It’s rare to see a horror game grace the 3DS with a release. For all the ports and various genres explored on the platform, there isn’t a huge library of scary games for it. That’s why it comes as such a surprise to see the original Corpse Party find it’s way onto the 3DS. Even more surprising, though, is that it ends up being the best version of the game to date.
Corpse Party begins with a group of friends and their cool teacher hanging out after-school to say goodbye to their friend who’s transferring schools. One of the friends decides to try out a friends forever charm she found online, chanting to someone named Sachiko and ripping apart a human shaped piece of paper. After performing the oddly creepy ritual, the school begins to be torn apart by a sudden earthquake, the friends are separated from each other, and the search for answers and a way out begins.
While there is, in fact, gameplay, the overall feel of the game is much more akin to a visual novel. The game is split into chapters where you control different characters, exploring the school and looking for items to progress the story. However, these segments of exploration connect long and frequent scenes of dialogue, on top of dialogue choices that affect the outcome of the story. It’s a fun balance that really makes you feel involved with the story. Rather than simply seeing these characters talking and reading about things happening, you get to inhabit and control each of them, and actively participate in the events that unfold.
These events, by the way, are incredibly gory. That might be hard to believe with the visuals of the game, though. Everything is rendered in sharp pixel art with chibi characters, and drawn character art is bright and anime-inspired. Yet, as you progress through the game, monsters attack you, characters die brutally, gore-filled rooms are discovered, and more. The contrast between the relatively bright and generic visuals and the content of the game honestly works really well. The simplicity of these sprite characters and their specific movements make things like avoiding a monster or discovering a body all the more effective. Recent Corpse Party games made a jump to full 3D graphics, but those titles lose so much of the charm and genuine horror that’s present in these initial pixel art entries.
The immersion is also amplified by the excellent sound design in the game. Characters are all fully voiced, and each character is voiced by popular Japanese voice talents. This means that you’re not getting awkward indie game voice acting. Every ounce of emotion and energy that should be in the dialogue is there, and then some. There are scenes where characters have complete mental breakdowns. Simply seeing these chibi characters lose their minds might not do much, but having it coupled with the raw and realistic voice acting helps deliver chilling, believable scenes.
You’ll find most of these mental breakdowns or excruciating character deaths in the games many bad ends. As I said earlier, the game features dialogue choices that affect the outcome of the story. On top of these are numerous gameplay decisions that can also change the course of the story. Some of the choices are simple and obvious, like ignoring a character or leaving a room. However, at many points in the game, especially near the end, the requirements for progressing to the true ending can get outrageous. Making one wrong step while avoiding a monster will land you right in their arms and lead to a bad end. Failing to grab a certain item at a specific moment during your exploration can lead to a bad end. Did you look at that rusty bucket in the hallway a couple hours ago? Guess it’s a bad ending for you.
Not only does it start to become harder and harder to avoid these bad ends, but it’s also impossible to skip them after having already seen them. A lot of these endings can be very, very long, and having to sit through them every time you mess up gets very old, very fast. If you’ve got a walkthrough open and want to blaze through and find every ending, it’ll be a breeze, but for players going in blind and trying to simply beat the game, reaching that final ending can be more trouble than it’s worth.
The 3DS port of this game has some nice quality of life stuff that also help solidify it as the best version of the game. UI elements and menu navigation are kept to the bottom of the screen, letting the top screen be focused purely on presenting you gameplay. There’s also an incredibly useful save feature on the bottom screen that creates a temporary save file for you with just one tap, if you need to quickly save and stop playing. Another big feature is also the fact that the title is completely uncensored. While the PSP version was also uncensored, it’s just surprising, and impressive, to see the game arrive intact on a Nintendo handheld.
For returning Corpse Party players, the 3DS port features a good amount of new content worth exploring. On top of upgraded visuals and audio, some story scenes in the main game are extended, and there are even more gruesome bad endings to see. However, there are also a number of extra chapters to explore. The original PSP game had a handful of extras that delved into the backgrounds of the characters and stories surrounding the main narrative, and this 3DS release has four more of these. Two of these new chapters, though, are DLC.
Corpse Party is a unique blend between horror and adventure that only falter in its latter stages. It’s hard to appreciate the gripping narrative of the game when the requirements to see it can end up becoming so obtuse and precise. Many players will absolutely need to consult a walkthrough to reach the end of the game without spending an unhealthy amount of time. Still, if you’re a fan of games that mix visual novel narrative with light gameplay elements like Zero Escape or Ace Attorney, and you’re itching for something like that that falls into the horror genre, you absolutely need to try out Corpse Party.