The disturbing and sadistic Corpse Party franchise returns for another entry, this time closing out the long-running Heavenly Host trilogy. Is it a worthy conclusion after years of build up?
DISCLAIMER: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS FOR CORPSE PARTY AND CORPSE PARTY: BOOK OF SHADOWS
After the horrific events of Corpse Party and Book of Shadows have many of her friends and sister dead, Ayumi has trouble moving on with her life alongside the other four survivors. She finds a glimmer of hope when she learns of a method to revive her friends and the other victims of Heavenly Host. Elevated to the role of protagonist, Ayumi must return to the haunted elementary school, once again dealing with its malicious spiritual entities.
The majority of Corpse Party: Blood Drive once again takes place in Heavenly Host Elementary, the haunted school that exists on a spiritual plane where multiple dimensions intersect. There, the player must traverse the dark and decrepit halls; solving puzzles and evading vengeful ghosts. Talismans can be used to instantly defeat the latter, but as these items are scarce, hiding in lockers will be the usual course of action.
While there is a much bigger focus on Ayumi this time around, the playable character will switch frequently as the game progresses. All five survivors from the original Corpse Party will have this role at one point or another, with a few newcomers joining in on the horror.
In terms of gameplay, Corpse Party: Blood Drive borrows many elements from its predecessors. The game strikes a good balance between the exploration of Corpse Party and the visual novel segments of Book of Shadows.
HP actually serves a real purpose rather than the one-time relevance it had in the original. The reason for this are the dangerous traps and obstacles scattered throughout the school: shattered glass, sharpened piano wire, and of course the spirits themselves. It's obviously game over when HP is fully depleted. This can be delayed by switching the leading party member, as most traps and spirit attacks do not effect anyone but the one being controlled. Of course this isn't always an optimal strategy as many segments will be played with a lone explorer.
The sprite-based visuals of the original Corpse Party and its many remakes have been abandoned for a more modern 3D look with super deformed character models. The new aesthetic definitely has its own charm and feels like a natural progression of the art style.
With the run-down Heavenly Host's transition to 3D, fans can experience the unsettling school in new ways. Many of the environments have maintained their creepiness after the visual makeover. Broken floorboards, blood-stained classrooms, corpse-littered hallways, even walls that look and behave like living flesh; it's all there and just as disturbing to explore if not more so.
While Blood Drive's plot mostly maintains the feel of its predecessors, it progresses in an unexpected way. With the stakes greatly raised by the end, there does seem to be a mild departure in tone and atmosphere compared to the less fantastic and more bleak games that came before it. That being said, things do eventually culminate in a satisfying conclusion, but the journey there may be a bit jarring for long-time fans.
For the most part, the characters are well done. The returning ones show consistency and even growth over their past roles, and the new ones like Kuon and Aiko have enough compelling traits to keep things interesting. However, some questionable actions do creep in from time to time, breaking the player's suspension of disbelief. Of course, this is nothing new for the franchise, so fans may know to expect it. The bigger disappointment is the lack of development for some of the more interesting characters and their reasons for joining the conflict.
The "real" world outside Heavenly Host is actually relevant this time around. Several shorter controllable segments take place there, with numerous visual novel portions both in and out of the school scattered throughout.
There are some glaring technical issues that hinder the experience. Frame drops are a common occurrence, which is made all the more frequent when the flashlight is on. The game may also freeze for a few moments when entering cutscenes or even passing by certain objects.
The audio has some issues as well, particularly the vocal tracks. Sometimes they are way too quiet and get drowned out by the music, even after messing with the volume settings. There seemed to be an attempt at dynamic audio based on the positions of the characters (the further they are from the action, the softer they sound), but this is poorly executed and wildly inconsistent, even with the preferred play style of using headphones. As the audio has always been a big part of the Corpse Party experience, this is disappointing even if the background music does not share these issues.
The load times are arguably the most annoying technical flaw. Entering and exiting the menu can take as long as 30 seconds, killing tense moments when you need to heal or examine an item in your inventory. This is made all the more aggravating when traversing the school. As the way forward sometimes has a cryptic solution, aimless wandering is often required. When switching screens can easily take 10 seconds if not more, any sense of momentum is severely hindered. This makes what should be a positively chilling experience an absolute chore.
The soundtrack continues to be unnerving in spite of any hang-ups with the vocals, contributing greatly to the atmosphere. Mao Hamamoto once again brings his A game, remixing old tracks and bringing in effective new ones.
While the technical issues and underwhelming plot points bring it down, Corpse Party: Blood Drive is still a welcome addition to the franchise and an acceptable end to the Heavenly Host storyline. Longtime fans won't want to skip this.