Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Interview with XSEED Games - Corpse Party: Book of Shadows

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is releasing soon on the PlayStation Network, playable on PSP or Vita, but before that we wanted to take some time to learn more about it. We went right to the source and got in touch with localization specialist Tom Lipschultz of XSEED Games (who translated and edited the original Corpse Party) to get all the gory details.

Michael A. Cunningham (Pocket-Console): Greetings, and thanks for taking the time to chat about Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. The original game was more of an RPG without the battles, how does Book of Shadows shake things up in the move to a point-and-click adventure?

Tom Lipschultz (Localization Specialist, XSEED Games): Honestly, it's not toooo much different in its approach than the first Corpse Party, despite the gameplay shift. The biggest change is that there are more story scenes in Book of Shadows, and less time between story scenes. There is still exploration, though -- during "search mode" (a.k.a. the point-and-click sections), you can press the L button to bring up a map of the school, which consists of board game-like squares representing individual rooms and parts of the hallway. While this map is up, you can direct the cursor to a desired location and press the X button to start your characters walking there. This walk is accompanied by a series of first person-view still images, and ends in another "search mode" at the new location when you get there. That is, assuming nothing happens to you or gets in your way before you reach your destination... in which case, your trek is cut short and either a dialogue-driven cutscene or search mode is triggered somewhere along the way instead.

The meat of the game this time around is very definitely those dialogue-driven cutscenes, however, which are far greater in number and scope than anything in the first game. Some scenes -- and even chapters -- even approach full-on visual novel territory. In short, this is a VERY story-heavy game.

MAC: How has this gameplay shift changed the way the game's displays its creepy atmosphere?

TL: Well, interestingly, the gameplay shift hasn't affected it much at all, at least in my opinion. The biggest change in the atmosphere comes from the ability to save at absolutely any moment, as well as the ability to fast-forward text. These are sort of mixed blessings, as they're features people who played the first game have really been clamoring for... but they do make getting a wrong end and dying horribly seem much less threatening, since you can always just pick right back up wherever you went wrong and keep on playing as if nothing ever happened. It's kind of odd how smart, convenient game design can sometimes work against the game's impact in that sense.

Fortunately, Book of Shadows relies more on the events that occur during its story to drive the atmosphere. You're not frightened so much because of the threat of things jumping out at you as you are of the situations themselves. This game really pushes the envelope, taking the horror a step farther than its predecessor and venturing into truly uncomfortable territory with the things it does to its characters. You'll be on the edge of your seat because you know what's coming... you just don't know when. And while you're morbidly curious to see how it'll play out, part of you just doesn't even want to know, because you know it's something you won't be able to "unsee."

In short, this is a really insidious game that'll definitely get under your skin. It won't frighten you as much in the short term as the first Corpse Party, but it'll leave more of a lasting impression, staying in the back of your mind for days and weeks to come (whether you like it or not!).

MAC: The first Corpse Party had issues with having to repeat sections of after a wrong end. How has this been changed in Book of Shadows? Fast-forwarding being available and saving anytime, sounds like a great start.

TL: Yeah, I think you kinda answered your own question there! ;) Being able to save anywhere you want really is pretty huge... because I don't just mean "outside of cutscenes." I mean during cutscenes as well. Dialogue box up on the screen? Doesn't matter. You can open the menu and save anyway. Got a choice of two options on the screen? Open the menu and save before you pick one -- that way, if you pick the wrong one, you'll be able to load your savegame and try the other one right away. And with 64 savegame slots, you can totally go nuts with saving -- you'll never run out!

The fast-forwarding, too, exists as sort of a backup, just in case you forgot to save. This is pretty crazy fast-forwarding, too -- hold the R button, and every line of dialogue literally stays on the screen for exactly ONE FRAME. I learned this while taking footage, actually, and was kind of blown away. These chapters are looooong... but if you fast-forward the whole time, you can easily get through a whole chapter in like, 10-15 minutes. Don't know why you'd want to, since you'll be missing out on the best part of the game... but hey, if anybody wanted to speedrun Book of Shadows for some reason, the game sure makes it easy enough to do!

