Heavenly Host Elementary School is home to a spiritual nexus of vengeful ghosts and terrifying beasts. It is home to eternally damned specters who exist to hunt down and destroy those foolish enough to step foot onto the school-grounds. This is the setting of the Corpse Party series, a trilogy of engaging japanese horror games that are capped off by Blood Drive on the PS Vita. However, this game has something else that’s just as terrifying as its horrific story; a lack of polish.
The release order of the Corpse Party series is a bit hard to follow, especially when you consider the spinoffs and re-releases. Initially a 32-bit PC-9801 computer game, the first Corpse Party was remastered on modern Windows, and then once again on PSP and iOS, with the addition of character portraits, voice acting and more. A sequel came out on the same platforms, and around the time these two titles began to get localised for the US and EU on PSP, a goofy romantic comedy spinoff was released that, kind of unsurprisingly, never followed the path of the main series.
Eventually the game Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient began to be developed on PC in 2013, which was a new story in a new location separated from the other titles, but then, a year later, Corpse Party: Blood Drive gave the series its debut on the Vita. It’s this direct continuation of the first two PSP games that has landed on our shores, fully localised for English speaking fans.
Despite being the third game in a trilogy of story driven horror titles, the fact that Blood Drive is the first in the series to appear on Vita might lead some to jump into it without experiencing the other games. This is a very, very bad idea. These are games that rely on their continuous narrative, and skipping the earlier titles will only lead to confusion and, ultimately, a lack of investment in the story on the part of the player.
Blood Drive has an in-game encyclopedia that summarises past characters and events, but even absorbing that info as a newcomer will leave you confused about certain character relationships and plot threads.
The game itself is a third person adventure game of sorts, seeing you explore schoolgrounds, interact with objects and puzzles, and trying to avoid deadly traps and spirits. The first two games in the series featured 2D pixel art, with fully drawn character portraits appearing during cutscenes. Blood Drive keeps the anime-style character portraits, but the jump to the Vita sees the gameplay visuals switch to full 3D environments and 3D “chibi”, or cutely deformed character models.
Obviously both of these visual styles clash with the idea of an engaging horror experience, but while the contrast improved the first two games, the dull 3D models of Blood Drive only serve to harm it. Vibrant pixel art can embody a sense of pure nostalgic gaming innocence, and when you combine that with terrifying subject matter like brutal character executions and disturbing paranormal creatures, it shocks the player and creates a gripping horror experience. Games like Yume Nikki, Ib, and even Undertale thrive on this, and the Corpse Party PSP games were just as successful at using the medium to enhance the horror.
Blood Drive, by comparison, feels like a huge downgrade despite the technical “upgrade”. Environments are dark and decrepit, automatically leading you to expect a horror experience, yet the character models of the player character, the ghosts, and even the grotesque fleshy beasts you encounter later into the game are simply laughable due to their cutesy appearance. Characters also have washed out colors and poor textures that bring them even further from the brilliant contrast that made the previous games so successful.
Blood Drive is at it’s scariest when it uses audio and environment design to terrify. The second a character model appears, though, all the tension is gone. The quality of story-telling and gripping character at still on par with previous games, but the disappointing quality of the visuals might make it harder for some players to get invested in the narrative.
Despite poor execution in terms of visuals, the rest of Blood Drive remains true to the predecessors, especially in terms of gameplay. Corpse Party is known for having very difficult puzzle and chase segments, as well as incredibly minuscule and seemingly insignificant interactions embedded in the environment that spell the difference between completing a chapter successflly and getting a bad end.
The jump to 3D environments and full range of movement make chase scenes and trap navigation even more precise and hair-trigger, leading to tense situations and terrifying encounters. Some people might be put off by these seemingly unfair or impossible to decipher encounters, but they’re part of the unforgiving charm of the series, so fans of that aspect of the games have that to look forward to in Blood Drive.
On the more technical side, however, Blood Drive has a lot of issues, especially with load times. Loading screens are constant and lengthy in the game, and even accessing a pause menu or inventory screen requires you to sit through a loading screen. It honestly tested my patience on far too many occasions. Frame rate issues are also present, with noticeable drops throughout the game, especially during scenes with a lot of characters or moving objects.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is sure to upset many fans; it certainly upset me. The shift to 3D visuals completely changed the dynamic of the game, and while gameplay didn’t suffer for it, storytelling and immersion certainly did. If this were a new game separate from the narrative of the previous entries, it could be an excusable attempt at experimentation, but as the anticipated climax to a years-long story of engaging horror and developing characters, it only serves to muddy an otherwise engaging series of indie horror games. Corpse Party: Blood Drive is offensive to fans and a poor representation of the series to newcomers.