Corpse Party: Blood Drive, the latest offering in the supernatural series, sacrifices originality for the sake of marginal improvements. Despite my enthusiasm for more paranormal sightings and deceased teens, my intolerance for technical flaws tarnished the game’s appeal. Blood Drive should be the sequel that followers thirsted for, with characters returning to the murder-happy haven of Heavenly Host Elementary in three dimensions. I expected larger environments, more detailed heroes and horrors, and faster loading times, too, yet the developers omit those perks from the franchise’s PlayStation Vita debut.
Blood Drive is a technical dunce, which I surmised from frequent loading screens. Say what you will about current consoles, but at least powering them on and launching a game has been reduced to mere seconds. The latest Corpse Party, by comparison, strong-arms players into waiting several minutes while it chugs its way to the main menu. After setting up the trophies (which Blood Drive does every time it starts) and initializing the game (what does that even mean?), you must weather half-a-dozen company logos, two loading screens, and the opening cinematic. Sheesh.
I hoped a digital copy of Corpse Party: Blood Drive would shorten loading times, though Team GrisGris and 5pb. are not in the business of granting miracles. Checking the sound options or reading the in-game encyclopedia? Loading screen. Entering or leaving a classroom? Loading screen. Accessing your inventory to heal a character? Oh yeah … loading screen. The loading screens linger anywhere from five to ten seconds, dissuading players from perusing helpful or bonus features. They forced, not encouraged, me to consult a walkthrough, to minimize further dead air as I explored hallway after hallway.
The developers penalize curious and hesitant players with premature deaths, too. At several junctures, the story presents the audience with a choice. You might pull a friend’s hand out of a wolf statue, ignore a teacher’s pleas to flee, or refuse to act altogether. I forfeited my common sense on occasion, cutting someone’s life short and ending the story abruptly. These counterfeit conclusions established themselves as the highlights of each Corpse Party, and they still are. I think my jaw went slack when a professor’s head literally exploded and an unseen force tore a classmate limb from limb.
I like the split-second choices. You make a decision in the moment and commit to the outcome, good or bad. The aftermath is what really perturbs me. Casualties, accidental or not, subject players to extra loading screens when Blood Drive tosses them back to the main menu. The developers also withheld a proper checkpoint system, so fans must resume progress from a previous save. Any critical items obtained before your last death must be reacquired, and any conversations skipped. With a twelve-hour runtime, no one wants to re-read text or watch the characters huff and puff and emote again, just to correct a mistake.
The story fails to pace itself as is, specifically in its later half. Blood Drive doubles down on the ghostly lingo (Nirvana, Entity Walls, sephirots, etc.) during its grand reveals, approaching Metal Gear levels of verbose. You might control a character for two minutes, then wait twenty while heroes and villains hash out their dialogue. Corpse Party: Blood Drive takes advantage of its visual novel nature, yes, but I felt my concentration slipping as I consumed verse after verse. I regretted not learning Japanese. The English subtitles may have been mandatory, though the non-English voice acting asked that I remain vigilant or miss potential plot points.
The narrative’s first half holds much more promise. The game opens on a young girl having her spine snapped in two. Cruel, right? Blood Drive follows the events of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, wherein Ayumi Shinozaki failed to bring her friends back from the grave; the spell claimed the life of Ayumi’s sister instead. Prior to that, you see, a ritual transported a group of students to the first Corpse Party’s unholy dimension (Heavenly Host Elementary) – a realm inhabited by the vindictive spirits of murdered children. Five students escaped, while those that were killed have been erased from existence.
The five survivors attempt to hide their guilt, as only they remember their friends that perished. Back in the real world, fresh faces replaced the people stricken from public records, as if the Heavenly Host ordeal never happened. Naomi now blames herself for Seiko’s passing, Satoshi rejects the teacher filling in for the one they lost, and so on. I enjoyed seeing the fallout of the incident, since the characters now live in a place somewhat alien to them. Their physical scars healed, but not the emotional ones, particularly Ayumi’s. As Blood Drive begins, she remains dead-set on restoring her departed peers.
