When Avengers: Infinity War came out, I realised how impenetrable a film it could be to people who aren’t well versed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though Marvel’s superheroes have infiltrated pop culture over the last decade, there’s a whopping 20 films that help introduce the characters and tell you the stakes and relationships at play in the massive Hollywood hit. I wondered what it might be like to experience that film totally blind, having not seen any other Marvel movie. What would it feel like to get tossed into the middle of this massive crossover event with no clue about the history of the countless characters involved?
Being a Marvel movie fan, I never got to have that blind viewing of Infinity War, but with Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash, I’ve been able to experience the kind of confusion and unpreparedness that I would’ve expected from that kind of event.
Corpse Party is a pretty big multimedia franchise that I’ve dabbled in it from time to time. I played the first game in the series on PSP and then again on 3DS, and I even played a bit of the visual novel sequel, Book of Shadows. That franchise experience is comparable to watching the finale of Game of Thrones after blasting through just the first two seasons. There’s a third Corpse Party game titled Blood Drive, as well as a handful of manga and drama-CD spinoffs, and players will need to have thorough knowledge of all of these if they want to get the most out of Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash.
The latest entry in the series is a big departure from the norm. While Corpse Party is known for being a gruesome Japanese horror series, this new game is a spinoff squarely focused on comedy and fan-service above all else. Sachiko, the main antagonistic force behind all of the trauma and troubles in the Corpse Party series, wakes up to discover that it’s finally her birthday! To celebrate, she decides to cool it with all of the death and dismemberment and eternal multi-dimensional torture for a little bit. Instead she summons everyone who has ever been involved in the horrible events of Heavenly Host Elementary School to a convenient little pocket dimension to celebrate her birthday and engage in all sorts of wacky activities and hijinks.
And when I say everyone, I mean literally everyone. Practically every major and minor character who has ever been in any of the previous Corpse Party media is here. The main cast and crew from the first game, additional characters from a variety of other schools, previously deceased students and even distant friends or currently dead students wind up at the party. It’s a massive cast of of colorful characters, and the game spares no time in trying to catch you up or fill you in on their histories. You either know it or you don’t.
Thankfully, if you don’t know it, the game has a few bonuses that can help fill you in on the massively branching story of the series. The Case Books section gives you a thoroughly detailed summary of every chapter, choice and ending from the first two Corpse Party games. It even gives you a handy direct timeline of the major events of the franchise. For unfamiliar players of long-time fans who need a refresher, this stuff comes in very handy.
Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. While the recaps of the first two games are thorough, Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash features a handful of characters and references that are tied to the plots of the third game, Blood Drive, as well as the canonical spinoff manga. There are no recaps or summaries for these in the game, so unless you’re the most hardcore of Corpse Party fans, you’ll likely end up having a few things go over your head over the course of the visual novel.
Thankfully, whether you’re caught up on the franchise or not, the charm of the writing is universal. Characters are weird and wacky, and bounce off of each other in genuinely entertaining ways. Seeing characters nudge at the fourth wall by talking about their lack of protagonist character traits or the fact that there’s too many characters to keep track of was also pretty fun.
The most interesting part of the package is that despite being a comedy spinoff, there are still some spooky moments and scenes of death, especially in the handful of bad endings in the game. Knowing there’s always the chance for a scary scene or a grisly confrontation to occur while all of the generic fan-service visual novel comedy is happening adds a unique tension to the experience. Even during the lowest points of the visual novel, I was slightly engaged just because of the fact that I was still on edge expecting some terrors to strike.