Party has remained unique in its design, characters, and perception of horror that is still unparalleled to this day. From the ever evolving lore to the personalized experience each game gives you, Corpse Party sticks with those that play it with tailor-made playthroughs and memorable moments that are as shocking and sad as they are mysterious and profound. For fans of the visual novel and horror genre, Corpse Party is on the Mount Rushmore of titles alongside Zero Escape and Danganronpa, and should absolutely be played by anyone interested in either one or both genres. Corpse Party's exploration of the supernatural is unsettling, but the spiritual nature of its lore grabs you in ways other games, films, and books within the genre can only dream of.
Corpse Party, in my opinion, will forever be one of the most engrossing stories ever told.
Seeing all the illustration in HD years later from its PSP release is a real treat for fans who have been there since the beginning
With a multitude of paths and endings, everyone's experience is tailor-made for them, and the amount of unlockables encourages players to go back and try different routes and methods to the story
The spatial audio and voice acting make for a captivating and immersive experience that is unforgettable with headphones
Bad ends can be frequent, and while you do get occasional rewards for them, it can be increasingly frustrating during some puzzles when trying different approaches all lead to a seemingly inevitable death
Keybindings are a little odd, with 1 being the Menu and F1 being your items. Backspace HAS to be pressed in order to go back as well, even though it seems like it's clickable with a big box in the lower left corner of the screen.
A massive thank you to Marvelous and XSEED for providing us the game for the purpose of this review