When it came time to make up our “Best of 2011” lists at the end of last year, a little PSP horror game from Team GrisGris, 5pb, and XSEED called Corpse Party was my #2 game for the year. My #1 game was Dark Souls—a choice that really required little justification, even among those who chose something else for that particular spot. Putting Corpse Party at #2, however, seemed crazy to many. First of all, it was on the PSP—and wasn’t that thing dead? Second, it looked like something from the 16-bit era of gaming—and gameplay-wise, played like something even older. Plus, not only was it on the PSP, but it was a horror game on the PSP. Does that concept even work?
It was crazy for XSEED Games to even consider bringing Corpse Party over to North America—but, sometimes, crazy pays off. The game became a cult classic, and those of us who became fans of the game and its characters hoped we’d see more chapters of the franchise brought to the West.
Well, that’s exactly what has happened. XSEED—together with 5pb, their parent company MAGES, and original Corpse Party creators Team GrisGris—have just announced Corpse Party: Book of Shadows for release here on our shores. The game will be coming as a digital download (like Corpse Party) via PSN this Winter in North America, with plans for release “sometime shortly thereafter” in Europe. Oh, and speaking of Corpse Party—if you haven’t played it yet, the game will be on sale for $10 from tomorrow (October 23rd) until November 6th.
Book of Shadows is interesting for a few reasons. First, what little actual “move a character around with direct control” gameplay there was in Corpse Party is now gone, replaced by a game that’s far more in the Japanese adventure game tradition that 5pb is known for. As well, how Book of Shadows connects to the first Corpse Party might not be what you’d expect—but more on that in a moment.
At Tokyo Game Show 2012, I had the chance to sit down for a few minutes with Yasuhiko Nomura, a producer at MAGES / 5pb who worked on Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Here’s our conversation.
EGM: When I first started playing Corpse Party, I wasn’t sure how a game with those kinds of simple graphics and gameplay were going to provide a frightening experience. And yet, it did—and I was also blown away by how the game used audio to present horror. Why do you think Corpse Party was as effective as it was in presenting scary situations, in spite of the simplicity it had going for it?
Yasuhiko Nomura: For one, sound is very important—I think it is absolutely essential to Corpse Party. Another is the player’s imagination; with a combination of sound and the text that they’re reading, their imagination can run wild. That’s how players really feel the horror deep down in their body—and not just see it on screen.
EGM: I’ve always found the difference between Western horror and Japanese horror interesting. For us, horror is often a guy in a mask, and he has an axe, and he swings it into you, and blood goes flying everywhere. Japanese horror, however, is more psychological, and more about the mental and emotional fears versus the physical ones. Why do you think Japanese horror tends to be that way?
Nomura: I definitely feel that it has a lot to do with Japanese culture. It’s something that’s been around for a long time, where it’s not necessarily what you see—like a person getting chopped up or whatever—that’s scary. That’s not necessarily scary to us. What’s scary is what we can’t see, and feeling that horror, and trembling down to our very bones.
EGM: What were the goals in coming up with Book of Shadows as a new Corpse Party project?
Nomura: One was the fact that in Corpse Party: Blood Covered Fear [ed: the Japanese name for what was simply called Corpse Party in NA], there are some characters that die very early on in the game. Because of that, they didn’t get a whole lot of character development. That was a motivating factor for me during the development of Book of Shadows—that chance to develop those character better.
EGM: How does Book of Shadows connect to the first Corpse Party?
Nomura: There are two scenarios in Book of Shadows: One of them starts from the true end of the original Corpse Party, and the other is more of a compilation of events connected to the various other loop ends from that game.
EGM: So, then, Book of Shadows gives us a more expanded look at the events of the first game?
Nomura: Other than the part that picks up from the true end, the other portion of Book of Shadows really does expand on some of the scenarios presented in the original Corpse Party—due to there being so many different ending possibilities in that game.
EGM: How did you personally get introduced to Corpse Party? Was it when 5pb was going to become involved with crafting the PSP port of the game, or had you played Corpse Party in its previous form?
Nomura: I was working on other adventure games for 5pb when Team GrisGris—the original creators of the PC version—approached our company about the possibility of working together to put Corpse Party out on a console or handheld. At that time, I played the PC version, I looked over the materials that they brought us, and then thought that it was something that I definitely wanted to get involved in.
EGM: What did you feel you and the other folks at 5pb could bring to the Corpse Party franchise in the creation of Book of Shadows?
Nomura: In the first Corpse Party, players controlled the characters as these very small sprites, and that’s no longer in Book of Shadows; I took it more in a Japanese adventure style. You’ll still be able to inspect all of the various stuff like you could before, but you won’t be moving actual characters around. In terms of everything else, Corpse Party had such fantastic horror elements, so we didn’t want to mess with any of those.
