By Scott Ramage / May 9th, 2019
|Title||Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash
|Developer||MAGES Inc., 5pb.|
|Publisher||XSEED Games, MARVELOUS USA, Inc.|
|Release Date||April 10th, 2019|
In the interest of full disclosure, here’s everything I knew about the Corpse Party series before playing this game: the name and the general gameplay of the first one. Now I know what you’re thinking. Why is the guy who knows almost nothing about Corpse Party reviewing something in the Corpse Party series? Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash, a canon spin-off of sorts, actually makes allowances for people just getting into the series while still appealing to dedicated fans. Who knows? Maybe by the end of this I’ll become a fan myself. Or maybe I’ll just embarrass myself. Either way, let’s go!
As the name implies, Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash takes place on the birthday of Corpse Party’s demon child antagonist, Sachiko. Being in a slightly less murderous mood, she decides to gather several students stuck in various alternate realities of Heavenly Host Elementary so they can throw her a party. Said students are understandably suspicious of her motives, with some hoping to use this as a chance to escape. Sachiko also brings in random people from the real world on a few occasions, most of which immediately go back home at the end of a chapter. Wacky hijinks, death, and more wacky hijinks ensue.
Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash has Corpse Party laymen like me covered. Among the extras are complete summaries of Corpse Party and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. These include explanations of not just the basic sequence of events, but all the extra chapters, bad endings and deaths therein. It also has a timeline of events surrounding Heavenly Host Elementary and unlockable dossiers for characters, including some that don’t appear here. Spoilers aside, it’s nice to have this groundwork because without it, all the references to prior relationships and events would have gone right over my head.
Then again, this isn’t exactly like the other Corpse Party games. Rather than being an adventure or RPG Maker-like title, Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash is a visual novel. It retains the ability to choose between certain actions during key events, but otherwise its similarities to prior Corpse Party games are in the form of callbacks to them. Students make reference to what they did in prior games and the music includes clips of other Corpse Party songs. I thought the non-referential music was passable, but it tended to swell dramatically when nothing was happening and, in a couple instances, seemed really out of place for what was going on. That’s still better than the sound effects, particularly some screams, sounding like they outright broke. One scream started only to get cut off by another, while another scream tripled over itself like it was leading into a dubstep drop. Also, dialogue is mixed in stereo, but some voices sound really far away or shift from left to right for no apparent reason. Random others sound muffled, like they were recorded in a Discord voice chat.
There are eight chapters total, each of which involve Sachiko coming up with something for everyone to do for her. School plays, cooking contests, and trivia games are just a few examples, though each tends to involve some sort of punishment for the loser. Some of these poke fun at other genres, like romantic comedies or murder mysteries. The catch is that Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash has a tendency to do so in a rather ham-fisted way. Think the Scary Movie series when it stopped caring. The humor has a one-in-three chance of landing, falling flat, or running too long because it’s a Japanese joke which requires a small paragraph explaining why it’s funny. When that doesn’t work it smashes the fourth wall into dust, but it happens so often that it loses its effect a couple chapters in. Then it tries to get a laugh by acknowledging its own faults with its characters or story. Not only does this lose its luster quickly, but it shouldn’t acknowledge the problems here, as well as in the mainline games, and then not address them. Saying there’s a problem doesn’t magically fix it. A broken foot doesn’t heal just by pointing out it’s broken.
While technically all the chapters are a connected sequence of events, they don’t feel that way. Sachiko frequently hits the reset button at the end of a chapter to bring people back to life or undo everything that’s happened. It’s like watching “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” but with less violence. Yes, less violence. Some chapters don’t involve death or injury of any sort save for a bad ending or two, and most of the deaths are pretty tame. Falling into a dark pit is a favorite kill for Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash, and sometimes the screen would flash red, someone would die and I’d have no idea what happened.
Who does Sachiko summon? If I were to list all the characters she brought in, it might take an entire paragraph. There are around a couple dozen characters, not counting one-off spirits and the like, all with Japanese voiceovers. How does Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash handle juggling that many characters? Not so well. With a sizeable cast and chapters that tend to focus on smaller groups, some people will disappear for several chapters at a time. One guy appears in the first chapter, dies, gets revived, then doesn’t show up again until six or seven chapters later. I imagine characters like these hanging out in the school’s auditorium, twiddling their thumbs until their names show up in the script again.
Characters range from lead protagonists to people who died before the first Corpse Party even started. It’s understandable for the latter to not get much in the way of character development, but most of the cast consists of one-dimensional people-shaped husks. Some spend the majority of their screen time making reference to one thing they did in a prior game, like how Yuka spends way too much time saying she has to pee. Whenever loud, annoying airheads like Ran or Satsuki were on screen I just wanted them to leave. By the end I felt like I would have been better off just reading their entries on the Corpse Party wiki. In Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash, they run one character trait into the ground until they strike oil.
While some lack character, others lack consistency. Sachiko herself spontaneously loses her bloodlust and her short fuse, despite being talked down to or insulted several times. Then some of the protagonists (I assume that’s what they are?) act like they’re in a teen slasher movie and do outright stupid things like threaten or try to get physical with Sachiko, despite supposedly learning not to by this point. Everyone will see a person try to kill or maim a student and, in the next chapter, everyone casually chats with him or her like nothing happened. When teen slasher movies do this, it’s so the viewer ends up rooting for the slasher to kill them in creative ways. That doesn’t happen in Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash because Sachiko wants to film a movie or eat curry or something.
And then there’s the fan service. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that fan service and myself tend to go together as well as bleach and ammonia. Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash feels like it’s trying to innocently sprinkle in bits of mostly girl-on-girl stuff, but it just comes off as desperate and unnecessary in most cases. Girls will grope each other or act like lecherous old men with little or no provocation. One whole chapter is an excuse to get several female characters into swimsuits, nurse uniforms and maid outfits, while another ends up being a perverted game of truth or dare, without the truth part. Did I mention this is all presided over by a seven-year old demon girl? I realize what I just said probably convinced someone to buy this, but eventually it just became uncomfortable and a little embarrassing to sit through.
If you want to avoid any potential major spoilers, skip to the last paragraph of this review, past the next couple images.
The narrative of Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash can’t decide if it wants to be an all-out goofy fan game or a more serious affair amid the bizarre machinations of a little demon girl. As a result, the story and tone are all over the place. For example, remember when I said some students try to come up with an escape plan? Sachiko’s apparently weaker so it’s their best shot at getting home. That plot point dies faster than any of the students. One person actually wins a challenge and gets to go home, is shown being warped out of the school, and is back in the next chapter (and others beyond that) for no apparent reason. The last chapter tries to become deathly serious for the ending, and it just doesn’t work because the build to it isn’t there. The first chapter is serious, the last chapter is serious, and every chapter in between is just fluff. It’s a plot sandwich with two pieces of bread and nothing but a bunch of marshmallows between them.
Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash may hold appeal to hardcore Corpse Party fans, giving the chance to see several characters from different schools meet or reunite and interact with each other. Beyond that, the story can’t figure out what it wants to be, tries to be everything, doesn’t do anything particularly well, and ends up undermining what it does right. Padded out to about 10 hours in length, it’s at least worth the $20 price tag in that regard. I’ll still play the regular Corpse Party games some time, but ultimately I took little away from this spin-off.
Review copy provided by publisher.
5pb.Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko's Hysteric Birthday BashMAGES. Inc.PC