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Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (Vita)

The first Corpse Party for the PlayStation Portable was a bit of a surprise when it came out. Corpse Party attempted to do something very different, providing a fantastic atmosphere and engaging story complimented by good overall graphics and excellent sound design.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is not a true sequel so much as a complimentary game. Game, I suppose, could be the wrong word as you really have very limited control over the events you are witness to. The term I have seen used most often with Book of Shadows is visual novel, and that really does seem to fit for several reasons.

The majority of your time with this game will be spent reading text. I know some types of games, like RPGs, tend to be text-heavy, but Book of Shadows goes beyond even that. You will spend hours reading the story, which is thankfully engaging. I suppose you can play this without having played the original Corpse Party, but a great deal of context is lost without a working history of the original game.

Book of Shadows is actually a series of standalone stories that tie to a character or two from the original game. These stories often serve as tying up loose stories from the original game, or adding a bit of extra context to characters or events. Not all of the chapters are equally engaging and some of the characters will likely resonate better with players better than others. The key is, the story and characters are fleshed out enough to make them genuinely interesting for the most part, and you do find yourself caring about most of them by the conclusion of their chapters.

What happens in these chapters? Bad, bad things. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows carries a Teen rating, and you do not get assailed with much in the way of language, but there are some pretty unsettling, gruesome fates awaiting these kids.

So you know there are mountains of text to go through, but what about the rest of the game? The first Corpse Party had a somewhat RPG-like overhead element to the visuals as you moved about. Book of Shadows scraps that approach in favor of a more linear point-and-click mechanic where you chose where to go on a map instead. Once you enter a space, you take on a first person view and try to locate elements of interest in your environment that trigger the next set of events.

I can appreciate the more linear approach, but it does make you feel as though you are along for the ride as opposed to driving the story yourself, and I can see some players being turned off by the mechanic. There is also a system called 'darkening' that somewhat reminds of or Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Eternal Darkness where the game's graphics and choices might be altered if the student's level of fear rises too much.

The visuals are fairly good in that the artwork is enjoyable and portrays the game's dark mood and tension nicely. That being said, most of it is fairly static - text drawn over top of still images as you progress. Better than the art though is the sound design. The first Corpse Party had excellent music and sound, and once again those elements work to help raise tensions in Book of Shadows as well.

There are multiple endings available, which does lend some replay value to the chapters. Even better, now you can save at any time you like and you can skip blocks of story, allowing you to do things differently and try to get new endings without having to waste a bunch of time re-watching the same scenes over and over again.

I really enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows - but it is a game that probably will not appeal to everyone. The themes can be unsettling, which can be a draw of detriment depending on your particular tastes. That it is a story where you are along for the ride more than an actively played game could be a concern for players as well. All of that being said, I enjoyed the unique experience and found myself caring about the characters and stories while getting lost in the visuals and audio.

- Nick H
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Review: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (Vita)
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