EGM: I was going to ask about that. The first Corpse Party was interesting, because it had a lot of elements that you find in Japanese adventure games, and then there was a little bit of gameplay—but not a whole lot. So that was one of the changes you wanted to make—moving it more to the adventure side, instead of adding in more actual character-controlling gameplay?
Nomura: At 5pb, we’re known for putting out text-based adventure games. So, in order to try to appeal more to our own group of fans, I thought that was a good direction to take the series—to go the way that they expect of a 5pb title.
EGM: I know that Corpse Party 2 goes back to that previous style, where you’re controlling characters and exploring locations. So do you see Book of Shadows as sort of a test, or as an experiment in what you could do with the series?
Nomura: Indeed—we considered it a sort of challenge for our team.
EGM: In working with the Corpse Party series—both for the original game and for Book of Shadows—was there a character that you ended up especially liking?
Nomura: Hmmm. [laughs] I do like all of the characters. But, keeping that in mind, in the second scenario of Book of Shadows that I was telling you about earlier—where we focus more on the characters that were maybe left out, or who were not focused on enough in my mind in the first game—there are a lot of additional storyline elements going on with them now. With that said, I would have to say—going off of the true ending from the first Corpse Party—Ayumi is the main character, and she’s one that’s the most developed, so she’s my choice.
EGM: Maybe this is just my personal preference showing through, but I feel among American fans, Seiko might be the most popular character. [laughs]
Nomura: Oh, is that so? In Japan, I think it’s the same way. [laughs] Fans really did like Seiko. Maybe it has something to do with her being a good girl and a good person, but there’s really no way to save her, and she’s doomed.
EGM: How do you feel about the reaction the first Corpse Party got in America? And, with Book of Shadows being more of an adventure game—and that genre not necessarily being hugely popular here in the States—how do you think the reaction will be for this game?
Nomura: I was very surprised that Corpse Party did as well as it did in the United States. I’d always kind of imagined American gamers as being into first-person shooters with superior graphics, since games coming out of America these days are using impressive tech to put out some amazingly beautiful experiences. But, I did know that there’s a small niche fan base of anime fans out there, and I did think that they may go and purchase the game. But, I didn’t think that Corpse Party would be purchased as much as it was.
And, to be absolutely honest, yes—I am a little concerned about how Book of Shadows will appeal to the American audience. There are less exploration elements involved, but in exchange we’ve put in more event scenes. And, again, being honest, with Book of Shadows, we were targeting more the Japanese gamer, and the 5pb fan base. To an adventure gamer, they don’t seem to enjoy the really involved gameplay elements, such as actively searching or having to run away. We heard that a lot of Japanese players actually couldn’t run away in some of the scenes in Corpse Party, and were getting frustrated.
EGM: With Corpse Party doing better in America than you had expected, does that make you feel like you want to give more consideration to Western players when you make games? Or do you feel like 5pb still needs to first focus on Japanese fans, and then hope that Westerners will also enjoy your projects?
Nomura: Even if we wanted to target a foreign audience such as American gamers, you have to keep in mind that Corpse Party is very much based on Japanese culture—such as the games taking place in a Japanese high school or elementary school. So, that would be tough to do, not the mention the additional costs involved when trying to bring in a lot of other elements that we think other markets may like. For the first Corpse Party, our costs were very low thanks to XSEED translating and releasing the game—so we were able to try the game in the US market to see if it would succeed or not. With that said, however—as you mentioned before—we’ve also working on another Corpse Party title, and that one is going to go back to the original and its gameplay style.
EGM: A lot of people say that you can’t do horror on handheld systems; the screen’s too small, and you can play it anywhere, so it doesn’t provide a good platform for trying to do something that’s scary. And yet, I think Corpse Party proved that you can use a variety of elements to produce that horror you’re shooting for. In creating Book of Shadows, were there any situations where your team found it was difficult to do something that you wanted to do because of being on a handheld?
Nomura: Actually, no. Personally, I really didn’t go into the project thinking that there was anything that would be limited be trying to create horror on a portable as opposed to a console. In thinking about the market, Japanese gamers don’t really have that much time to just sit down at home in front of their TVs to play console games—they tend to enjoy playing games in small chunks when they’ve got a little free time, such as when riding on the train. So, from the very beginning, we definitely wanted to cater to that audience as well.
EGM: So, for my final question—when are we in America going to get to play Steins;Gate?
Nomura: [laughs] Compared to Corpse Party, Steins;Gate has just a humongous amount of text that needs to be translated. If there are a lot of American fans out there who do want to see Steins;Gate localized and released in America, then please bug XSEED—maybe they’ll do it! [laughs]