Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Invitation To The Corpse Party

Adi Tantimedh writes;

Here’s a game that gives me lots to talk about: a Japanese survival horror game series called CORPSE PARTY, out for download on the PSP and Playstation Vita. I bought them when I got tired of shooting zombies and swarthy foreign soldiers.

CORPSE PARTY! Everyone’s invited! Especially if you’re a teenager! Where you will die horribly! Hooray!

The plot goes like this: High school kids take part in a ritual for kicks after school hours. High school kids get trapped hellish dimension version of school. High school kids discover this is the past. Last high school kids trapped here met horrible fates. High school kids descend into madness and horror. Ghostly spectres of dead kids, murderers and vengeful spirits stalk the halls. High school kids are so screwed. Like these things usually go.

It’s like LORD OF THE FLIES, GROUNDHOG DAY and THE RING stuffed in a blender. All the gloriously bloody, messy chunks included in the mix.

The interesting thing here is how the manga-anime scene is now largely fixated on teenagers and school life the way American mainstream comics are stuck in superheroes. It didn’t use to be like this. Back in the 80s and 90s, manga and anime was more diverse. In fact, what made it popular in the West in the first place was Science Fiction and Samurai stories. In the last decade or so, scene became dominated by high school stories, despite other, more mature and political genres still being successful over there. In the West, it’s become nearly all teenagers and moe and AKIRA and LONE WOLF AND CUB seem to have fallen by the wayside. If all you knew about Japan came from recent manga and anime, you’d think they’re completely nostalgic about high school to the point of fetishising it far more than American movies or TV ever do, like a lament for the time before adulthood sets in.

CORPSE PARTY began life as a PC game made with RPG Maker by doujin group Team GrisGris who have become pros as a result of its sales and popularity. It mashes a load of themes and impulses together as something made by genre fans without suits breathing down their necks can be. The artwork is cute moe, but the kids die as horribly as you can possibly imagine, and in ways you’d rather not. You move 16-bit SNES-style sprites across the screen to get them from one part of the game to the next, only to be greeted by impeccably-illustrated scenes of bloody teenage carnage. The whole story is awash in Teenage Armageddon. All the sentimental conventions of the high school genre are set up, then brutally stabbed in the gut at every turn. Every teenage fear, of death, of the death of friendship, of hatred, of failure, of descending into madness, of losing yourself is present in CORPSE PARTY. And drawn in the cutest way so that it becomes as creepy as possible. Even US licensing company Xseed’s translation of the lines into English is gleefully demented.

CORPSE PARTY is more like a point-and-click adventure game or visual novel. You play it for the story more than the crude gameplay. It wants you to play it again and again to see the multiple alternate endings. In that respect, it wants to trap you in its recurring nightmare just like its hapless kids.

CORPSE PARTY must have sold well enough for licensing company Xseed to release its sequel CORPSE PARTY: BOOK OF SHADOWS. More teen angst! More teen torture! More teen death! Except no more moving 16-bit cutesy pixies across the screen. BOOK OF SHADOWS is more like a collection of stories that fill in the blanks of the first game. Each chapter can be played separately and you get visual novel-style cutscenes of the characters as they move towards their doom or some kind of purgatory. The game has been popular enough in Japan to spawn a third as-yet-untranslated (and more comedic) game, several manga series and at least one anime series.

In the mid-90, J-Horror reigned supreme, but it overstayed its welcome by the mid-2000s with oversaturation. That drove the genre back to books, comics and anime. What Japanese Horror, including CORPSE PARTY, reveals is that Japan’s folklore and supernatural traditions are still as prevalent as they were in medieval times. There’s a non-Christian superstition and a fear of getting on the bad side of the spirits. In Japan, it’s not the slasher who comes after you for trying to have sex, but the spirits that you piss off when you ignore the warning and do the rituals that will call them. It’s a teenage dare, of course, to test the boundaries and facing death, which makes horror the best home for teen audiences. Interestingly, sex is conspicuously absent in CORPSE PARTY, suggesting that all the libido of these doomed kids has been channeled into killing and eating each other. You could spend weeks digging through the subtexts as you play. Every revelation of how the kids betrayed each other and bought it, is another tick on the checklist of things they fear most: the loss of friendship, trust, identity, sanity, followed by vital organs and the ability to breathe, pretty much in that order.

So CORPSE PARTY: cool? Maybe. There’s certainly a lot of bleeding in it.

CORPSE PARTY and CORPSE PARTY: BOOK OF SHADOWS are available on the Playstation Network for the PSP and Playstation Vita.

Stay away from weird rituals at lookitmoves@gmail.com

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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