Review: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (Computer)

Reviewed by Scarlet Bell, posted Oct 30, 2018
Oct 30, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): October 29, 2018
  • Release Date (EU): October 29, 2018
  • Publisher: XSEED Games
  • Genres: Horror
  • Also For: Retro
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
The first of three games to be getting a shiny new PC release, we take a look at the anthological agony of Heavenly Host.
Scarlet Bell

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As much as I'd like to review this as a standalone title, I can't in any good mind recommend playing it without previously experiencing the first game. With Book of Shadows acting as a prequel, sequel, and midquel, it aims to supplement the events of Heavenly Host Elementary School and the characters trapped within. Considering this, the following review will include minor spoilers to the first game, mentioning the events in general, as well as a few of the game's endings. If you're interested in the series, you can find the first game on PSP (or Vita via PSN), iOS, 3DS, and PC, so give it a go and check this out later.

Anthology of Agony

Where the Corpse Party told a fluid story in five chapters, Book of Shadows takes an entirely different approach. Set before, during, after, and in alternate endings of the first game, it fleshes out the world and its characters in a way that simply wasn't previously possible. From a gameplay perspective, a lot has changed. Discarding the previous game's RPG aesthetic and style, Book of Shadows relies on the player's perceptive eyes and puzzling prowess to move through maps and interact with the world in a point and click environment. On top of this, it introduces several changes to the formula, two of the more notable ones being darkening, and the ability to save anywhere.

As an idea, darkening also existed in the first game. The process of losing yourself to the school's ever-present ambience of dread and sorrow, it could cause a character to act on emotion, leaving them vulnerable to possession from vengeful spirits. While the lore remains consistent, Book of Shadows introduces this idea as a gameplay mechanic. Comparable to a sanity meter in other games, it increases with certain in-game events, or by interacting with things such as dead bodies. Outside of these, it also serves to penalise you for making wild guesses or not having the right equipment in specific scenarios. With some events locked behind a certain darkening percentage, you get a real sense of the school changing and warping, especially for those looking to examine each dead body for its nametag. If you let the meter reach its limit, the chapter will end in either a wrong end or a game over.

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With the series known for its branching paths and list of unfortunate ends, saving frequently has always been important. Where the Corpse Party's RPG gameplay lent itself to specified save points within the confines of the world, I feel this would have been much more difficult to implement in a point and click environment. Saving would move from finding notable landmarks as you explore, to being frustrating points to look out for in each scene. With this in mind, you are able to save through the menu as and when you please, as well as the game making automatic saves at key decision points. While you could technically save wherever you wanted in the 3DS version of Repeated Fear through what is most likely an oversight, Book of Shadows appreciates this design choice far more, largely because of the contrasting gameplay styles. Repeating an event by navigating through an environment with potentially missed hazards and interactions, paired with the ability to remove the already-limited option of saving during tense scenes versus simply holding a button to skip a wall of text, before methodically clicking in the correct places—while I would have appreciated free saving in the previous title, it's here where it's needed.

The final change worth mentioning isn't one from the first game to this, but the result of porting the game from PSP to PC. The biggest part of this is of course the updated graphics. Everything looks cleaner, the CG graphics in particular standing out along with the menus and text boxes. I was quite surprised to see the inclusion of the first game's CG assets if the game detects its save data as well. Though also included in the PSP version, it feels far more significant here. With the PC version of Corpse Party not including the CG assets of Repeated Fear on the PSP and 3DS, this is the first time fans of the series will be able to see them in such high quality. Where I shrugged them off in the PSP version, I found myself actively looking through and appreciating their inclusion. Add to this a far more natural point and click experience with, put bluntly, the ability to actually point and click, and you have what is likely to be the best way to play this game. Where you lose portability, you gain easier accessibility, better graphics, and a more natural feeling control style. Which version is for you will come down to what you value more, but with no additional content added to the PC release outside of high quality CG assets, there isn't much incentive to double dip outside of wanting an easy way to replay the game.

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As a more general note, I'm happy to see how well the game runs on low-powered machines. Though the introduction cutscene for some reason runs at an atrocious framerate on a low-spec system, the rest of the game is fluid and a joy to experience. To be clear, this was a very low spec laptop. Pushing the boat out a little further, I also wanted to try the game with a graphics tablet, taking the point and click gameplay as far as I can imagine. All in all, it worked great. Though I had to do a small swipe for it to register as a click, it's something fun I'd recommend trying if you have a tablet lying around. If you're a more traditional player, the game can be controlled solely with a mouse, a keyboard, or a combination of both, as well as with a gamepad like the PSP version before it, so there should be something for everybody.

