Corpse Party: Blood Drive PS Vita Review
As a horror franchise, Corpse Party has managed to become a cult hit without succumbing to many of the genre’s problems that crop up in subsequent sequels; the original game (or rather, the PSP remake of the obscure PC original, which has yet to leave Japan despite localization plans) was a surprise hit that managed to create a legitimately tense and frightening atmosphere despite its cutesy Anime character designs, while also featuring some of the most disturbing and stomach-turning sequences while managing to smartly refrain from showing much of the violence on-screen. Thanks to an innovative stereoscopic sound design, gruesomely detailed text and a talented cast of Japanese actors screaming their tonsils off, Corpse Party let players imagine the horrific acts of body horror play out in their mind’s eye, which is far more effective than simply showing an onscreen splatter fest that would amount to little more than a visual gross-out; less equals more, a common sentiment that horror films and videogames tend to forget more often than not.
The other positive with the Corpse Party series is that the developers (as in plural, including Team GrisGris, 5pb. and Mages Inc.) know to change things up with their sequels. The second game, Corse Party: Book of Shadows, dropped the original’s classic 16 bit RPG look for a first person Visual Novel aesthetic, which led to mixed results as well as a two hour epilogue with one of the most aggressive cliffhangers in recent memory. The latest game, Corpse Party: Blood Drive, is a return to form in many respects, specifically in regards to continuing the story right where Book of Shadows left off in order to wrap up the “Heavenly Host Trilogy” once and for all.
Without getting into spoilers, Blood Drive features the surviving cast of the previous two games, who managed to escape the gruesome fate of Heavenly Host Academy but walked away as broken shells of regret. Ayumi Shinozaki, who takes center stage in the sequel, is among the most damaged of the group, desperately seeking a method to undo her mistakes of the previous games in the hopes that there is still a way to bring back those who were left behind in Heavenly Host. With the help of some dubious allies as well as the addition of some new enemies, Ayumi and her friends eventually wind up back inside the rotting halls of the cursed elementary school, and this time they might not be so lucky to escape death a second time.
While the first two games were available on the PSP, Blood Drive brings the series over to the Vita. With a new platform comes new technology, an opportunity the developers use to bring the series over to 3D. While Blood Drive brings back its traditional top-down view as well as the ability to control characters directly, the game abandons its original RPG Maker-created sprites in favor of a fully 3D environment and characters. The characters are rendered in a chibi SD look that largely resemble the Nendoroid brand of figures. If you think that the switch to wide-eyed large-headed character models means sacrificing the horror aspects of the series, think again; right off the bat, Blood Drive kicks things off with a brutal murder, and it only gets messier from there. Much of the violence is still smartly restrained, but there are still plenty of dismembered bodies, gushing wounds and literal walls of flesh to gawk at.
Strangely enough, Blood Drive still bounces between 3D character models and first person Visual Novel text dumps, in an attempt to merge the best of both worlds from the previous games. This also extends to the gameplay, which brings back the first game’s concept of moving characters around the treacherous hallways of Heavenly Host while examining important items and solving the occasional puzzle. A returning element from Book of Shadows is the Darkening system, which works like a sanity bar that gradually fills up the more you examine and/or witness disturbing imagery. If a character’s Darkening gets too high, they eventually succumb to madness and die, which is why players must purify themselves through in-game items. Blood Drive also features a few new additions to the gameplay, including stage hazards such as loose floorboards, broken glass and piano wire, which saps a character’s HP. Another new addition is the ability to sprint and use a flashlight, both of which come with depleting meters (the latter requiring batteries, though the game does feature an option that allows for an unlimited flashlight), as well as the ability to hide behind objects in order to avoid enemy pursuers (but if they see you enter a hiding spot, they’ll have no problem pulling you right out of it).
On the whole, Blood Drive brings the most graphical and gameplay changes to the franchise, but unfortunately, these new additions come at a rather hefty technical cost. For one thing, the loading screen, despite initially featuring a spooky looking face, comes frequently and annoyingly, particularly when navigating the main menu (one loading screen for opening the menu, another loading screen for opening the inventory within the menu, a third loading screen when closing the inventory screen, and one more to close the whole darn thing). Even more detrimental to the experience is the flashlight; while the lighting and shadow effects on objects looks nice and conjures up memories of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, turning on the flashlight in any environment results in a noticeable dip in the framerate. While players can navigate areas just fine without it, the flashlight automatically turns on during cutscenes, with the framerate dip having a negative impact during certain scenes featuring shocking jump scares. Another curious omission is the lack of customizable text speeds; dialog tends to scrawl out in a snail’s pace, though the entire text body can be displayed at once with a single button press. Still, this is usually a standard option in most modern dialog-heavy games, so it’s a missed feature regardless.
It is unfortunate that Corpse Party: Blood Drive suffers from the technological leap to the Vita, as the new visual style and gameplay features are the best improvements seen in the series from a conceptual standpoint. The strong writing and inventive scares are still on point, making this franchise one of the most consistent horror properties seen in some time, and one that is very effective in causing players to squirm in their seats with each passing moment.