Tuesday
Mar192013

QCF: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows

e all know making video games is hard. The sheer amount of talent, money, time, passion and luck it takes to get a video game made is mind-boggling. It’s truly a Herculean effort to make a game at all, let alone a good one. But it must be even harder to make a sequel. You walk the line of introducing new ideas, while having enough of the previous installment’s DNA to please fans of the series. We all want something new from a sequel, but stray too far from the first game and you lose what originally made it special and fun. In that case, why even make a sequel? Corpse Party: Book of Shadows on the surface is recognizable as another Corpse Party game, but does its departure in gameplay and genre conventions lose what made the first iteration enjoyable? Read on to find out.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows isn’t drastically different, but there are enough changes in gameplay that someone who’s played the first might be let down if it’s not their bag--like I was. The first game plays like a straight up RPG. Our cast of schoolchildren traverse a haunted school in an overhead 2D perspective. You do the same in Book of Shadows, but now instead of just controlling the characters directly with the D-pad, the player selects where to go on a map. The map is segmented by rooms, even in the hallways which are just a string of boxes. Every time your character moves across the school, they stop at each box, wait for it to load, then walk to the next one. This makes exploration a nightmare. CP:BoS has the trappings of an adventure game (but really isn’t one, more on that later), so exploration is required. There’s a lot of walking back and forth to collect items, hit switches and pixel hunt. The pixel hunting can be a pain. Some items stick out, but others can just blend into the background. I frequently found myself revisiting the same rooms over and over to realize I missed a note on the wall. And it breaks a cardinal rule of adventure games. Examining an item twice. This is an unimaginative cliche on par with excessive grinding in an RPG in terms of disrespecting the player's time. All it does is force the player to examine an item, do EVERY POSSIBLE OTHER THING AVAILABLE, and then when all else fails, examine the first item again. This is fine for bonus flavor text, but not something required to progress.

Each room is presented as one big image and the player interacts with it through a cursor. And much like walking, the cursor is slooooow. Just getting to a room can sometimes take long enough that I’ll set my Vita down and surf the web, and the slow cursor barely makes it worth it.

Once in you have to draaaaag it across the screen and sweep the area for clickable objects. Hopefully you find something like an item or a switch. If it’s a switch, something happens. What happens? Well we have to walk all over the damn school and go in every door to find out. Usually what happens is an excruciatingly long cutscene. Despite having been marketed as an “adventure game," I’d say the cutscenes and first-person perspective with very little actual gameplay would classify Corpse Party: Book of Shadows as more of a visual novel. It certainly prioritizes story above gameplay.

And this would be a good thing if the game told its story well. Like its predecessor, Book of Shadows manages to build an atmosphere of dread and effective horror with creepy imagery. And the surround sound is great when playing with headphones. But all momentum comes to a screeching halt when you have to do... well really anything the game wants you to do. And when you’re not in control and inching your way down a mile-long hallway, you’re subject to one of it’s super long (did I mention these?) cutscenes. Characters drone on and on repeat themselves over and over about bean paste and sexual confusion. The opening cutscene itself is over 30 minutes and consists of scrolling text over still images. I’ve read a lot of books on writing and every single one says something about grabbing your reader from the first second. A cutscene that takes the better part of an hour is not the way to do this. By the way, don’t play this on the bus. Bloody corpses are one thing, but there’s no [Two underage girls are about to start bathing each other] warning before the OPENING CUTSCENE.

Yeah, it has more visual novel tropes than just the text.

Any time I felt like the game would start trucking along and I could finally get into it something made me want to put my Vita in sleep mode and start doing something else. It’s like someone slapping a novel out of your hands every two paragraphs. The first rule of writing anything is make every second count. I guess Corpse Party never took a creative writing class. Another rule is, “Show, don’t tell.” The endless narration wherein the protagonist spells out what everyone is doing or thinking disregards this rule in the most annoying fashion. I found myself laying on that fast forward button in every cutscene like the gas pedal in Gran Turismo.

It sounds like I’m being really hard on this game, but it’s just a case of false advertising. I’m sure XSEED didn’t think the term “visual novel” would sell, and I don’t blame them for it. Most people equate visual novels with greasy otaku and bronies. Unfortunately “adventure game” is just a gross misrepresentation of how this game will play made even worse by the fact that the first game does nothing to prepare you for this one--other than the horror stuff. If you know what you’re in for, Corpse Party is fine. It tells a horror story with some genuinely creepy moments and a few cheap jumpscares. The interface and pacing issues cripple the experience, but it will find its fans. Though, fans of the first game should probably treat this as more of a spinoff than a sequel they feel is necessary to play.

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matts dumb

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercraig
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