Developer: 5pb Games/Team GrisGris
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: October 13, 2015
ESRB: M for Mature
Corpse Party: Blood Covered caught many curious English horror fans by surprise in 2011 on Sony's PSP. For something presented with a not incidental 2D RPG Maker-esque pixel art style (considering its 1996 original conception in Japan) it was incredibly dark and far more unsettling than it had any right being. Afterwards the series got multiple spin-offs and fan-discs, generally exclusive to Japan, though most were inconsequential to the current overarching story.
Fortunately, the most narratively relevant fan-disc, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, saw an English release back in 2013. Following right after the epilogue of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows comes the would-be canonical conclusion to the previous two games with Corpse Party: Blood Drive which shambles onto Sony's Vita--was it worth the wait?
Each of the localized Corpse Party releases tried something different with how it depicted its abject horror in the "Heavenly Host High School." Corpse Party: Blood Covered got away with rather basic 2D pixel art due to its immensely sadistic writing and tense gameplay situations that allowed your mind to fill in for many of its perceived 2D visual gaps. Then there was Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, which was far more divisive for fans, that felt more like a visual novel with questionable first-person point & click elements and a story that toyed with "What-if?" scenarios much more than following up with a continued narrative. So, attempting to try to do something different, while also being more akin to what fans liked in Blood Covered the series now goes true 3D in Corpse Party: Blood Drive and... well, it doesn't really work out, unfortunately.
Before going full into its mess of game design and presentation issues, the storytelling will undoubtedly be the lure of Blood Drive purely with its finale nature. The narrative carries immediately after the fairly brutal cliffhanger of Book of Shadows (for more reasons than one). New faces are also introduced in Blood Drive, most clearly dubious in nature, and the survivors of the first draconian ordeal of Heavenly Host are shaken to their core with memories of their dead friends and the reality they now live in feeling quite foreign.
But, what's interesting in how Blood Drive is told is that there is much more buildup before going back to the expected hellhole of Heavenly Host once more (well, for everyone except Ayumi that is). There is a neat sharp contrast, both visually and conceptually, between the real world and Heavenly Host so the sequence of events don't feel unnecessarily rushed. Overall, the storytelling has more than its share of intrigue for series fans. Though it is most certainly flawed, and basically ditches horror elements altogether with a sharp tone shift in the second arc of the story, it more than resolves the events of Heavenly Host. That said, more than anything else the entertaining, and fiercely morbid, writing carries most of it like the previous games.
Surprising no one, however, when you are actually back to Heavenly Host, it is downright awful. Sadly, it is not just because of context, the gameplay is absolutely cringe-worthy, and not in a good horror game kind of way. On paper, most aspects seem appealing as a series successor from revamping familiar 2D environments in more atmospheric 3D and stronger survival-horror elements. How it actually works out is quite different.
The most obvious change is how oppressively dark everything is in Heavenly Host. The highest brightness setting on the Vita will not save you from this. By doing this, and attempting to make everything scarier, you are given a flashlight with limited battery life. This would be less of a problem if the flashlight was not as necessary as it is. For one reason, the flashlight is basically required for highlighting intractable objects, which can be the difference between aimlessly wandering for a long time and not... which even then it can be real easy to get lost due to some obtuse event triggers.
Thankfully, Japanese players apparently complained about the flashlight mechanic long before I did, so there is an infinite light toggle option by default for those who don't want to deal with it. Even with the toggle on, however, the gameplay is quite annoying throughout. For instance, Blood Drive is hellbent with putting far too numerous environmental traps every step of the way that makes basic navigation obnoxious. To make the pain even worse are the frequency of enemies that will attempt to chase you in such claustrophobic environments that are more much more tedious than anything else (since it isn't hard). Without the incentive of a narrative finale I really don“t think I would have been able to press through Corpse Party: Blood Drive's frustrating gameplay, predominately because of its just plain unfun mechanics compounded by the backtrack heavy level design.
With the new visual transition, Team Grisgris also really shows their inexperience with 3D visuals. On one hand, the environments are generally fine. In fact, I actually like how they recreate familiar terrain for Corpse Party fans and playing upon such knowledge. On the other hand, its character models and many visual effects look just plain bad in motion. For as gruesome as many scenes are supposed be a lot of the tension is killed by many unintentionally comical looking animations. Let“s just say that pretty much any scene that involves fire becomes a slideshow, text included. A much more glaring technical grievance is that most load times easily last more than 10 seconds. Awful load time issues include moving from one room to another to stuff as bad as to when you open up the menu -- yes, it actually takes around 10 seconds to open the menu.
Still, not all aspects of the presentation are bad (just... most), as the audio design is abnormally strong. Like the previous entries Corpse Party: Blood Drive uses binaural audio. For those that don“t know what that is it is audio that presented based on how the human ear perceives audio in a 3D space and is quite rare in video games. Everything from whispered voices that ring eerily clear in one ear, rattling sounds in the background, or the real guttural voice acting makes wearing a good pair of headphones very clearly the way to play. The soundtrack is also quite good as well with two fairly impressive opening songs and also good melodic songs to accompany both the gameplay and story scenes.
Team Grisgris clearly shows their inexperience with 3D gameplay and visuals which hurts Corpse Party: Blood Drive as a whole far more than it should. From annoying basic gameplay mechanics, clunky exploration, and comically poor visuals in most instances, it becomes an outright chore to press through Heavenly Host High School once more. Which is a shame because buried beneath it all is an intriguing narrative (though most certainly flawed) and entertaining audio design/writing to accompany it. Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, Corpse Party: Blood Drive is purely for the most patient of series fans who are willing to painfully grit their teeth through its many mundane flaws as game to hopefully reach the title's decisive narrative conclusion.
+ Binaural audio is fantastic and the soundtrack solid
+ Interesting to see familiar 2D environments from the first game rendered in more atmospheric 3D
+ Some narrative intrigue and fun, twisted writing
- Awful load times and technical issues
- Annoying mechanics that makes you want to engage with gameplay as little as possible
- Poor in-game visual presentation kills a lot of narrative and gameplay tension
- Bad endings are nowhere near as engaging as previous games
- Odd tonal shift in the 2nd half of the story
Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10)
With so many glaring technical and gameplay flaws Corpse Party: Blood Drive gives little incentive for anybody but forgiving, and patient, series fans to justify wading through it
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.