Considering the game's anthological nature, I'll discuss each chapter briefly as a separate entity, looking at where they fit in the series chronology, what they bring to the table, and how I rate them. To be clear, while I won't be spoiling plot elements outside of what you'd learn from five minutes of playing the chapter, there will be details of the original game used to give them context. Most of this should be relatively minor in nature, but you should stop reading here if you haven't played the first game and ignored the warning at the start of the review.

Seal

Continuing from Wrong End 6 of Chapter 5, Seal follows Naomi as she repeats the events of the first game with a feeling she knows of the events to come. What makes this chapter particularly interesting is in its highlighting of how Book of Shadows is different to its predecessor. By starting the game in the same area with the same series of events, you're brought into the world again gently, giving you time to adjust to the changes before the prior knowledge of events becomes more prominent.

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There isn't much in the way of branching paths or additional endings, but the wrong ends are easily recognisable and again serve to provide an idea of familiarity with the events. Where this chapter really shines is in giving the same areas you recognise a new feel in the ways you can experience them. It also does well in setting the tone for the rest of the game. No longer able to rely on Corpse Party's graphical disconnection to warp twisted scenes to the darkest thought in your mind, Book of Shadows presents it in all its gruesomeness as a sight to behold. Whether this is something you appreciate or not, I see it as a largely unavoidable design choice given the genre shift. There are of course still some things a little too dark to be shown, often the depiction of torture, relying on the series' ever-sickeningly brilliant audio design to force you into visualising them for yourself. Though not overly present in Seal, it does well in teasing you into the quality of gameplay to come.

Demise

Also following Wrong End 6, Demise looks at Mayu as she arrives in Heavenly Host. Similarly to Naomi in Seal, Mayu has a premonition of the events of Corpse Party. With this lingering in her mind, she explores the halls hoping to be reunited with her friends.

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Where Seal thrived in an alternate look on familiar events, Demise is interesting for its look at Mayu in general. For obvious reasons, she never had a lot of time to be developed in the first game, and seeing how she reacts to the environment and its woes is far more a fresh experience than I was expecting. It feels like it could have also been the first chapter were it not for Seal's parallels with the first chapter of Corpse Party. Also featuring a reasonable array of wrong ends, one in particular lingering in my mind for its haunting screams and sound effects, there's a fair bit of exploration and discovery to be had. It's a good chapter all in all, but finds itself riding on the strengths of the series without really doing much in the way of anything new.

Encounter

Though being by far the most linear of the chapters, with no exploration or nametags to be found, Encounter stands out to me. A prequel to the events of Corpse Party, it primarily features Yui Shishido as she feverishly recalls a rainy night of her school days. 

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Being one of the shortest chapters, it's hard to say much without spoiling the experience. Out of all of them, it was this one that truly instilled dread in me. The writing and sound design really stood out in building a tense and gripping scene—add to this the single most horrific piece of artwork in the series and you may too find yourself feverishly recalling this nightmare fuel. Because of its length and linearity, it might not be a favourite for all, but I felt it a nice change of pace after Demise. With a good number of wrong ends from poor decision making, it also goes a long way in making you appreciate the automatic saves.

Purgatory

Where Encounter may be my favourite for the degree of tension and fear it provided, Purgatory stands out for another reason. A prequel to the events of the first game, you get the chance to learn about paranormal enthusiast Naho Saenoki and the events that lead to her arrival in Heavenly Host.

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Shining a light on the minor characters of Corpse Party is a large part of what makes Book of Shadows so interesting. Furthering the idea of this being more a supplement than a sequel to the first game, it expands the world in ways I never knew I wanted. Here we see Kibiki and Taguchi in a human environment, we see a character previously only mentioned as a nametag and a note, we see Naho's enthusiasm and her drive. With the first game's presentation of a fluid and largely linear story, it didn't really have much of a chance to go into such detail for character backgrounds without an express reason to reminisce. Book of Shadows being free to tell individual and detached stories, Purgatory thrives in feeding you the information previously left unsaid, and gives you a feel for the larger picture.

Shangri-La

Back in the chronology of Wrong End 6, the spotlight turns to Morishige, a character previously only touched upon as he gave into anguish and madness. The chapter opening with a monologue of his familiar love for the dead and a recap of relevant events from the first game, the focus soon shifts to some familiar faces from Byakudan as they explore the school's second wing.

While I find myself fonder of other chapters, Shangri-La doesn't necessarily do anything wrong. It's one of the longer chapters, featuring a significant amount of small puzzles and quirks, as well as the most wrong ends in the game. I enjoy seeing more of Morishige, but aside from Kizami, I never found myself growing particularly attached to those from Byakudan. It's as though a lot of them are just 'another character', and while that might have been true for the first game, their establishment here as something more ultimately doesn't sit well with me. It's quite contrary to my love of learning more about the world, but it feels as though this chapter could have been better spent on something more significant. All of this being said, even not being fond of the main cast, the familiar girl in red weaving herself into the tale is enough to keep me invested, the wrong ends being some of the best on offer. If you enjoy the Byakudan characters, this will be an enjoyable chapter from start to end.

