Corpse Party: Blood Drive did a lot to subvert my expectations. Having played through most of the first game in the series and knowing the brief synopsis of the others, I was completely blindsided by Blood Drive. The first game put you into a macabre haunted school, Heavenly Host Elementary, being a horror mystery with a focus on exploration and puzzles.
However, Corpse Party: Blood Drive owes much more to visual novels and is a stranger, imbalanced experience. You take control of the survivors of the original game. Now we’re willingly going back to Heavenly Host, and we’re fighting over who should or shouldn’t get to go. Characters pop up who seem completely unfazed by the dozens of rotting corpses strewn through the halls, and now there are wizards. And a lot of talking.
More character exploration than actual exploration
Rather than navigating through the horrific school, we’re navigating through lots and lots of text. There’s still exploration and some very light puzzles, but they’re just a means to an end. Corpse Party: Blood Drive is about 90 percent visual novel, so much so that in-between chapters you won’t even keep items from your exploration. There’s really no sense in picking up flashlight batteries if you don’t have enough active time to drain it. During exploration, you’ll encounter traps and enemies, but for the most part, they don’t put up much of a fight. The real danger is getting impatient in the rare times that you do have to put in some legwork and not caring when you run into tripwires or broken glass.
The spooks don’t really translate all that well to the art style. A chibi zombie will never match the horror of something more realistic. Gore splatters the walls so thoroughly that you’re almost immediately desensitized to it. Blood Drive’s horror primarily succeeds when characters are at stake. Seeing a character whose plotline you’ve grown attached to put in mortal danger is one thing; seeing their head torn off is another completely. The theme of Corpse Party is friendship, and it likes to play with that theme in some pretty dark ways.
There are plenty of “Wrong Ends.” A bad selection in a dialogue tree can result in gruesome deaths, sometimes with unique art to go along with it. Save points are pretty liberal, so at worst you’ll be mashing through some long dialogue to get back to where you were. But these wrong ends are kind of what I was hoping for. They help break up the monotony of the constant talking and give a fun slasher vibe to the game. The dread may come from a ghostly voice behind you, egging you on, or trying not to drown in a blood-flooded bathroom.
A serviceable story with some real stumbles
After I settled into what the gameplay genre really was, I found myself equal parts enthralled and bored, depending on who was on screen. Certain characters exist as vapid tropes, such as Inumaru, a boy with a puppy-like obsession over a girl. Nearly every other word out of his mouth is the girl’s name. But then there are real winners, like the main character Ayumi. Ayumi has an amazing amount of character growth across the series, but particularly in this game. Not only are her flaws deep and believable, but her motivations play into the story so well that I would almost say that she saves the plot.
If you haven’t played any of the Corpse Party games, then you’re going to be abjectly lost. I managed to find my way around the missing info with my cursory knowledge, but there are so many terms and names thrown around indiscriminately that newcomers will have less than no chance. There is an encyclopedia listing all the important bits, but I would really have to recommend against going in blind. This is a climactic tale and the worst place to start from.
For existing fans only
The game is definitely a mixed bag. Whiplash between cutesy fan service scenes and brutal character deaths isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would say that only half of the game is satisfying to read through. When magical jargon isn’t being thrown around haphazardly, the supernatural plot goes in some really interesting places, with more than a few excellent set pieces. It’s safe to say that Corpse Party is at its best when cute girls are getting killed and at its worst when the cute girls are making kissy faces at each other for an hour straight with no deviation.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive feels imbalanced between its exploration and visual novel aspects. Luckily, what I did enjoy, I got engrossed in, and there are moments of genius in both segments. But ultimately, the exploration feels like an afterthought compared to the visual novel component. It’s definitely hard to recommend unless you’re already a Corpse Party fan.
Release Date: Oct. 10, 2019
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Adventure, Visual Novel, Puzzle
Publisher: Marvelous (XSEED)
A review code was provided by the publisher.