If the late 90s taught me anything, it’s that there ain’t no party like an S Club party. Corpse Party proves this to be true. It’s just that in the case of Corpse Party, the “S” in S Club stands for “students”, and “Club” is taken literally, as students are brutally murder-fied with blunt instruments. There ain’t no party like a student bludgeoning party.
If you’ve spent any time dicking around the more indie side of the internet (or on the channels of shrieking YouTubers) you’ve probably seen top-down Japanese horror games that are generally referred to as “RPG Maker horror games” regardless of the tools used to build them. Ao Oni, The Witch’s House, Ib, Misao, Mad Father, Yume Nikki, etc. Ring any bells? Well, to the best of my knowledge, Corpse Party predates the lot of them, having initially appeared in Japan in 1996.
But if you’re familiar with Corpse Party at all, it’s most likely from the recent remakes and sequels on those fancy handheld devices. These updated the graphics, added some frankly horrific CG scenes (and that’s a positive, as this is a horror game) and – perhaps most crucially – were actually translated into English. Then we also got the sequels, which are shit. But hey! Now we on the PC have our own version of the original!
And don’t worry: that’s all actually relevant to this PC release. We’ll get to “why” soon enough.
First, though, let’s look at the options. There, uh… aren’t many, although I’m not sure what I was expecting for a top-down game that apes the visual style of 16-bit RPGs.
Visually, you’ve got resolution, windowed/fullscreen, and screen filtering (i.e. whether or not everything is pixel-y or looks a bit smoother). Then you’ve got the message speed, whether or not the skip function lets you speed past all text or just those lines you’ve already read, and the ability to turn off – or adjust the volume of – music, sound, and voices. And that’s basically your lot.
Chances are, you’ll want to play this in a window, and you’ll want to stick to a 4:3 resolution like 1024×768. That’s the game’s native aspect ratio, and running it in anything else means either letterboxing or pillarboxing. It also doesn’t exactly look great when you’re forcing it to run at 1920×1080, so… yeah.
There doesn’t appear to be a way to redefine controls, but that shouldn’t pose much of a problem as they’re fairly simple. Arrow keys move around, and then you’ve got two more buttons: Menu/Cancel, and Accept. These are largely bound to fairly sensible things like Enter, Escape, and Backspace, although they’re also bound to Z and X if you’re more of a classicist. The game doesn’t tell you this anywhere that I can see, but if you’re likely to use Z and X then it’s probably because you’re used to Z and X. A nice touch, and I like the multi-binding.
There’s also gamepad support, although I’m not 100% sure on how this works. It didn’t recognise the Steam Controller at all until I ran the game through Big Picture Mode, at which point everything was just dandy. A cursory glance at the game’s .ini file shows it definitely does natively support gamepads, but I can’t make any promises as to whether or not it’ll support your gamepad. Either way, the grid-based nature of the game means I actually prefer it on keyboard, and for the most part it’s not really a reaction-intensive game.
So, yeah, it’s a serviceable port. Not a mind-blowing PC version, but perfectly playable, and if you’ve ever played anything on a emulator you’ll feel right at home with this.
There is just one problem, and this ties into what I was saying in the opening paragraphs.
See, Corpse Party is an English translation of Corpse Party: Blood Covered, 2008’s PC update/remake/whatever. It is not a PC conversion of Corpse Party: Blood Covered – Repeated Fear, which was the PSP update released two years later (and known as Corpse Party in the West, as it’s the first version we got). This means that, as far as I can tell, we’ve got no CGs and we’ve got slightly uglier character portraits. The latter is a matter of taste, I’ll grant you, but let’s compare and contrast.
Courtesy of the Corpse Party Wikia, here are the portraits for semi-protagonist Satoshi Mochida. The one from this version is on the left, and the one from the handheld version on the right.
The portraits look slightly better than that thanks to the aforementioned filtering, but to my mind the PC portraits are still nowhere near as nice as the remastered handheld stuff.
Secondly, here’s a shot from one of the WRONG ENDs in the first chapter (a WRONG END being things going irredeemably wrong: a game over in lengthy, stomach-churning cutscene form) followed by the same shot from the PSP version, courtesy of DarkHamsterlord’s superb picture-based Let’s Play.
Again, I know which I prefer. There are many, many more event CGs like that (like the front page image/top image for this article), most of which make some of the horrible situations a lot more horrible, and there are loads of really grotesque ones I’d love to show you because I’m an awful person. But being that this is one from the first chapter, I figure it’s largely spoiler-free. And doesn’t include the rather graphic description of a character ramming a pair of scissors down their own throat. And that is far from the worst text-based description of mutilation Corpse Party has to offer.
I really hope that I’ve just missed some sort of toggle for the event CGs and the sprites, but honestly, it looks like we’ve basically got a translation of the 2008 PC version, refitted to work on modern PCs, with a few bonuses. I was hoping we’d be getting a port of the updated handheld version with a few bonuses, but I guess that would’ve been harder to achieve.
We do have one advantage, which is that the PC Corpse Party contains a few scenes and endings (bad endings, mostly) that aren’t in the handheld versions. Whether or not that’s worth the slight downgrade in graphics and the lack of event CGs, I don’t know; I haven’t played through the entire thing and can’t make a judgment call on that. We also have one bonus chapter from sequel Corpse Party: Book of Shadows converted into top-down RPG format (as Book of Shadows was more of a visual novel), which is a nice touch.
There are also a few other neat features, which may or may not be in the handheld versions of the game. Every chapter of the game is available from the start, with little stars indicating how many of the endings you’ve found for each. The “victims” list (filled in as you find nametags on corpses) tells you which ones are in which chapter. The skip function means that replaying sections to get multiple endings is remarkably quick – and while each chapter only offers three save files, that’s three separate saves for each chapter. All told, it’s pretty easy to access whatever content you want. So hey, it’s not all bad.
As for the game itself – well, I rather like Corpse Party.
It’s a story of a group of students and their teacher performing a “charm” that will supposedly keep them together forever… and ends up sucking them into a hellish nightmare school ruled by a sadistic ghost that likes to murder people one by one. Over the course of the game, the identity of this ghost, the reasons behind her brutality, and the mysteries behind the corpse-strewn supernatural school are revealed.
With one notable exception (fuck off, Yuka) most of the characters are likeable and distinct, and Corpse Party does the horror thing pretty well. You’re never quite sure who’s going to live or die, you’re never sure if your favourite character will be “safe”, and you’re never sure if you’ve made the right choices. Watching the characters crack under the pressure of the impossible situation is… uh, would I sound horrible if I said it offers a perverse thrill?
The game itself plays out like an old-school RPG, but without the battles. You roam the halls, investigate rooms, have conversations, make decisions, solve puzzles, and occasionally run away from things trying to murder you. It’s far more focused on dialogue than anything else, though. Outlast this isn’t.
Barring a few moments, I also wouldn’t call Corpse Party outright “scary”, but it generally manages to be creepy and unsettling and doesn’t rely on jumpscares. There’s an optional one in the first chapter and a few others scattered throughout, but they’re the exception: the horror stems from the characters and the situation, which is how it should be. Also, it has really good music and some excellent audio work.
Worth $15, then? I don’t know. If the handheld version (which I still think is arguably superior) wasn’t available for about the same price, then it probably would be – but if you already have that, or at least have access to that, it’s a lot harder to say. It’s a perfectly decent PC version of a perfectly decent game, so if you really want it on PC then it’ll fit the bill just fine… but I don’t think I can call it the definitive Corpse Party experience, and that makes me a bit sad.