Developed by Team GrisGris / 5pb Published by XSEED Games / Marvelous USA Reviewed on Switch (also available on PC and PlayStation Vita)
Corpse Party: Blood Drive is the third entry in the Corpse Party horror adventure series, offering closure to various plot threads and mysteries introduced in the prior games. It takes place two months after the end of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Ayumi, one of the survivors of the Heavenly Host high school incident, investigates Makina Shinozaki’s abandoned apartment in hopes of finding a way to revive her deceased friends. Ayumi and her friends once again find themselves returning to Heavenly Host. Originally released on the Vita in 2015, XSeed has recently released Blood Drive on Switch and PC with technical refinements.
For the uninitiated, the Corpse Party series has similarities to the Higurashi When They Cry series: teenagers committing graphic violence, loss of sanity, betrayal, super natural occurrences, and the occasional fan service. As with the previous games, Blood Drive is very plot heavy and driven by the choices the players make. Familiarity with the Corpse Party and Book of Shadow is a must. The cast features a blend of characters ranging from the surviving students to newer, more outlandish characters. These new characters such as Mitsuto and Magari add a bit of mystery and flair. The returning characters such as Naomi, Satoshi, and Yoshiki are a little wiser, but still largely the same personality-wise.
The localization is well done and accentuates the unease established by the audio video aspects. The crass and eccentric personalities of the newer characters really stand out through the dialogue as well. The descriptions of the various acts of violence and suffering can be especially unnerving, easily making this one of the most disturbing horror games to come out this year.
Blood Drive utilizes polygonal models in place of the 2D sprites used in the previous games. It also uses chibi-style character models, giving the characters huge, expressive heads. It’s an odd stylistic choice considering the graphic nature of the game, but it doesn’t take away from the eerie atmosphere the game masterfully establishes. The game still uses the 2D artwork illustrated by Sakuya Kamishiro for event scenes, however. The move to polygonal graphics enables the game to use a dynamic lighting system. Long shadows are cast whenever the characters shine their flashlights on objects, adding to the creepy immersion. There’s also more detail and grittiness to the settings, but like the previous entries, the visuals aren’t particularly notable. The original Vita release had numerous technical hiccups, most notably some choppiness and frame rate dips especially when using the flash light. The frequent load screens also made progression a chore. Thankfully the Switch and PC versions perform a lot better in these areas.
Like the prior games, Blood Drive features binaural audio, which reproduces sound the way human ears hear it. This gives the game a 3D stereo sound and gives the sound effects directional depth. This makes playing with headphones a must, especially with how the audio plays a key role in establishing the tone of the game. The soundtrack also does a stellar job contributing to the game’s tone, ranging from tender piano pieces to eerie music that furthers the feeling of unease. The sound effects are especially excruciating and cringe worthy. The voice acting is exclusively in Japanese and features strong performances from the original cast and the new characters. Expect to hear plenty of painfully convincing screams of anguish and pain.
Blood Drive uses the same chapter based system used in the prior games. There are 11 main chapters and 8 extra ones, making Blood Drive the longest game in the series. Each chapter has multiple endings (mostly bad ones), offering a tremendous amount of replay value. It’s also a good idea to keep multiple saves as seemingly innocuous decisions can completely alter the course of each chapter. You also earn stars by unlocking the various endings, but only by obtaining the yellow star for the chapter’s true ending will you be able to advance.
Each chapter is comprised of exploration, getting past obstacles, and running away from malicious phantoms. There’s also long stretches of dialogue heavy scenes that hinders the game’s pacing. Unlike the first person perspective used in Book of Shadows, Blood Drive utilizes the overhead perspective used in the first game. Newly added features include hiding in cabinets and disarming traps. The best addition is the ability to sprint, although an invisible stamina gauge prevents players from using it too often.
Blood Drive also shares a lot of the flaws from the first game. There’s still a lot of frustrating trial and error puzzles and boss encounters. It also takes a while for the game to get started gameplay-wise. Some of the later chapters feature an annoying amount of phantoms that relentlessly chase you. Also, the solutions for events can be obtuse and require backtracking as well. For instance, I was only able to inspect a key in a cupboard, but not permitted to actually take it until a certain event occurred. Then I had to go back to pick it up in order to advance the plot. This annoying padding makes the game’s pacing sluggish at times.
Despite the clunky trial and error nature of the game play, the engrossing story, the excellent audio, and the perpetual sense of urgency will keep players compelled to the very end. Blood Drive wraps up the plot threads from the prior games while also leaving room for sequels. Even with the recent surge of horror games, the Corpse Party series remains near the top of its class when it comes to compelling, suspenseful terror.