BOO! Did I scare you? I thought so! It's because you weren't expecting it.
BOO! Did I scare you again? No, probably not, because you knew it was coming.
And that's Corpse Party's Achilles's heel - the issue that takes it from being a really superb and surprisingly scary 16-bit styled horror title to being a bit of a chore to play.
Corpse Party demands that you repeatedly trudge through its creepy corridors and oppressive classrooms, experiencing events that shocked you multiple times, to the point that it's no longer even remotely unnerving. Which is a pity, because this negatively affects a title that is otherwise a remarkable achievement.
There are no incredible lighting effects or huge quantities of blood or volumetric fog to set the tone. There's just 2D sprites that wouldn't look out of place on the Mega Drive cautiously wandering down hallways, with a soundscape that is technically only shades more impressive than the bleeps and bloops of a Super Nintendo, aside from the full Japanese voice-acting.
The diametric opposite to Dead Space's grim and highly detailed space setting, Corpse Party's super-deformed characters are anime in nature: school girls and boys thrust into a seemingly inescapable hell in which you can almost count the pixels.
Its narrative is at first cliché. Kisaragi Academy students perform a ritual involving a paper doll that inadvertently transports them and their teacher to Heavenly Host Elementary, a school that was demolished decades previously after a series of murders.
They're then separated and advised by spirits to meet up with one another, told that though they won't be able to survive they will at least be able to die together.
Learning to read the writing on the walls...
More important than plot beats are the relationships and personalities that gradually unfold throughout the game2. Yui Shishido's motherly nature, Seiko Shinohara and Naomi Nakashima's friendship, and even the building within which they're trapped unfurl their mysteries slowly and surely through conversations with ghosts.
Rifling through shelves to find key objects, using said objects to clear paths, and absorbing volumes of text are the main activities. The language used is highly descriptive and often genuinely disgusting, making for pleasantly uncomfortable reading.
Play is steady and assured, advancing constantly, the varied environs meaning you'll never feel lost unless the game specifically wants you to. It's hard going, but the structure pushes you forward, the inquisitive part of your brain kicking in and compelling you to carry on as you unravel Heavenly Host's secrets.
Until you fail for the first time, at which point the game falls apart. Unlike Silent Hill and its multiple-ending conclusion - in which actions you took during your play-through culminate in one of several closing sequences - Corpse Party demands that you choose all the right paths to finish each individual chapter.
These chapters can take hours to complete, with no indication as to how you should play them, or if you've already done something to fail the game.
Since you sometimes can't progress, you have to repeat everything you went through. There are no alterations to the scares, so you'll anticipate every screech in the darkness, and expect upcoming line of dialogue.
Pretty quickly you start skipping text and disconnecting your brain from the atmosphere, the result being an exercise in changing minor decisions you made that could have given you that bad ending.
You can't apply logic to the formula Corpse Party wants you to solve, either. Information gleaned from the environment won't necessarily aid you, as the title attempts to trick you into failing by having 'rogue spirits' guide you away from correct answers.
One notice early on says that you shouldn't enter a room directly in front of you, so you continue for another 45 minutes and fail the chapter. The reason? The item you needed was in that room after all.
The most powerful tool in horror is the unknown: seeing a zombie a mile off isn't as scary as not seeing one in the cupboard beside you. Xseed Games's latest gets this element right the first time you play a section, and it's as tense an experience you'll find on the PSP's entire library.
As you traipse through its dank halls for the second, third, and fourth times, though, it loses that entirely. By the end the only mysteries you need to solve are what the designer wants you to do and, unfortunately, whether you're still willing to suffer through the rest of Corpse Party to see its conclusion.