Corpse Party is one of those rare titles that, despite its age and the number of re-releases it receives, still holds a certain power over its fans and with good reason. This RPG Maker title, originally developed in 1996 by Team GrisGris, has been a horror staple due to its deep lore and masterfully oppressive atmosphere. And the latest port, Corpse Party (2021) for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, shows us exactly why this game is still alive and kicking so many years after its initial release.
The Story Begins
The game starts off light-hearted enough as a group of high school students mess around after school by indulging in a local horror story. But unfortunately for them, they find that the rumors are real and are dragged into terrifying happenings at Heavenly Host Elementary School. Depending on your actions during the game, the endings you uncover can change. And the Nintendo Switch version, the latest port of the series, adds in even more bonus content.
The story is easily the biggest draw to Corpse Party and is what most fans treasure about the game. The first chapter is a bit slow to open, as it takes about 20 minutes to set up the characters before diving into the horrible turn of events. But the opening does well in setting up their personalities, relationships with each other, and establishing the slow burn horror that later becomes the meat of the game. However, you have the option to skip both this opening as well as any chapter openings, which is handy for replays.
Graphics and Gameplay Galore
Being that this was originally an RPG Maker game, the graphics are nothing elaborate in the least. The sprite art and effects, while clean and well-drawn, are very simple looking, although it's complemented well with the anime-style portraits and CG art, giving it more charm and personality. The art direction is phenomenal, as it fully takes advantage of the limited graphics to create a moody, dark, and haunting atmosphere.
Gameplay is also simple, as you take control of various characters and explore the haunted and ruined school, tracking down other students and finding a way to escape with your lives. Depending on the character you control after the opening scenes and what actions you take with each one, the events and endings you have access to are permanently influenced.
Cautious exploration is the name of the game(play) as well, as the labyrinth-like school slowly opens up through each chapter. There are plenty of corpses and ghosts scattered around, as well as newspaper clippings detailing grisly murders, weird but oddly fun puzzles, and dying notes from students who succumbed to the curse or their own injuries. All these add up to incredibly dense and complex lore that brings together an impeccable atmosphere and story. Weaved through the school's happenings are the stories of the main cast themself, whether it's detailing their school lives or their current struggle to survive in the school and eventually return home.
When Great Writing and Sound Design Come Together
Corpse Party possesses one vital trait that elevates it to a timeless classic. And that's its tendency to buck well-worn Japanese gaming conventions. Most Japanese titles encourage players to read through every scrap of information, explore every nook and cranny, wander aimlessly, leave party members behind to discover hidden secrets, and many other examples.
But this game actively punishes you for that and for generally making decisions that would be considered irrational in this or any other setting. For instance, those aforementioned dying notes contain the last thoughts of children who died in gruesome and unfair ways. And in a world made of curses that physically manifest, those scraps of paper carry curses as well which can harm characters who read all of them. Another case involves leaving behind vulnerable party members, investigating too much of an area, or speaking to those who pose a threat. Both actions uncover much more of the school than is safe, allowing too much evil to fester until it lashes out.
And lashes out it does, as Corpse Party has a tailor-made Wrong End (bad ending) for nearly every single misstep you can imagine. It adds to the tension of the game, as now you need to carefully consider every action you take, much like how you would if you were actually in such a scenario. Luckily, there are several save file slots for each chapter as well as a temporary save slot, meaning that you can easily back up a save and try again.
Beefing up Corpse Party are some of the best horror descriptions I’ve ever read. While some may take umbrage with the game not featuring more graphic artwork depicting all the gory details, reading the details instead forces you to imagine every gruesome element. Not to mention that instead of visuals we get excellent sound design, music, and voice acting to accompany the text, heightening its impact as you hear the sounds of destroyed human meat and characters choking on their own blood as they scream in agony.
The Bad and the Ugly
Unfortunately, all is not perfect in this timeless classic. Though the translated horror descriptions themselves are phenomenal, the characters' dialogue (while very distinctive in its own right) lacks any sort of polish or refinement. And while most of the CG art is pleasant and well-drawn, there are random panty shots of its underage female characters that are incredibly jarring and severely undercut from the otherwise tense and emotional scenes.
There’s also the matter of Yuka, Satoshi’s younger sister. Her character alone is extremely off-putting, seemingly made up of nothing but bizarre and extremely uncomfortable "cutesy" character traits. She doesn’t change or grow in the slightest and her most notable plot point is the fact that she has to pee. Twice. And this isn’t a blink or you miss it moment either, but something that serves to slow down both her and Satoshi’s initial debut quite significantly.
And while the controls themselves are perfectly fine for an older RPG Maker title, during chase scenes are when you can really feel its age. These moments are meant to be tense and fill the player with fear as they run from their pursuers. But when characters get hung up on random objects and take far too long to pivot, it becomes an exercise in patience that makes these sections far too frustrating.
All the Bells and Whistles
Just as in previous ports, this version features tons of extra chapters that depict other students as they wander the halls of Heavenly Host Elementary School. Making its debut in this port of the game are two bonus chapters: one featuring more scenes between the fan favorites Ayumi and Yoshiki, and the second introducing new characters Miku Shirayume and Ryoka Iwami. The latter is a tie-in for the later games in the series, making it ideal for series veterans.
As we're in the perfect season for scary and spooky things, Corpse Party (2021) is a great game to indulge in. It features plenty of content and replayability due to the multiple endings, as well as all the extra scenarios. For fans of the franchise, the brand new content in this version beefs it up even more. However, the length never drags on too long and overstays its welcome. All in all, this is easily the best version of the title and a welcome reminder of why it’s such an enduring game over two decades later.
TechRaptor reviewed Corpse Party (2021) on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developer/publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.
- Excellent story and lore
- Most characters are fleshed out icredibly well
- The 16-bit graphics hold up surprisingly well
- Fanservice detracts from horrifying moments
- At times movement is clunky, especially during chase scenes