Set two months after the events of the previous game, Corpse Party: Blood Drive sees Ayumi Shinozaki return to make amends for the havoc that she wrought. Ayumi is told if she returns to the Heavenly Host Elementary School and casts a spell from the magic grimoire, the Book of Shadows, then she can bring back her deceased friends who were lost as a result of her actions.
For newcomers to the Corpse Party series, there are a lot of gaps to fill in. Events of the previous games are glossed over, and with no faces to put to names, it can be a little hard to keep track of who is meant to have done what. Upon completing a chapter, encyclopaedia entries are unlocked which can help to provide some key plot points, but they aren't accessible through the main game and are only viewable from the title screen.
The game world itself is dark, and for a horror game you'd expect this. What you might not necessarily expect is not being able to see the game clearly when playing in anything other than moderate room lighting. Skipping from moody and intense, and straight to fumbling and inadequate, the lighting doesn't help ease any frustrations. An in-game torch is provided, but as explained early on, batteries are scarce, so you're going to want to conserve light. It's frustrating, then, that you can't if you want to remotely see where you're going and avoid any of the many traps and hazards lying around.
On exploring the many scenes that Blood Drive puts in front of you, a similar pattern unfolds: investigate the area, and then solve a basic puzzle to proceed. There never appears to be any real challenge in any of the conundrums, and the answers are often glaringly obvious. At other times, you can find yourself retreading old ground waiting for the game to progress until you trigger a cut-scene which moves the plot forward.
Perhaps key to the enjoyment of a survival horror game is the engagement with characters, and unfortunately with Blood Drive, it's not easy to feel any affection or sympathy towards anyone. Given the events and consequences of the previous game, it would be reasonable to expect the characters to be a bit more cautious when dabbling with the occult, but they don't seem to have learned any sort of lesson from their experiences. It's akin to the girl in horror films who leaves the front door open when there's a serial killer on the loose. Ultimately, you just kind of accept that they get what's coming to them.
Effectively, the game is split into two parts: explanation and exploration. The explanation scenes are dialogue heavy, but are a lot more visually appealing than the alternative, with rich animation that evokes the kind of tension that you'd expect from a horror game. Meanwhile, when you take control of the characters, and you're not just scrolling through text, you're able to explore the settings in 3D for the first time in a Corpse Party game. In contrast, the cute, chibi-style animation is at direct odds with the horror theme – it's hard to get scared when the characters, and villains, are presented in such a cute manner.
In fact, the most frightening thing about Blood Drive is its unforgivably long load times. Although just about bearable when booting the game up, or loading a major scene, it often feels like you spend more time looking at the bland waiting screen than you do playing the game. Even minor game actions such as visiting the inventory or trying to check your health status 'reward' you with a visit to the load screen – so much so, at times, it's hardly worth bothering with such actions. On completing a chapter, you're redirected to the title screen to endure the load screens yet again, having to manually select the next chapter to proceed with the game. It's an irksome choice, which makes it feel like there's little reward for progressing, and creates a slow pace which isn't needed.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is more scary in execution than anything. Veterans of the series may be happy to see the continuation of its plot, but the game offers little to bring in any new fans. Those looking for a good scare would be better pointed in another direction, as the promises of previous games are not lived up to in this new iteration of the series.