Keeping it All in the Family (Sorta)
Let’s start this review by ripping off the bandage straight away; Corpse Party: Blood Drive wasn’t my favorite entry in the series. No, I don’t think it’s objectively bad (if I did, I wouldn’t be trying to sugar-coat things so much), but it’s definitely the Corpse Party title that left the biggest impression on me. If you ask me, the heart and soul of this series lies within two core components; its haunting and horrifying (in a good way, trust me) audio/visual combo, and its writing. I mean, have you played Book of Shadows? That is some seriously horrifying, and seriously well-written storytelling. Not that Blood Drive is sunshine and roses or anything (you saw the featured image for this review, right?), but this series’ writing is so good at pulling me into the hellish nightmare that is Corpse Party that I don’t think that anything else can compare. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Blood Drive is a Corpse Party title. And, personal fondness for its VN approach aside, there’s no denying that this game, alongside all others in the series, is one worth checking out.
Picking up not too far where Book of Shadows’ “bonus” chapter left off, Blood Drive follows the four survivors of Heavenly Host as they… well, try to live normal lives after making their escape from Heavenly Host. Of course, for the survivors, “normalcy” isn’t really something that exists anymore. Having almost died countless times at the hands of Sachiko while in the Everafter, and then, in Ayumi’s case, having tried to use the Book of Shadows to resurrect their dead friends—an act which only lead to the demise of Ayumi’s own sister—the somber survivors of Heavenly Host seem to be irreversibly linked to the world which they escaped from not too long ago; and it is this very irreversible link which ultimately drives them (although not all at once) to return to Heavenly Host one final time in order to make things right. Of course, with a new spirit wandering Heavenly Host—one who, if you can believe it, is actually even less hospitable than Shachiko herself—and a handful of powerful organizations attempting to claim the Everafter for themselves, it’s going to take everything that the Kisaragi High survivors (and, especially, Ayumi), have to see their goals all the way through.
Listen, I don’t care who you are; if you don’t think that Corpse Party‘s world-building prowess is what ultimately lies within the heart of the series, then you’re wrong. And, while Blood Drive doesn’t delve into weaving a narrative with quite as much depth as its spin-offs have (due to them literally being visual novels), the world-building that is there is just as good as it’s ever been. Not only does Blood Drive to continue building upon its pre-existing cast members—both primary and supporting—thanks to a delightful infusion of “main” and “EX” chapters, but its numerous new faces fit in naturally, and can easily be welcomed by fans of the series.
Blood Drive‘s story isn’t perfect, though. Despite everything that it does to bolster its own lore, it doesn’t do enough to entirely make up for the absence of Sachiko. Sachiko, in my opinion, is one of the best antagonists that I’ve ever come across. She’s absolutely vile, and essentially psychotic—which makes it easy to hate her—but her tragic backstory (no, I’m not using that term ironically), combined with her occasional moments of clarity, makes it difficult to not empathize with her on some aspects, if only even for a few passing seconds. Blood Drive takes Sachiko from her position as the lead villain (for obvious reasons) and replaces her with Sachi—a
gremlin little girl who is basically just Sachiko but with no verbal skills, and no empathy. From an objective standpoint, Sachi’s role makes perfect sense. From the standpoint who has spent countless hours, and several games, being terrorized by, and on occasion feeling badly for (especially after Sweet Sachiko’s Birthday Bash) the all-too-familiar Shinozaki hellspawn clad in red, a Corpse Party game without Sachiko as the big baddie feels a little sad.
These Hallowed Halls of Heavenly Host
Contrary to the complexity of Blood Drive‘s story, its gameplay is, for lack of a better term, fairly straightforward. Set up as a standard horror adventure game and boasting a kind of simplicity that almost feels charming, most of what you’ll be doing in Blood Drive amounts to little more than walking around in a 3D environment and attempting to solve puzzles. As previous games have taught us, however, a “simplistic” approach to gameplay doesn’t always mean an easy one. In true Corpse Party fashion, Blood Drive isn’t shy about taking a more nuanced approach in regard to what it wants the player to do. There are plenty of times, especially during the latter half of the game, where something as simple as finding a specific item ends up being more trouble than it’s worth due to the fact that there are so many nooks and crannies to explore in this game—and the fact that so many parts of Heavenly Host look nearly identical (combined with a lack of map, of course) can artificially pad out the gameplay in a rather unappealing manner.
There are also the ever-so-lovely denizens of Heavenly Host to be weary of as well. As this is an adventure game, and not a VN, Blood Drive isn’t simply content to describe the horrors surrounding the player; they throw them headfirst into the danger themselves. Starting a little before the halfway point of the game, Blood Drive starts getting extremely aggressive with phantoms—shadowy figures that chase the player around, damaging them and worsening their Darkening status upon contact. Now, chase sequences aren’t new in horror games—in fact, they’re kind of a staple—and I don’t expect to get away from every monster that chases 100% of the time. I mean, come on, this is a Corpse Party game; the game literally rewards you for dying. But, do you know what else this game rewards you for? Carefully and slowly exploring your surroundings. That’s not really something that you can do when you’ve got a ghost following you around the whole school screaming at you to stop running away. And just in case that isn’t bad enough, Blood Drive‘s controls also aren’t very conducive to making a clean getaway (or even to getting far away enough from your attacker to hide inside of a closet). It’s a good thing that you can reset all enemy positions by saving and re-loading your game (seriously, though, keep that in mind). Otherwise, I honestly might have ended up giving up partway through the game.
Struggling Against the Darkness
As sad as I am to say that Corpse Party: Blood Drive doesn’t end with quite the fervor that I’ve come to expect from the series at this point, I absolutely would not count it out. Sure, the gameplay itself leaves a bit to be desired, but the story—you know, the thing that really matters in a game like this—should be more than enough to draw in pre-existing fans. The first saga of the Corpse Party series may be over, but if the games so far are anything to go by, Corpse Party still has a very bright future ahead of itself.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Vita; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Mages, 5pb. ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 10, 2019 (PC/Switch) ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Corpse Party: Blood Drive given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.