A port of a PSP title, Corpse Party is a five-chapter journey through the haunted Heavenly Host Elementary. In this text-heavy game, the player guides eight students and one teacher out of the corpse-ridden school by using items, such as keys and crowbars, to open paths and making choices that won’t get the protagonists killed. Corpse Party has its chilling moments, thanks to the effective interplay between the game’s sound, the top-down perspective, and manga-art stills. Yet the horror dries out with the monotony of scouring a small setting to advance the story, often only to experience worn-out chills that are supposed to elicit unease.
Corpse Party has a weird expositional beginning: After a scene introduces all of the characters from Kisaragi Academy, the player takes temporary control of a floating eye that reveals the traits of each cast member if you approach them and press a button. The game doesn’t really start until the protagonists are transported to and become trapped inside Heavenly Host Elementary, which is stained by a history of murder, at which point you get to assume different parties throughout the story. The music in the first chapter is energetic, providing a needed sense of momentum as you incessantly walk back and forth in the halls, examining the skeletal remains of students and searching every corner of the school for clues and tools.
The horror doesn’t rely on jump scares, but rather tension, with occasional gore that typically inspires cries from the terrified students, who’ll meet what the game calls a “Wrong End” if you, for example, lock eyes with a ghost. At first, the audiovisuals throw creepy curveballs. When the music decreases in volume or fades away for no reason other than you’re walking on a different section of floor, you’re jolted with the sense that something bad will happen. The repetition of finding corpses is broken when one pile of remains triggers a mournful voiceover. Sometimes a comic-book panel appears to highlight an unnerving detail that you can’t see from the limited top-down view, such as a female student’s uniformed skeleton with a hole in the skull.
The more you play Corpse Party, the more you come across these types of tricks, reducing the effect they once had. Other ideas recall not-so-great scenes from previous horror games; easily outrunning a ghost in a hall, much like the sequence from Silent Hill 2 in which you do circles in one room to avoid Pyramid Head, registers as a throwaway encounter that’s ultimately more silly than scary. Playing as different characters can’t change the fact that, for hours, all you’re doing is tiresomely going in and out of the same few rooms numerous times before stumbling upon another isolated area.
The distress that Corpse Party’s teen characters feel is relatable even out of a horror context, such as their failure to find refuge and rest in Heavenly Host Elementary’s bathrooms. But any emotional investment in these characters is steadily undone by the redundant contrivance of scanning the same set of rooms to ensure you haven’t overlooked an object that requires a button press to push the story forward. It’s doubtful the developers wanted the journey through the school to feel so much like detention.