Halloween is nearly upon us and so it’s time to grab our zombie masks and scare the crap out of all those annoying six-year-old trick or treaters in fairy costumes. It also means it’s time to whip out the horror games and scare the crap out of ourselves. Luckily there are a few spooky titles to choose from this year, and joining the bloody line-up just in the nick of time is Corpse Party: Blood Drive. The final instalment of a horrific nightmare that begun on PC and the PSP, Corpse Party: Blood Drive is a Japanese horror adventure set within the walls of a ghastly and ghostly school. Thought destroyed forever, Heavenly Host Elementary remains standing in an otherworldly limbo and, worse still, those who died there are doomed to forever walk its corridors. An eternity of P.E? I can’t think of a worse nightmare.
Part adventure, part puzzler, part horror and part novel, Corpse Party: Blood Drive has a little bit of everything to please everyone. The first hour or so of gameplay could fool you into thinking you’re playing a visual novel. Interaction is minimal at this point. This is the final game in a series so there’s some background to cover, something the developers have been careful to present without the need for endless exposition. If you’re new to the series, you’ll need to pay particular attention and don’t be surprised if you start dithering about whether or not to stop and buy the previous games. Past events are woven seamlessly into the current storyline so you’re not missing out as such, but the quality of this game shows early on and you may start to get a faint suspicion that you’re a plank not to have played the other games years ago.
Enjoy the nice easy visual novel while you can, because it’s not long before you’re put in control of the characters and your nightmares really begin. The adventure side of things takes place within a 3D environment, and very nice it is too. Each chapter has a different goal and you’ll need to trundle around the spooky stomach gurgling (literally) walls triggering cut scene events and puzzling out how to obtain objects and use them to complete your objectives. Ultimately, you’re searching for a book, The Book of Shadows. It’s lost somewhere within the school and it’s the only way the main character Ayumi Shinozaki can bring her friends back to life and find redemption.
The chubby little chibi characters may very well fool you into thinking you’re playing a tame and cutesy little horror. Wrong. Expect blood and violent death from the beginning. This isn’t Haunted Honeymoon; it’s full on Hellraiser. Entrails on the floor, violent spirits, traps and bird carcasses – Heavenly Host Elementary could do with a sweep, but unfortunately the caretaker is long dead. You’ll need to guide your characters around the school with care and attention if you don’t want to fall through the floor or get strangled by a giant tentacle. All you’ve got is a torch and use it wisely, because the light will fail and spare batteries are in short supply. Without that torch, you might as well find a nice yellow Labrador, because you will be almost blind. The environment is, at times, very dark. The tension caused by the fear of running out of batteries and losing the light is certainly effective and as the game progresses you will start to remember where some of the traps are and you can flick the torch off to save valuable power. It works. However, the graphics are so dark and the Vita so shiny that when your torch is off, you’ll get a lovely view of your own face. After you’ve touched up your mascara and squeezed a couple of spots, you may very well find yourself in a bit of bother. Some rooms won’t need the extra light but in other areas your torch is essential and if you’ve got a spirit after you and no way to banish it, you could very well find yourself on the dead end of the existence spectrum. Also, some chapters can be tricky to figure out and once the batteries are gone you’ll be creeping about in the dark, which after a while can become frustrating. The moral of this story? Don’t go off for a pee and leave your torch on. Or, better still, Google the Endless Battery cheat.
Following the tradition of any decent visual novel, most of the chapters have different endings and, as is only right, there are trophies available for finding all of them. Don’t expect any vastly different revelations, however. The alternative endings are really just a fancy way of saying ‘whoops, dead’. The true ending to each chapter basically just means surviving it. There will be choices along the way that will either move you towards this goal or stop you in your bloody tracks. There’s a strange noise coming from a locker; do you let your friend investigate or do you stop him? You’ll find out soon enough. Save whenever you spot a glowing candle. This will also restore your HP so they’re very handy indeed. Try to remember where they are because it’s better to nip over to the Infirmary for a quick save rather than getting chopped in half later on and have to backtrack for an hour. The layout can be confusing in the dark and as the school is crumbling to pieces, some direct routes are blocked off. I’d advise drawing yourself a map as the game, very unfortunately, does not give you one. If you’re too lazy to draw one there’s a nice one already done for you at www.playstationtrophies.org. Just don’t expect it to carry you all the way through…
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is a great story and its secrets, explanations and twists are worth finding. The characters are all interesting and the Japanese voice acting sounds pretty great to my ears (manic screaming is the same in any language, isn’t it?). Fans of the series will be glad to see many returning characters as well some brand new faces, and there’s no face I want to see less than the ultra creepy Sachi. I won’t say too much about her lest I shudder my laptop to the carpet. Naomi Nakashima’s ‘injury’ also gave me the major willies. Blughhhh. Get set for some major empathy for these poor characters. They really do go through it, right up to the end. Big time pat on the back to the writers. The gruesome and terrifying plot is worthy of a Hollywood movie, and it comes complete with a Hollywood soundtrack to back it up. Music can make or break a game, and Corpse Party: Blood Drive has one of the best soundtracks going. It’s atmospheric, it’s exciting and I’m still listening to it as I write thanks to the Cursed Phonograph option in the Bonus menu. It’s very John Carpenter with its slightly eighties twanging baselines, epic melodies and dramatic percussion all thrown together. It’s not so much the icing on the cake but the arterial blood clot on the corpse. If my book ever sells its movie rights, I want these guys to compose the score.
There are thirty eight trophies available including a Platinum and it will take a fair amount of time to achieve them all. We popped nineteen of them on one playthrough with fifteen hours of game time. It’s hard to say how long the Platinum would take, but with a decent guide detailing all the collectables and wrong endings, we would estimate an extra four or five hours. In theory, with some strategic saving, a couple of microwave ready meals and a six pack of diet coke, it should be possible to Platinum Corpse Party: Blood Drive in one big fat playthrough. This is a game worth getting your head down for. Turn off the TV, turn off your phone, close the curtains. Only your PSN friends will know you’re still alive. Kiss everyone else goodbye.
I do like a slice of death with my coffee, and with Corpse Party: Blood Drive you’ll be brushing plenty of bloody crumbs off your jumper. A great balance between visual novel and action, disturbing story and challenging puzzles, this is a horrific and sinister experience that will linger in your mind long after Halloween is over for another year.
S J Hollis Rating – 8.5/10