Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Corpse Party

Corpse Party
Developer: Team GrisGris
Publisher: XSeed Games
Adventure - PSP
1 player
Corpse Party

I love Japanese horror. There is a certain quality in them that's distinct from Hollywood. In general, they don't rely on visceral scares, but instead penetrate your psyche with dark imagery and atmosphere, so that you're left with unsettled feelings long after the film is over. They also tend to have a human aspect to it, where even the "bad guy" has some relatable qualities. Enter Corpse Party. It was originally a PC-9801 game, turned PC remake, turned PSP game (and now iOS).

Corpse Party has roots in RPG Maker, with its simple 2/3 overhead RPG perspective and sprite graphics. But it's all adventure game through and through, with plenty of character dialog, cut scenes, item fetching, and branching paths. The game begins at a high school, where a group of students and a teacher gather together and perform a charm. The charm backfires, causing an earthquake that splits the group apart as they fall through the chasm, leaving them at the mercy of the evil spirits within.

The game is broken up into 5 chapters, and will often have you controlling different characters and exploring the specific area those characters are in. Every chapter has multiple endings, although generally only one of them will be "good", allowing you to progress further in the game. Your dialog choices, the objects you pick up, the objects you use (or don't use), and order of actions can determine your fate. I do like the fact that even if you choose poorly, the bad endings are worth pursuing. They can be gruesome, tragic, and accompanied by some detailed artwork. But even better is that they often fill in gaps in the story, you might not otherwise know about. So even though you "lose", you "win". That is one of the aspects that gives Corpse Party a reason to replay and explore.

As far as the actual horror aspect, it definitely delivers in the same way that I like J-horror films. Despite the simple visuals, it's able to convey a sense of creepiness through little details in the backdrops, CG cut scenes, and writing style. Retaining the original Japanese voice-work definitely helps a lot in that regard. Corpse Party is exactly what I would hoped a horror adventure game would be, but the addition of multiple endings per chapter elevates it beyond expectation.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Developer: Phosfiend Systems
Publisher: Phosfiend Systems
Adventure - PC
1 Save Slot
1 player

Perhaps the one hobby I enjoy more than gaming is music. I love listening to music, performing music, and have a deep respect for the creation of music.  (I'd create myself if I were more talented. Maybe one day.) Combine gaming with music and you've got a recipe for hitting all my right notes.

FRACT OSC is a first-person puzzle exploration adventure game. It drops you off in a desolate, other-worldly place with strange architectures and mechanical innards. You don't know why you're there. You're not given much instruction either, other than a single hint that you have an interaction mode. While utilized, movement is a little more constrained, but you will be able to see and manipulate the objects that you need. Once you pick up on the game's language, things start to click.

At its core, FRACT OSC is all about discovery. You'll explore this strange place, hit dead-ends (some temporary), develop a mental mapping of the layout, and learn how to traverse. Similarly, you'll encounter puzzles with no directions. But as soon as you start experimenting with what you can manipulate, how you can manipulate them, and observe what happens to your surroundings both visually and aurally, you'll start to understand the world's language. Nothing is a gimme in FRACT OSC, but if you pay attention, all the clues are there. Plus the puzzles are generally relatively simple until the very end game.

What cements everything together is a brooding synthesizer musical backdrop. Initially the world is a silent place. But as you come across the puzzles, faint synth music plays. As you get closer and closer to a solution, more musical layers are added, crescendoing into an explosion of neon lights and musical resolution upon completion of the puzzle. That's one of the finer details of the game, in which it gives you immediate feedback and reward once you figured out the puzzle. The world becomes permanently brighter, and livelier. Often the world changes a little bit, offering up new passages or opening of doors that were previously closed off. By the end of the game, there is a vibrance - a flourishing in the world. You did not leave it untouched.

It should be mentioned that in addition to a exploration puzzle adventure game, FRACT OSC has an in-game music studio sequencer. Pieces of the music studio are unlocked as you complete puzzles from the game portion, which also produces one additional layer of satisfaction from solving them. The end product is not nearly as thorough or friendly as dedicated sequencing software (professional or even the KORG or KORG-likes for the Nintendo DS), but this could be someone's introduction to the world of electronica-creation, and I'm all for that. FRACT OSC makes it so you can save your settings and songs, as well as import/export. I've already seen a bunch of Youtube user-creations using the studio, so it's a pretty versatile tool.

I would be the first to say that FRACT OSC is not for everyone. Some might find the lack of hand-holding too obtuse, although I think the game provides plenty of feedback to figure things out. And whereas I thought the puzzles were varied just enough to keep me entertained, others may find that the 3 major types of puzzles too limiting. But for those who enjoy the feeling of exploration and discovery, Phosfiend Systems has completely nailed it. This was an unforgettable trip.