|Corpse Party: Blood Drive
|Team GrisGris, 5pb.
|XSEED Games/Marvelous USA
|October 13, 2015
|Horror, Adventure, Visual Novel
|PlayStation Vita, PlayStation TV
|ESRB – Mature 17+
Allow me to begin this review by asking why? Why in the name of all that’s good and holy would you willfully throw yourself back into a deathtrap that you once barely escaped and claimed the lives of those dear to you? Corpse Party: Blood Drive tries to answer this very question and, in the process proves, that Ayumi Shinozaki and her friends are either some of the most badass video game protagonists ever, or they just have no sense of self-preservation.
For those of you who are new to the Corpse Party franchise, the story revolves around a group of students from class 2-9 of Kisaragi Academy who, through a set of very unfortunate circumstances, found themselves transported to the supernatural and deadly Heavenly Host Elementary School. There, they fought to survive and make their way home and lost some dear friends along the way. The series is known for its suspenseful storytelling and vivid descriptions. This is a series where anyone can and will die, and you will quite often find yourself getting killed off in horrible ways because you did something out of order or failed to solve a puzzle properly. These are known as “Wrong Ends” and are required for a 100% playthrough. To offset having to replay hours of gameplay just to redo one section to obtain a Wrong End, the game is divided into several chapters, with the next chapter only being unlocked once the true end for it has been obtained. Along the way, you’ll also unlock EX Chapters which serve to fill in plot points or give character backstory.
It’s here, though, that I need to forewarn you that this game expects you to have played the previous two games in the series. Blood Drive picks up a few months after the end of the previous game, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. As such, understanding the story from the previous two games is essential. While the game will give you a brief overview of the events of the previous games, you really are robbing yourself of some very unique twists and setting your expectations for the previous entries up for possible disappointment. We’ll get to why in the story section, but seriously, go check out our reviews of both Corpse Party and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows and give the games a shot. Just know, this is the only warning I will give about spoilers for those previous games. As for the rest of you, let’s continue on.
In regards to Blood Drive, it was released on July 24, 2014 in Japan and, like the previous entries in the franchise, was developed by Team GrisGris. The US version was released by XSEED Games, who are also known for localizing and releasing such titles as Senran Kagura, Akiba’s Trip, Story of Seasons, and, of course, the two previous Corpse Party games. I actually had a hands-on with Blood Drive during E3 and noted a few issues. Since then, I’ve played through the previous two games to catch myself up on the story and get a feel for how the franchise works overall. So, does the game hold up to my E3 impressions, or are we in for a few surprises? Let’s take a look at the game and find out starting with the graphics.
I played through this on my PlayStation TV and I actually thought the game looked rather good on the big screen. The environments as a whole do feel creepy and isolating. Details such as masses of flesh on floors and walls, blood, and writing do stand out. In particular, I want to praise the lighting effects in the game. I’ll touch more on the flashlight mechanic later, but you can tell a lot of work went into making the flashlight effects as good as possible and it does show, especially much later in the game when many of the surfaces become reflective, and the flashlight’s beam really shines off of them. Before then, its main purpose is to light your way through the dark school to avoid traps and it does its job handily. Another noticeable thing is the chibi graphics style. While some may think this makes the game more “cute,” it does not detract from the horror, not even these moe character models are safe. Also, there are still plenty of CG scenes that will show you many disturbing details and, of course, the descriptive flavor text. Sadly, though, there is one major graphical problem, which is the frame rate.
The frame rate was something XSEED was looking into getting locked at 30 fps during E3, which would have been an improvement over the Japanese version. Sadly, this did not happen and it’s really noticeable. There will be times where your character will just skip through frames of animation either when walking just on the edge of a trap, just walking around, or by repeatedly tapping the run button. The last of these will really give the game fits, though it’s a good way to preserve stamina as you cannot run indefinitely. While it’s not the worst problem this game has, it’s very noticeable and takes some getting used to, but doesn’t make it unplayable by any means. In a similar sense, the music and sound design are also a mixed bag.
Let’s touch on the sound design first. The sounds do fit, and I do like the sound design overall. The creaks and groans that occur as you explore the school all feel like they belong. However, in regard to the musical score of the game, I’m not that impressed. While the music all fits, it really sounds far too generic, especially when one considers that the original Corpse Party had an amazing soundtrack. It’s really a disappointment that the level of detail wasn’t put into this soundtrack. While the original Corpse Party’s soundtrack was anything but standard horror-suspense, it set the tone of the game very well and helped to underline a sense of hope and determination. Not so much here until the final chapters and, even then, it still feels somewhat generic. Even so, it doesn’t detract from the game as a whole. The same cannot be said of the game design, which is where the real problems with this game arise.
Let’s get the big one out of the way right off the bat. You could call this “Loading Screens: The Game” because you have a loading screen for everything you do. Go between rooms, loading screen. Go into the menu, loading screen. Go into a submenu, loading screen. The game even has to initialize and set up the trophies every time you launch it. There’s not an excuse for this, and I honestly felt like I was playing something back on the original PlayStation at times it was so bad. In addition, I had the game crash a couple of times while playing and had the PlayStation TV power itself down as it crashed during one of the scene transitions (funnily, I had thought the game was messing with me as I’d never seen the PlayStation TV crash before). While I can’t definitively say the game was the source of these problems, I would still practice the old adage of “save early and save often.” Which brings me to difficulty.
When it released in Japan, the game was patched sometime afterward due to how difficult it was. In particular, an infinite battery option was added for the flashlight which is present in the US release and can be activated by pressing the Select button. I honestly never needed this. The flashlight can turned on and off and, as long as you use it sparingly and in short bursts just to find and disable wire traps, in particular, you should be fine. This doesn’t mean that the game is easy. Chapters 00 – 03 are pretty simple. Then, Chapter 04 happens, and the game takes off the gloves and expects you to get very good at dodging and hiding from the many shadows that haunt the halls of Heavenly Host. Still, though, the game was never unfair and played by its rules well. Then Chapter 09 happened and the game suddenly introduces a few puzzles that rely on timing, and the non-adjustable camera becomes your worst enemy. Then Chapter 10 happens with what I feel is the only possibly unfair puzzle in the game, though it is solvable if you pay very close attention to the clues given. It was, in fact, the only thing in the game I had to brute force and get lucky enough to finish. This makes for a game that has a very weird difficulty curve and, in particular, feels at odds with the two previous games. Does this mean I hate the game? Not at all, but, as you can see, there are some major issues here. With all the technical bits discussed, let’s touch upon the story and delve into the more subjective side of this review.