Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PSP, iOS
Developers: Team GrisGris and Mages Inc.
Publisher: XSEED Games
Corpse Party: Blood Covered was a horror adventure game that, despite some mechanical obtrusiveness, was a rousing and intriguing affair that I found myself quite partial to when I played it last year. As such, I had high hopes for Book of Shadows, a successor that, based on store page description and light details I casually perused, assumed would fill in many of the gaps left open by the original entry, expand the universe the developers created, and do so in a more direct storytelling format, that of a visual novel. All of which is… true to a degree, but that’s not quite what we have here.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a compilation of disconnected side stories, with the ensuing product being less of a sequel and more of a heavily produced fandisc that looks at the established narrative the original game offers and chooses to build upon things… while not actually doing anything overly interesting, meaningful, or especially captivating. As rather than investigate the minutiae of the lore or the history of the demonic school setting of the series, Heavenly Host Elementary School, the ensuing vignettes either focus on the backgrounds of minor characters, namely the spiritual investigator Naho and the moral compass Ms. Yui, or build off of the innumerous “wrong ends” seen in the original game.
These stories are exceptionally ancillary in nature, merely echo much of Blood Covered while offering little in the way of new content, and are near incomprehensible without a working knowledge of the original game, making the entire thing feel like a companion piece rather than its own product. The tone seen throughout many of these scenarios is perplexing, often de-emphasizing the horror this series tires to push so heavily, choosing to instead indulge in goofy and lighthearted slice of life shenanigans. While attempts to built upon what were previously minor characters by providing them with additional depth and backstory often turns these characters into parodies of themselves.
Such as Seiko, a loving and eccentric weirdo whose personality nicely contrasted against the bitter horror of Heavenly Host, and is now an overzealous lesbian who wants nothing more than to fondle and sleep with her dearest friend Naomi. Or even the primary antagonist, Sachiko, who goes from a child who does not understand the true ramifications of her actions and simply wishes to please her loving mother, to a crass and malicious murder hungry psychotic specter that derives pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Because nothing is spookier than a foul mouthed sadistic child.
All of these negatives made it difficult for me to retain an interest in whatever ultimate narrative Book of Shadows was building up to. To the extent that I actually didn’t. I stopped playing through the story after clearing vignette 4 of 7, as I was not interested in these niche offshoots of wrong endings that I never so much as saw, and have no bearing on the main story. Which, incidentally, this game does continue with its final chapter, the prologue to Blood Drive.
Now, the ending of Blood Covered was a bittersweet victory that took a toll on the survivors from Heavenly Host, as they were left to bear the memories and trauma of their experiences, unable to truly share them outside of their now closely knit group. The mystery was largely solved, and the series could have very much concluded then and there. However, success begets succession, and the justification that the developers came up with to push out a sequel was one that I cannot help but detest on some level, as it sullies surviving members of its cast.
It all boils down to two key characters feeling remorse, sorrow, and regret over the deaths of their classmates, and developing a deep desire to revive them by any means necessary, encouraging them to investigate the same mystical means that brought Heavenly Host into existence to begin with. A startlingly stupid plan that has these characters traverse into places that should not exist, discover the Necronomicon, referred to as the Book of Shadows, and use it to resurrect one of their friends.
It is a concept well established in genre fiction of this sort, a fit of empathy that leads an otherwise level headed individual to indulge in the forbidden dark arts. However, their decision to resurrect their friends does not come across as truly altruistic or virtuous, but rather as a way for them to deal with the trauma and pain of remembering people whose lives had been forfeit. Their pleas over how much pain their deceased friends are have undergone ring hollow, and instead it’s all too easy to view their concerns as an outward projection of guilt they have deep within themselves and a refusal to accept the deaths of their classmates.
I could dismiss this act of selfishness as a translation hiccup, or just a cultural quirk, but based on the high quality of the localization and the English writing, I can only assume are accurate to the original Japanese version. By that account, I found myself viewing these characters as detestable, hiding their ill intentions under the guise of a good deed, while being as dumb as a piles of rocks. This concept alone soured me immensely on the idea of checking out Blood Drive, but after seeing the hackneyed manner the prologue concluded itself, I lost all interest in the series going forward, and effectively stopped caring.
I could end this review right there, as there is nothing worse I can say about this title other than that it completely eliminated any and all desire I had to seek out the rest of the series. However, I strive to be thorough, and I simply must talk about the gameplay. Rather than being a straightforward visual novel with periodic menu-based choices that can result in wrong ends, Book of Shadows is an adventure game, but only some of the time. When the story calls for it, the player must explore various environments by pulling up a grid-based map to move about their character from screen to screen, entering rooms via menus, interacting with doodads by clicking on points of interest amidst backgrounds, and trying to progress the storyline while relying on their familiarity with the layout of Heavenly Host. Because otherwise, you’re probably going to get lost almost immediately.
It all feels so cumbersome, intrusive, and overall unnecessary, bogging down the experience with what ultimately feels like busywork. Now, one could argue that these mechanics were retained to stay true to the spirit of Blood Covered, and that basically everything seen here was carried over from that entry. However, the change in perspective and subsequently genre makes these mechanics less engrossing, as rather than exploring an atmospheric and sprawling environment, the player is far more limited in where they can go, must do so through menu, and is met with significantly more drab locales. As in order to create a greater sense of realism, the dark purples, abstract sprite art, and earthy tones of Blood Covered were exchanged for a sea of greys and browns via detailed backgrounds that are repeated frequently. A move that divorces the environments of a sense of structure, place, and personality.
Which is not to say that the presentation of Book of Shadows is poor, as it is evident from the level of detail seen in the environmental art, the personality-rich character sprites, and large number of scene specific CGs that a lot of effort and dedication went into making this game look good. Unfortunately, this transition also removed much of the aesthetic charm and personality seen in Blood Covered, with the final product coming off as a tad generic. Thankfully, the voice acting somewhat makes up for this by offering a number of charismatic and passionate performances that add a lot to both pre-established characters, and minor figures who, generally speaking, exist only to die.
I really wanted to enjoy Book of Shadows, and assumed that by being a more lore-focused visual novel, it would avoid a number of the lesser aspects of Blood Covered. In actuality, it does the opposite, offering exceptionally clunky navigation paired with stories that are simply extensions of the wrong ends I deliberately avoided preciously. Its contributions are insignificant, the stories it tells are not especially compelling, and its sole attempt at continuing the storyline of the series expediently eliminated whatever interest I had in this series going forward.