With a name like Corpse Party, you expect a series to be incredibly gory and ridiculously scary. Corpse Party: Blood Drive is definitely the former, but isn’t truly terrorizing and traumatizing. This is more of a thinking man’s thriller. While some might see this and pause, thinking it dulls the overall experience, it does more to enhance it.
Given the visual novel roots of the series, much of Corpse Party: Blood Drive is spent reading about what Ayumi and the other characters are going through. 3D characters, which are surprisingly cute, might act out certain actions and illustrated event scenes may pop up, but the majority of the experience is conveyed through text. What really happens is left to a player’s imagination, enhanced by audio cues, and proves to be more effective in setting the tone for the story. There’s no immediate jump scare, but instead slowly building ambiance that leads up to distinct unease.
The exploration elements also serve to punctuate the experience, rather than really drive it. With Corpse Party: Blood Drive, you’ll eventually always reach the next chapter and advance the story. The opportunity to explore is more about making the game more personal. It’s possible to go from one story-specific item and encounter to the next, but taking time yields supplemental information about additional victims and perhaps additional chance encounters. Finding additional information about others caught up in the curse results in more of a thriller than a chiller.
It makes for a game people may not immediately deem “scary.” These Corpse Party: Blood Drive moments make onlookers think. It’s only if a person pays attention to the backgrounds, characters, and details that an aha moment emerges. If someone checks the mailbox at Makina Shinozaki’s apartment, they’ll find a bird’s skeleton inside. In her apartment, another bird skeleton is found in a cabinet. It could be seen as an omen suggesting someone could lose their freedom or life. (Something which certainly happened to Makina!) Unless you pay attention and really think about the encounter, it will just be an unsettling thing. Ayumi finds baby teeth in Makina’s apartment as well, which seems creepy on its own. Consider dream interpretations, where teeth falling out can signify death, and it further hints at an unfortunate fate.
That’s what makes Corpse Party: Blood Drive so effective. Ayumi doesn’t return to Heavenly Host until a player is over two hours into the story, give or take based on how quickly you read. The medium is perfect for building tension and suspense. It’s possible to skip ahead, since there is that option within the game, but so much information can come from any interactions. Breezing through conversations is never a good idea. Since players are forced to wait it out, they’ll discover more details than they would in a more traditional horror game.
All this is compounded by a need to pay attention because otherwise, people may have no idea what’s going on. Corpse Party: Blood Drive is the first game to come to the PlayStation Vita. It’s been four years since the original Corpse Party came to the PlayStation Portable, and two years since it was followed by Book of Shadows. There’s a lot of lore and backstory, since Blood Drive directly deals with the repercussions of the characters’ actions in previous games. Even people who have a wealth of experience with the series might find themselves pausing to remember specific situations or characters.
What results is a title that happens to be haunting, yet subdued. People who typically don’t enjoy horror games can play Corpse Party: Blood Drive and appreciate it for what it manages to accomplish via its unique presentation. It’s satisfyingly unsettling and unnerving, but not blatantly scary. The tactful delivery is thoughtful, deliberate and will definitely get to people in its own way.