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A small quirk I noticed when playing this chapter was how some of the CG artwork was uncensored when compared to the PSP release, or at least less censored. The image above is a good example, taken from Morishige's opening dialogue. If you look up footage for the PSP version, you'll see far more of her body covered in black. I can assume this is because the PC version is unrated, and I can also assume there are more images like this I haven't noticed having not played the PSP version in so long. If you're one for the purist experience, there could be some entertainment to be found in comparing the graphics used. It's strange none of the promotional material advertised this, but the difference in image is far too great to put down to a difference in resolution. 

Mire

Mire is an odd chapter. Set during the events of Wrong End 2, it details Yuka's capture and eventual escape from Kizami. This being Corpse Party, this of course means getting an awkward panty shot from Yuka as Kizami is ready to cut her, but once you're past that and into the bulk of it, it does a good amount to redeem itself.

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Yuka is my least favourite character of the series, and I can say that unashamedly. With her entire character being that she needs the toilet and wants her brother, she irritates me to the point of being annoyed at the mere memory of her. Even considering this, I thoroughly came to enjoy Mire. Unsurprisingly, it isn't Yuka that redeemed this chapter, but her interactions with others that simply wouldn't have been possible with the rest of the cast. Again it's not among my favourite chapters, but it's hard to hold it against the game for featuring a character I dislike. If anything, it should be commended for crafting an enjoyable experience using her.

Tooth

If the PC version of Corpse Party is how you experienced the first game, you'll recognise this chapter from the offset. Telling the same tale as the game's fourth extra chapter, you learn why Tohko was missing a tooth when Mochida first found her.

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I'd like to be consistent in my thoughts and say I didn't enjoy this, not being fond of the Byakudan cast, but Kizami really is enough to keep me hooked. It's a neat story with little that can go wrong. I can't say whether I preferred it as a point and click, or in the PC version of Corpse Party, but if you've come from any other version of the first game, this should be an enjoyable, albeit short, tale.

Blood Drive

The only chapter to continue from Corpse Party's true end, Blood Drive serves as the bridge between the first game and the aptly named third game Corpse Party: Blood Drive. Of all the content in Book of Shadows, this chapter felt the closest to traditional Corpse Party. Whether this is because it's the story's intended route, or because of the nature of the events, it had me completely terrified and engaged, despite its lack of bad ends.

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Following Naomi and Ayumi after their escape from Heavenly Host, they venture to the Shinozaki Estate in hopes of bringing back the memories of all the friends who had died. With the stakes high, but not necessarily tied to whether the characters survive, Blood Drive has a different vibe about it. It's as though the characters are fighting for a shred of hope, in oppose to a desperate struggle for survival. It's refreshing, and sets up for the third game in as good a way as I could have hoped.

Overall

All in all, Book of Shadows is a game that does not have mass appeal, and I mean that to no demerit of its quality. This is an experience for fans of Corpse Party to bring themselves closer to the characters and the world they've already come to love. Putting a particular light on Sachiko's sadistic nature, you have an experience of fear and dread, paired with haunting writing and audio design, all crafted in such a way as to answer questions you never thought to ask. A game of horror and surprise, and of Sachiko Ever After, it's a must-have for any lover of the series.

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Verdict
Pros
+ A fantastic supplement to the series lore
+ Less censored CG graphics
+ Each chapter offers its own unique allure
+ Runs admirably on a low-spec machine
+ Offers HD CG graphics for the first game
+ Sachiko gets well-deserved screen time
Cons
- Not enjoyable without playing the previous game
- Unnecessary panty shots
8 Presentation
This is undeniably the best looking version of Book of Shadows, and on top of that, goes as far as to offer the best looking versions of the first game's CG graphics. It doesn't really add anything new, but the polish applied to the PC port really makes it stand out.
- Gameplay
It's hard to put a score to the gameplay. If you talk to ten Corpse Party fans, five will love it and five will hate it, and both opinions are fine. If you're wanting the lore without the point and click, the game still stands to be an enjoyable experience by following a guide, but fans of the genre will feel right at home.
8 Lasting Appeal
Book of Shadows is the kind of game you can put down for five years and come back to completely fresh, and having done this, I can say it stands the test of time. The faint knowledge of events draws further empathy with the circumstances the cast find themselves in, and allows for a deeper connection as you find yourself surprised all over again.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
This is a game for Corpse Party fans and nobody else, and that's fine. Building on the world, lore, and characters of the first game, Book of Shadows presents an encyclopaedia of every question you never knew you wanted answering, and will keep you wanting more, This version offering HD graphics and a real point and click interaction, it stands as the best way to experience these tragic tales,


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