The above scene happens within the first fifteen minutes of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Chapter 1. Opening on Naomi and Seiko’s first slumber party, and told from Naomi’s point of view, we become witnesses to Seiko’s obvious attraction to her school mate, her odd attempt at a lesbian encounter in the shower by screaming “I just got to grab dat ass” and lunging at a clueless Naomi, and a tender moment in bed where Naomi almost realizes what is so plainly obvious to those following along, only to quickly dismiss it while Seiko cuddles against her chest.
This scene served as a very odd introduction to the world of Corp- No wait, that’s not right. It wasn’t an introduction, because nothing was introduced. Book of Shadows isn’t the first in the line of Corpse Party horror titles, and in fact, it’s really not even the second. It serves as a collection of prequel, intermediary, and alternate tales and takes on characters from Blood Covered, the first Corpse Party game released in the US, which itself was a remake of Corpse Party PC-98, the original Japanese release.
Being such an odd collection of stories, playing the first game is an absolute prerequisite to even beginning to understand what’s happening in Book of Shadows. There’s no explanation offered, no “Last time on…” to get you started. Spitting completely in the face of any sequel or prequel game that’s able to stand on it’s own as an individual narrative entity, understanding Book of Shadows is absolutely wrapped in knowledge of the first game. No one ever explicitly mentions this, there’s no warning on the title card that says “Hey, have you played the first game? You should probably do that, otherwise the next 4 hours are going to be pretty weird.”
I found out about this price of entry the hard way, and quickly had to embark on a research trip to the local wiki to see what in the world was going on. In short, there is a magical charm, that when performed, sends its users to Heavenly Host Elementary, a grade school just north of Hell and a few blocks left of WTF, which serves as home to Sachiko, kid ghost and murderous host to the corpse “decidedly not” party.
Research trip out of the way, Book of Shadows plays out as a visual novel, with some “point and click” adventure game type spurts of gameplay in between. I put that in quotes because calling it actual point and click is an assault on adventure games. Split between Search mode, a first person look at the room you’re in, and a block map of Heavenly Host, where a small 16-bit like sprite of the character you’re controlling is directed to move around, these sections are tedious at best, and down right aggravating at their worst.
Halls are made up of the same reused assets, meaning you are either walking through Broken_Hall_01 or 02, with the occasional bottomless pit or stairway full of desks to serve as artificial stops on exploration. What makes those imposed walls even more fun is the non-euclidean nature of Heavenly Host, which can cause holes to open or close at will, which itself serves only as a way to get you to backtrack constantly. In fact, one chapter requires you to walk over the same square several times in order to force a story element, which is only realized once you do it.
The few adventure puzzles that are scattered about are a real joke too, adding nothing to the overall narrative, and serve only to shatter the pacing on which these stories of horror are defined. Built of the same item collection/item use objectives that players have been exposed to for years, none of the puzzles should give you pause, with only one, a combination lock in Chapter 5, needing you to jot down a couple of numbers on a notepad.
These pacing issues also come from the story itself, with so many extraneous bits, like the shower scene above, thrown in when they don’t serve the narrative. Another example comes in Chapter 6, when a character is expanded upon to show his Dexter-like Dark Passenger, only to have that same thing touched on in Chapter 7, which happens chronologically before 6. As a reader, we know it’s going to happen, and when the change is referenced the first time, it’s subtle yet obvious. It’s then blatantly told, again, from that characters point of view, which immediately drags the pacing down, and left me quite disappointed with the approaching end.
Compounding those pacing issues, each chapter also has a number of “Wrong Ends,” false endings in which the main character is often killed in a gruesome, off screen manner. 90% of these are brought about through a binary choice presented on screen, and with Book of Shadows allowing you to save at any point by simply hitting the triangle button to bring up the menu screen, the choices themselves serve only as a stop gap, an interesting “what happens if I choose this” scenario that builds no tension and has no real consequence because it is so easily reversible.
It’s rather telling that the best chapter of this game, Chapter 3, eschews almost all gameplay elements, serving almost exclusively as a visual story. By skipping the horribly implemented point and click nonsense, Chapter 3′s flashback tale is allowed to build tension and give it’s main character a real arc. It was the only one of the seven main chapters that kept me glued to the PSP on which it played, in part because it actually had a sense of pace to it, something that is shattered in the other chapters because of a need to shoe horn in the point and click portions.
Starting with Chapter 3, the game does begin to pick up, with each of the following chapters telling alternate reality tales, some of which refer back to early chapters where characters were separated. None are without fault, and most fall prey to pacing issues, but the stories, and characters, are far more entertaining then what the game begins with. Chapter 6 is especially fun, because the ending is telegraphed through reader knowledge, and seeing it play out, knowing what’s eventually in store for the main character/victim, is pretty satisfying.
Also satisfying is the sound quality of the game, especially when contrasted against the generally muted visuals of the backgrounds. The music is good, though not always mood appropriate, but the real special part are the sound effects. Running footsteps, far off screams, and the foley-generated sounds of breaking bones and tearing flesh help paint the appropriate images, especially with so many of the brutal killings taking place off-camera.
XSEED’s localization job is also worth noting. All dialog, whether spoken or internal, is in Japanese, and it’s great to be able to follow along with the action without any jarring instances of clear translation issues.
If you have played the first game, which through the course of my readings seemed, itself, to be a visual novel with third person bend to it, and you enjoyed it, then you may want to look into Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. As a collection of side stories (with a final, hidden chapter pointing to a future sequel), their entertainment value is really only appreciated by those with a knowledge of the preceding events. Even with that taken into account, there are still a number of missteps that keep this from being an easy recommendation. With exceptions, even fans may find these tales of woe and terror far to easy to put down, and never pick up again.