Corpse Party 2021 - XB1 Review


Corpse Party 2021 by developer Mages and publisher XSEED GamesMicrosoft Xbox One review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


Corpse Party has become something of an old friend in my home over the years. Sure, it’s a ghastly, ghostly and sometimes terrifying old friend, but one I willingly revisit in one form or another somewhat regularly. This is hands-down the best version of Corpse Party to be released, with more content than ever and fewer of the barriers that may have kept people from playing the title previously.

Corpse Party - officially tagged with a (2021) on most sites to separate it from the 1996 (wow!) original – is a challenging game to describe, and that is part of its charm. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any one genre, with an interface and visuals that reminds us of older RPGs / RPG Maker games, enough text to make it seem to some like a visual novel, but plenty of exploration and adventuring elements that harken back to the old point and click adventure games. All of these are accurate to an extent, but I think if you get too hung up on the genre or mechanics, you are likely missing out on what makes the series so endearing.


For me, it’s all about the atmosphere. The retro visuals scream of the 16-bit era, which is admittedly not a scary thing most of the time these days. In an era where people are using state of the art AAA visuals to try and scare the pants off of you in a game, Corpse Party instead relies on a combination of excellent writing (both from a world building standpoint and character development) and fantastic audio design. Now, this version of the game has the best visuals to date, but it’s mostly just a bit of extra polish. These are still throwback graphics that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Super Nintendo back in the day, but the use of limited visibility, combined with spooky sounds and a fully voiced cast of Japanese actors screaming their hearts out make for a solid presentation.

The story starts off with a group of nine friends gathered at Kisaragi High School one evening as they are having a small farewell party for their friend Ayumi. She is about to transfer to a new school, and her friends are gathered late one night to see her off. It starts with a campfire-like tale that talks about how Kisaragi High School is actually built on top of an old school called Heavenly Host Elementary that was lost to a disaster a long time prior. It all starts off innocently enough, with one of the young teachers helping to set up the scares for the students, before they are all saying their farewells to Ayumi. She then presents her friends with an occult ceremony she discovered that says they will all be together forever if they want. They take part in the quick ceremony and moments later there is an earthquake that splits the floors to Kisaragi High School and plummets the gathered friends into the actual remains of Heavenly Host Elementary.

I won’t delve any further into the story than this, as the narrative is the real star here and it’s far better to be experienced than simply written about in a review. That being said, the game’s structure is primarily about exploration and finding items in the environment to solve puzzles and continue through the stages. There’s no traditional combat to speak of, but there’s plenty of spirits, traps and more that can cause your students to meet a bad ending – but that’s half the fun. That’s because progress is structured into five chapters, and the idea is to get through the chapter properly and reach the cannon or true ending to each chapter, thus unlocking the next one. However, you will die along the way, and each chapter has multiple false endings as well. It’s interesting to experience them as the game slowly but surely moves you through trial and error that sees you to the end of each chapter.

These bad alternate endings are often incredibly grim, and some of the darkest writing I’ve seen in video gaming over the years. There’s a reason that the game has a mature content warning, and while some of the deaths are rather mundane, other ones are truly unsettling. Play this in the dark with some good headphones and you are in for a very creepy experience that will have you forgetting about the 16-bit visuals in no time.

Beyond the five main chapters, we also have a handful of bonus ones added as well. There’s a couple of brand new ones for fans of the series such as myself who were hoping to have something new to see and do. Another nice feature is that all of these chapters are also fully voiced, and this just makes them feel fuller and more interesting than in the past where the lack of voice acting somehow made them feel slightly hollow by comparison to the primary chapters.

The pacing is going to be a concern for some. While most of the puzzles are pretty straightforward, and you get a good introduction to them in the initial chapter (pick up this board to cross this gap, for example), there are a handful that are still a bit obtuse and require a bit more patience than the rest. By now I know them pretty well and only really struggled to pull one out of the recesses of my brain-hole, but newcomers will likely find at least a couple of them to be somewhat grating. These are the exception however, and not the rule, and because failure lends itself to those delightfully creeping endings, I personally did not mind a bit of that trial and error that is part of the game flow.

Summary

Corpse Party is the best version of this release yet, which is saying something as it has seen multiple ports over the last twenty-five years. It has the most polished visuals, accessible menus and extra content. The pacing and graphics might not be for everyone, but if you are a fan of creepy writing and outstanding audio design, then give Corpse Party a chance during this year’s scary season.

Score: 8.75 / 10




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