If there's one downside to exclusively reviewing horror games for years, it's that I've become desensitized over time. Nothing really shocks me anymore, with even the most sudden of jump scares barely eliciting a twitch and the most gruesome of gore barely registering a grimace on my face. Who would have thought that Corpse Party, a PSP game fashioned after the 16-bit style of the Super Nintendo, would actually have me feeling cold, uncomfortable fear?
Corpse Party is a strange title, to say the least. Originally developed in Japan using the famous RPG Maker, its art style hearkens back to the days of 16-bit, when Squaresoft and Enix were their own companies and turn-based battles were king. Unlike those games, however, Corpse Party is a much simpler title: there are no stats to track or monsters to battle in chess-like combat. Instead, the game is a pure adventure title, with characters using inventory to solve simple puzzles to hopefully escape the literal hell of the school that they are trapped in.
When I say hell, I don't refer to the fire-and-brimstone suffering that populates Christian mythology, but the exceptionally horrific hell that the Japanese have adopted from Buddhism and Shintoism. Players step into the shoes on a group of high school students who, on the day that they are bidding farewell to one of their friends, are dropped—literally—into a horrific underworld that looks eerily like Heavenly Host Elementary, the school that used to reside on the grounds of their current academy. There, they have to roam the halls, encountering the spirits of dead children (yeah, the game goes there), whose spirits are trapped in the perpetual agony of their final moment. These spirits are trapped in a loop, never knowing anything but the pain of their deaths for all eternity. That's where Corpse Party manages to get under your skin like no other game: it makes you think about things that you really don't want to, but it still drops that proverbial bug in your ear.
Your imagination is also aided by the graphics which, with the exception of the occasional high-resolution interstitial shot, are almost cutesy in their low-res pixilation. However, it's these very stylistic decisions that keeps those wheels turning in your head and make you overthink what you're seeing, aided by some truly creepy descriptions of these bundles of pixels. They transform these simple sprites into absolutely gruesome tableaus, filling in the morbid details that the graphics can't. I tip my hat to the translation team at XSEED, who localized the title and kept the language deliciously disgusting.
I never thought that a download-only, portable title with such a retro aesthetic would elicit such a response from me, but Corpse Party made me feel truly, deeply disturbed. It left me squirming in my seat, both loathing and loving my PSP as I walked through a hell more horrible than I have ever seen before. In the final months of the PSP's life, it plays out as one hell of a swan song.
Corpse Party is available on the Playstation Network for $19.99