A couple of years ago, publisher 5pb released an English version of the cult Japanese indie horror game Corpse Party ($17.99) on the App Store. While it was plagued with some nasty bugs at launch, it was eventually updated to fix those major problems. The original version of the game, released on the Japanese PC-9801 platform in 1996, used RPG Maker to make a decidedly low-fi survival horror game. When the game’s remake, BloodCovered, hit Windows and PSP more than 10 years later, the series finally went international. Its solid success overseas fueled a string of sequels for a variety of platforms, with the latest release being the PlayStation Vita game Corpse Party: Blood Drive ($31.99). In an odd move, 5pb has opted to skip over all of the games following Corpse Party: BloodCovered to release an English version of Blood Drive on mobile.
From one perspective, it makes sense. Unlike the other games in the series, which use a variety of custom engines that may or may not work well on mobile, Blood Drive runs on an engine that mobile players are quite familiar with: the Unity engine. To tell the truth, this wasn’t a good choice for a Vita game. Unless the developer uses a lot of tricks, Unity runs pretty badly on the Vita. As a result, Blood Drive got a lot of criticism for technical issues like framerate drops and frequent, lengthy loading times. By contrast, Unity runs quite well on iOS, making those load times a lot shorter and the framerate drops virtually a non-issue. Simply put, this is the best version of Blood Drive yet, and it likely wasn’t nearly as troublesome to port as the original title.
From another perspective, this was a really bad idea. I’ve played the original Corpse Party to completion twice, but I had to go diving into Wikis to get my bearings in Blood Drive. There were a few games released between BloodCovered and Blood Drive, but the absence of an English version of one particular game on iOS makes this a real hassle. While all of the games spin around the ideas introduced in the first game, the most tightly connected games in terms of plot are those that make up the Heavenly Host story arc. Corpse Party: BloodCovered is the first part, and Blood Drive is the third part. What we’re missing is Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, the game that begins new threads on what was originally a one-off game, fleshes out the characters, and sets up Blood Drive‘s narrative. Imagine if you watched the first Pirates of the Caribbean, skipped the second, and tried to understand what the heck was going on in the third. You’ll eventually get your bearings, but for a game that leans so heavily on its plot, it’s weird to be missing so much important information and character development.
Adding to the confusion is that the game has adopted a new graphical style, replacing the retro-style sprites of the first game with… well, with retro-style low-poly 3D models. You still get distinctive 2D art for each character that displays when they speak, but when you’re just looking at the models on-screen, it can pretty tough to tell who is who. The style of graphics also looks a lot more adorable than the pixel art did. Don’t get me wrong, some horrific, screwed-up things happen in this game regularly. But seeing these big-headed blobs acting out these scenes greatly reduces the fear factor. It would almost be better if nothing at all was shown and your imagination did the work. A girl stabbing herself with a pair of scissors because she’s having a mental break-down is pretty intense, but it loses a lot of intensity when you watch a chibi 3D model trying to act it out by flailing her crudely-rendered stumpy hands. Ghosts and other things that are meant to scare you also come off less horrific than they do comedic. I know the developers were just trying to preserve the SD-style of the original game in 3D, but it isn’t nearly as effective for scaring the player.
All of that said, if you can get past that initial hump of confusion and try not to snicker too much at the unintentional comedy of flailing rejects from the Nintendo 64, Blood Drive is a pretty interesting game. It’s messed up in similar ways to the first game, and if you enjoyed the twisty tale that game told, you’ll probably like what you find here, too. As before, it’s something of a hybrid of an adventure game, survival horror, and a visual novel. You’ll have to explore locations solving light puzzles and avoiding dangers, trying to stretch out limited resources in order to stay alive. On the narrative side, there are multiple bad endings to uncover by failing in particular ways, and as in previous games, finding all of the odd ways you can die becomes a bit of a meta-game in and of itself.
Virtual buttons are used to move, interact with objects, run, switch between party members, and use your battery-powered flashlight. The game is broken up into multiple chapters, each featuring a particular mix of characters for you to control. Broadly speaking, your goal is to try to bring back the four friends you lost during the course of the first game. They were not only killed, but actually wiped out of existence, and only the surviving students seem to remember them. A chance meeting tips off a guilt-ridden Ayumi Shinozaki to a way of possibly correcting some of her past mistakes, and since she’s apparently never played one of these games before herself, she foolishly dives in danger, dragging her remaining friends along with her. Many of the familiar sights from the previous games are here, including the Heavenly Host school and series antagonist Sachiko. There are lots of new faces too, but I wouldn’t get too attached to most of them. You know how these stories go.
While the game is technically in a lot better shape than the Vita version, there are still quite a few loading screens to contend with. It’s also obvious the game was designed around a button interface, as certain actions can be a bit more complicated than they ought to be. The new characters aren’t terribly likable, and the overall plot isn’t nearly as strong as that of the first game, either. While it’s still good for some scares and chills, the feeling of dread isn’t nearly as strong in Blood Drive as it was in the first game. That’s probably as much to do with the new visual style as anything else, but whatever the reason, it does hurt the game’s appeal somewhat. The fact that iOS players don’t have easy access to the game that bridges the original story and this one is not ideal, either.
If you haven’t played the first game yet, I’d recommend going and doing that before you even consider this one. You will be utterly lost without it. After that, I’m not sure what to say. You could jump in on this admittedly good version of a decent sequel knowing that you’re going to have to sort out the confusion of the missing plot elements from Corpse Party: Book of Shadows and completely spoil the plot of that game should it ever come. Your other options are to either play Book of Shadows on another platform or wait for the English version to come to iOS. This is a fine version of Blood Drive, and with many of the technical problems plaguing the Vita version sorted out, it’s easy enough to recommend to Corpse Party fans, but 5pb sure didn’t do players any favors by releasing these games out of order.