Written by Twisted Ideas
Since it is Halloween week, let’s talk about a recently released horror game that you may not know about. Corpse Party: Blood Drive came out of nowhere with seemingly no marketing behind it. The first two Corpse Party games were localized on the PSP and now Blood Drive is out close the chapter of Heavenly Host.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive
Developer: 5pb., Team Gris Gris
Publisher: 5pb, Marvelous USA
Platform: PlayStation Vita
What is it?
Corpse Party was originally a RPG Maker game before being remade several years later. The occult survival horror visual novel has garnered a cult following, producing several games, spin-offs, manga, fan projects, anime and even a live action movie. Corpse Party and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows was localized on the PSP with Blood Drive being the final chapter in the story.
The series starts with a group of students and teacher performing the “Sachiko Ever After” friendship ritual. They unknowingly perform it incorrectly and are transported to Heavenly Host Elementary, a demolished school, haunted by the spirits of murdered children over 50 years ago. Anyone trapped in Heavenly Host would eventually succumb to starvation, insanity, or murder, thanks to Sachiko’s malice.
Most of the group escaped Heavenly Host but not all survived. Ayumi and Naomi (two of the survivors) are overcome by sadness due to the fact that their deceased friends were removed from the memories of the world. They investigate Sachiko Shinozaki’s lineage and discover the Book of Shadows. Ayumi and Naomi attempt to restore the memories and lives of their dead friends but it didn’t work.
Who didn’t clean the camera lens?
Two months later, Ayumi and the group are confronted by people who know more about Heavenly Host then they should. They convince Ayumi to return to Heavenly Host one more time and find the Book of Shadows because its influence is starting to affect the real world.
How does it play?
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is a survival horror visual novel. It has a linear story line broken up into chapters heavy on story and adventure style gameplay. Your goal is to explore Heavenly Host, avoiding danger and finding the items that let you progress in the school and the story. Wrong decisions or actions will get you killed.
Blood Drive improves the survival horror aspect of the game. Heavenly Host is a more violent place with traps, floor hazards and spirits which all harm you. If you examine too many horrors you will mentality will succumb to the Darkening and you will die. Your flashlight will allow you to see in the much darker Heavenly Host and talismans will protect you from physical attacks. You will have to explore the school for healing items, supplies and what you need to progress further into the school.
You will be chased by spirits and other enemies occasionally. You can sprint but only for a limited amount of time before slowing and stopping in place, leaving you vulnerable to attack. You can hide from enemies by hiding in closets if they haven’t seen you enter or moving far enough away.
How does it look?
Blood Drive replaces its sprite art for 3D models and environments. It looks like a better version of the 3DS Pokemon games. Characters have proportionally large heads with very slim bodies.
Well, don’t look so sad about it.
The characters look like they’re smiling by default which is strange for the setting and tone of the game. The 3D models allow scenes to be acted in more detail than the sprite images. You do have less 2D artwork in place of the dynamic scenes.
Heavenly Host is darker and more detailed than ever. The school visually is more disturbing with blood, flesh and marking and the floors and walls that making an uncomfortable atmosphere. The need for the flashlight is apparent because without it you can barely make out the traps on the ground. There is good dynamic lighting, giving a good sense of movement when you’re moving around and seeing the shadows change in response.
How does it sound?
The audio is on the level of what you would expect from the previous games, just higher quality. The soundtrack relies on themes rather than ambiance or incidental music. The songs don’t always fit the mood of the game but they are somewhat disturbing given the setting. They’re memorable as a result.
The dialogue is voice acted in Japanese. It’s well done as far as I can tell. It adds to the experience even if you don’t understand the language as the voice actors get their emotions across well. There’s also a mode where you can create your own conversations between characters. I didn’t realize that this was a thing that people found interesting.
What do I think?
The original Corpse Party (PSP) wasn’t the scariest game but the descriptive writing about violence, gore and death gave the game its horror. The story is so absorbing and you would fear for the character’s safety that would forgot the shortcomings of the game. Corpse Party: Blood Drive improves on the game elements, making it really feel like a survival horror experience.
Heavenly Host is scarier than ever. The original game was bright and lacked detail and a scary atmosphere. The thing that made the game scary was that all the characters were nearly defenseless. Now the school itself is hostile. You can barely see dangers without your flashlight. Without endless battery mode on, you have to worry about your flashlight. If you run too much you step on floor traps or get chased while your stamina is low, making it difficult to escape unharmed. The darkening doesn’t pose a threat but just the knowledge that examining too much can get you killed is frightening, especially if you’re lost. All of these gameplay elements enhance horror experience, which is good as the writing moves away from the scares.
The story moves beyond the malicious haunting and gruesome depictions of violence. Those are still present; however, they’re not the main focus. Blood Drive sets off to finish the story of Heavenly Host. It tackles the bigger introduced in Book of Shadows, instead of just being another story about survival and death. You might be disappointed if you wanted more of the horror and Wrong Endings. I think the new direction was executed well asides the fact that the story takes over sometimes. It’s a mystery; you don’t know who or what to believe but only that the stakes have been raised and cannot be ignored. When the story really gets going, you won’t know what to expect but hoping for the best.
You should play at least the first Corpse Party before Blood Drive. You can get it digitally on the Vita, easily. The story is great and even though the key plot points are addressed you miss a lot. You can pass on Book of Shadows if you need because only the final chapter is canon, acting as Blood Drive’s prologue. It is addressed in-depth here.
Blood Drive isn’t a long visual novel but it’s more reading than most games. The story gets carried away sometimes which can break immersion. Early on, the story jumps between characters, some of which aren’t in Heavenly Host yet. The horror stops and even the main plot. It’s a bit unnecessary but levity is important in a dark story. Oddly you can’t auto advance text like most recent visual novels or text heavy JRPG nowadays. This feels like a massive oversight. Maybe it was to ensure gameplay wouldn’t start-up again without the player’s attention, avoiding cheap hits or death but it feels dated regardless.
My biggest issue is the game’s performance. The game suffers from frame rate issues, crashing and long loading times. This game was not optimized for the Vita because a game like this shouldn’t be pushing the hardware at all. The game rarely crashed but other players experienced them too. The frame rate doesn’t hinder gameplay usually and you can fix it by turning off your flashlight but at the risk of walking onto traps. The loading screens are the worst. I get that rooms might need to load but not individual menus. Even bringing up the text log when the flashlight is on is laggy. This lack of polish is disappointing for a game that doesn’t look like it should have these problems and a series so beloved.
Should you get it?
Corpse Party: Blood Drive will soon be a difficult game to find. I heard about it a week before release by chance at my local EB Games and I haven’t noticed any trailers or marketing for it. Thankfully this is a Vita game and you can buy the previous games on the system, if you haven’t played them. The series is great with strong writing and memorable yet violent moments. Corpse Party is a type of game you only see on the PC so I’m glad to see these games come on handhelds.