Ayumi carries the most baggage from the Heavenly Host nightmare, yet I cannot abide by her questionable decisions. Although I understand her grief, Ayumi’s sister surrendered her life to protect Ayumi. Ayumi is so ready to revive her sibling, however, that she blindly trusts the first person to come along offering a possible solution. Apparent antiheroes exploit her remorse, as they claim she can restore her loved ones by returning to Heavenly Host and performing the resurrection ceremony there. Of course, the other survivors pursue Ayumi into that purgatory to make her see reason.
My feelings for Ayumi’s foolishness aside, I felt zero attachment to the new characters. Their abrasive attitudes soil any half-baked changes of heart, though the voice actors sold me on the performances. I wanted Ayumi’s enemies to suffer, so I suppose I have the audio to thank. The developers use binaural audio to mimic surround sound. Plug in a pair of headphones and you can determine where people stand in relation to you. Without earbuds at least, however, the conversations sound awful. When listening through the Vita’s default speakers, I had difficulties identifying who was talking.
Outside cutscenes, players wander the tormented school of Heavenly Host Elementary, now in 3D. I got a kick seeing familiar rooms and halls rendered in a foreign light. The custodian closet still houses the remains of Naho and Kou, just as the wall outside the infirmary sports the organ splatter formerly known as Mayu. Nonetheless, Blood Drive made me yearn for Corpse Party’s 16-bit visuals. The developers worked around the PSP’s technical constraints back then. They depicted victims’ deaths through static images, morbid text, and panicked screams, prompting viewers to envision the grisly executions at their worst.
Corpse Party, like Home and Lone Survivor, dared to be different. The moment Blood Drive forsook its retro roots, the brand faced contention from other American, Japanese, and Korean horror games. Heavenly Host’s halfhearted sights do the series no favors, either. Broken glass and trip wires litter the school, for example. While they maim a person’s health on contact, they also stick out amid a red and brown color palette. The traps only pose a risk when the camera angles reveal them at the last second, so players lose more health due to the game’s blunders than sheer negligence.
The flashlight impairs the experience, not loose floorboards. The frame rate plunges when you turn the torch on, causing characters to run in stutters. You never need the light anyways. You cannot damage ghosts with it, and items like bandages and talismans (to banish phantoms) still glow orange in the dark. Even the batteries lack a purpose. Hit the Vita’s select button and you enable/disable endless battery mode – no more scrounging for AAs. Call that foresight or a gimmick, but the flashlight mechanic stinks of a developer not knowing what it wants from the franchise. Blood Drive excludes scares as is.
Blood Drive portrays Ayumi, Satoshi, Naomi, and the rest of the cast as chibi (big head, small body) abominations. I despise the art style; it clashes with Corpse Party’s frightening themes. Ayumi stabs her hand with scissors at one point, for instance, to punish herself and mitigate the pain of her sister’s death. While Corpse Party: Blood Drive never abuses someone’s mental illness for the shock factor, any traumatizing acts of self-mutilation just look goofy. Blood sprays like a fountain before pooling at a comedically quick pace. Phantoms fail to elicit terror, too, who appear to be covered in blank ink.
Perhaps I set my expectations too high for the latest Corpse Party. I prepared for the spectral twists and “wrong ends” ingrained in the trilogy. Blood Drive delivers in those regards, but my fascination bottomed out before browsing a walkthrough. I wasted hours looking for the lone object to progress the story. Little did I know that the matches and alcohol lamp I needed were stowed in a furnace and cabinet, respectively, that I walked by a dozen times before. Unlike the bandages and talismans, they don’t glimmer. Keys, axes, and gems are located in nondescript dressers that look identical to all the others.
If not for my obligations to finish Corpse Party: Blood Drive, I would’ve walked away then and there. Read a synopsis if you want to learn about the lore, so long as you play (or replay) the original Corpse Party instead.
This review addresses the PlayStation Vita version of the game, which was provided to us.
Infinite loading screens, irresponsible characters, and dubious gameplay designs contaminate Corpse Party: Blood Drive. Without the franchise's usual brand of supernatural scares, only the most zealous fans need apply.