With a title like Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, it’s immediately clear that you’re going to be in for a bumpy ride. The sequel continues the sadistic, horribly twisted atmosphere of the first game perfectly well – but it doesn’t bring much new to the table. It’s admittedly more of an expansion to the first game than a true sequel, telling several short stories from the perspective of different characters. However, these characters make a return from the original release, meaning prior knowledge of the series is almost a necessity if you want the full experience.
Things start out innocent enough, with two of title’s main characters having a sleepover – even if the get together is a tad perverse. Still, it’s a jarring contrast to the horror story that follows, where friendships are tested to breaking point and high school students are mutilated in absolutely brutal fashion. Book of Shadows maintains this contrast throughout each of its stories, creating a strangely palatable approach to the supernatural meetings that follow.
The title’s take on the horror genre isn’t exactly traditional. Although it sports its fair share of spooky happenings like encounters with ever-present ghosts, the majority of scares come in the form of extremely gory scenarios – many of which have the capacity to make your stomach turn. Needless to say, if you’re the squeamish type, Book of Shadows is definitely not the visual novel for you.
And the game really is the definition of a visual novel. There’s a gigantic amount of dialogue here – most of which is fully voiced in Japanese – and there isn’t much gameplay to speak of. A lot of your time will be spent navigating a relatively simple map of the warped school the cast finds themselves trapped in, moving from place to place in order to advance the story. There’s some slight detective work to be done through interacting with objects of interest, but even then, your options are incredibly limited.
Arguably the real gameplay here is choice making. The flow of the story can change quite dramatically depending on your decisions throughout, often leading to some shockingly abrupt endings. There’s certainly a lot of content to wade through in Book of Shadows, although discovering all that the game has to offer can be an extremely tedious affair due to the limited gameplay. Scrolling through the same reams of text just to select a different dialogue choice simply isn’t much fun.
That said, Book of Shadows does manage to tell several intriguing, personal tales, and those looking for a particularly automatic experience will find a lot to like here. The writing isn’t of the highest calibre, but it does an amicable job of getting important plot points across, and the atrocities that occur are described in horrific detail. Each story is also dotted with twists and turns that keep the subject matter interesting, even if some of it drags on for far too long at times.
The characters themselves appear as nothing more than standard Japanese animation archetypes at first; stereotyped personalities that have been done to death in various media. Thankfully, the further into the game you venture, the more insight you gain into each protagonist’s background and motives. The game does a surprisingly good job of developing its cast naturally, despite the terrifying situation they find themselves in, and they gradually become more endearing, which makes it all the more sad when one of them gets strung up by their own entrails.
To the writing’s credit, things work the opposite way, too. You’re bound to get annoyed with one or two of the characters throughout the course of the campaign. Whether they’ve been unhelpful, ungrateful, or just downright stupid, there’s a sick satisfaction in seeing them get their just deserts. It’s hard not to get caught up in the emotion of the title.
It also helps that Book of Shadows is a good looking game. The character art is detailed and well-drawn, even if the cute Japanese style won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The environments are bleak and colourless by comparison, but they do a great job of portraying a haunting and tense atmosphere. The game could have possibly benefitted from some animated cut scenes, although the static images coupled with gruesome screen effects do a surprisingly efficient job.
Elsewhere, Book of Shadows' audio is a mixed bag. There’s some music here and there, but many of the tunes sound outdated and a little too basic for a game that’s trying to be so mature. The voice acting, while in Japanese, still manages to maintain a high level of quality, and emotional scenes will strike a chord or two because of it. Strangely enough, the highlights here are the sound effects. For example, when blood hits a wall, the accompanying audio splatter makes the moment that little bit more sickening.
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows makes no apologies for how brutal it is, or how text-heavy it is. It’s a visual novel through and through, which is ultimately what makes the title hard to recommend to gamers. If some solid gameplay mechanics were worked into the gripping story, the series could easily evolve into something even more immersive. As it stands, this sequel simply continues what the original started, taking no real risks and reaping no real rewards.