Back in 2011, a virtually unknown Japanese horror game by the name of Corpse Party made its way onto the near-dead PSP by way of publisher XSEED Games. Featuring a mixture of 16-bit sprites and anime-style illustrations, the game seemed relatively unassuming, making it all the more shocking that it quickly rose to revered cult-status as one of the most gruesome and unsettling titles in recent memory. XSEED certainly took a gamble with it, but it was one that paid off for the company in the end, evident by its sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, getting the same localization treatment just over a year later.
In reality, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is less of a sequel and more an opportunity to relive certain events of the first game and gain more insight into the characters. While some chapters take place in an alternate reality where the characters are cursed to relive the events of the original Corpse Party, haunted by the possibility that they may be able to change the horrific events that occurred, others act as prequels, detailing events that weren’t delved into in the previous game. As such, it goes without saying that Book of Shadows requires extensive knowledge of Corpse Party to play, and your enjoyment of the game hinges entirely on your investment in Corpse Party’s world and characters.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows: A glorified fan disc?
Fan discs, or products containing bonus content that are released after the successful launch of some games, are not uncommon in Japan, but not seen often in western markets. Though Book of Shadows sports more gameplay than a usual fan disc, its purpose is primarily the same: feed fans of a game additional content that provides more insight into said game. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, those who are looking for something more akin to a sequel will likely be disappointed with Book of Shadows.
In keeping with the “bonus content” theme, Book of Shadows moves away from the adventure-style gameplay of the first in favor of standard visual novel presentation. The vast majority of Book of Shadows is spent reading text and making the occasional decision, with a few poorly-implemented “search” segments akin to the Zero Escape series thrown in for diversity. While titles such as The Walking Dead prove that not all games need to have gameplay in the traditional sense to be compelling experiences, it is my feeling that much of Corpse Party’s charm was lost in the move away from the gameplay style of the original. This may be due to a combination of less polished writing and the shift towards the visual novel format, but one thing’s for certain: not only is Book of Shadows less scary than the original, but parts of it are abysmally slow.
Fueled by fan power
That’s not to say that Book of Shadows isn’t a worthwhile purchase for fans of the original – the series is largely revered for its interesting and varied cast, and many will need little reason other than the promise to learn more about the characters to pull them through the more poorly-paced parts of the game. Seiko and Naomi fans in particular will be thrilled to see their complicated relationship explored further, and I was more than happy to see my favorite demented photographer Morishige get his very own chapter. The key is to view Book of Shadows not as an entirely new game, but a means to further explore the world of Corpse Party. Considered from this perspective, Book of Shadows accomplishes what it set out to do, though it goes without saying that a fan disc has much less to prove than an actual sequel, raising the question of how to critique such a new medium of game distribution from a non-Japanese standpoint.
But even as a massive fan of the original, I found it extremely hard to find much enjoyment in Book of Shadows aside from the aforementioned chapter, and that does not come from my not caring enough about the characters or the delightfully morbid world of Corpse Party. Had 5pd broken up the chapters and offered them at a reasonable price so fans could just buy the segments that pertained to the characters they were most interested in, perhaps I could get behind it. But, as a fan disc and not a full-fledged game, Corpse Party: Book of Shadowsjust feels like an hors d’oeuvres before the main course arrives in the form of a true sequel later this year. Here’s hoping Book of Shadows does well enough that XSEED is able to localize it when the time comes.