As mentioned above, this does make wrong ends a lot less threatening, but 5pb seems to have answered that call by "upping the ante," so to speak. Wrong ends in Book of Shadows are... typically not at all what you'd expect. Some don't even involve characters dying at all... at least, not right away. Some of the best wrong ends in the game, really, are the ones that are the most unexpected. The ones that seem almost like good ends... for one character, anyway. They're wrong ends that'll stick with you for entirely different reasons than the ones in the first Corpse Party...

As an aside, I should also mention that the obtuseness of the original game has been toned down quite a bit, which also helps ensure that players won't have to backtrack as much. The true end path in each chapter is much easier to figure out, and there are far fewer circumstances that might railroad you into a wrong end path.

MAC: On the original Corpse Party, XSEED (or more specifically Tom Lipschultz) did the complete translation in-house. How has this localization differed from the first game?

TL: That's me! ;)

XSEED let me handle the translation and editing again this time, so it should be pretty consistent with the previous game's. The only addition is that we had a translation intern for a few weeks, and gave a few parts of the game to him to help speed up the process. John Wheeler is his name, and he helped out immensely, providing us with first-draft translations for chapters 3 and 4 before he left, as well as system text, name tag text and English subtitles for all the voice actor interviews that you unlock by completing each chapter. His text was all later edited by me for consistency with the tone and terminologies from the rest of the game (and the first Corpse Party), but just having such a huge chunk translated in advance definitely made the whole process much easier, and we're very thankful to him for his contributions.

On a more technical note, the translation of this Corpse Party differed a lot from its predecessor due to the shift in gameplay style. Because of the almost visual novel-like approach taken by Book of Shadows, there's a lot more narration and internal monologue this time around, which is something none of us are really used to (since RPGs tend to use such things very sparingly by comparison). It felt almost like translating an actual book at times, and presented a lot of unexpected challenges in terms of voice, tense, etc.

It was a challenge very much accepted, though, and I feel proud of my work on the end product. I hope you'll all be looking forward to it!

MAC: I know the "butter up my pooper" line was defended as being accurately translated in the original Corpse Party, but I think it became more of an in-joke like "spoony bard." Any other "charming" pieces of dialogue in Book of Shadows?

TL: It's hard to say if anything will quite reach the "mini-meme" status that particular line seems to enjoy, but Book of Shadows certainly has its fair share of quotables. My personal favorite comes from a later chapter:

"What's this? Your belly is bouncy like a water balloon! It must be full of guts..."

I really love that line. It's basically a word-for-word translation from the Japanese, and I just... couldn't make it any better in editing. I just couldn't! It's simply perfect as it is!

MAC: You didn't end up cutting any content out of the original Corpse Party, any examples of questionable content in this one?

TL: Heh. Yeah, plenty of it. No censorship again, but I'd say this game definitely pecks at the upper edges of the M rating. Violence aside, Book of Shadows contains no less than three instances where female characters wet themselves (one of which is followed by a quest to find a suitable place to bury her panties!) and also features a plot point that centers around the liquid essence of evil leaking out from a person's crotch. I'm not even kidding.

Prepare to feel uncomfortable while playing Book of Shadows. Which is... kind of the point, I think. Consider it a different variety of horror, piled on top of the existing variety. ;)

MAC: 7) I was a huge fan of the soundtrack of Corpse Party. How does game's OST compare to the original? Does sound play as important of a role this time around?

TL: Well, Mao Hamamoto is the composer again, so all the new compositions are very much in the same style as the original game's. A lot of them are more subdued, however, serving more as subtle mood enhancers than anything else (and doing their job very, very well, I might add!). Others are pulled from the first game verbatim. The rest, then, are very much what we've come to expect from Hamamoto, serving as excellent supplements to the first game's wonderful soundtrack. A personal favorite of mine is "Struggling Against Fate (A)," which plays toward the end of chapter one and serves a function similar to a classic RPG "hurry" theme. It's awesome!

And yes, sound is still just as important an element in Book of Shadows as it was in the original. Many of the voices are recorded binaurally to give them a 3D effect when playing with headphones, just as before. In fact, one of the unlockable extras (gained for completing all eight chapters) is a thing we've dubbed the "EVP Machine," which allows you to take binaurally- recorded voiced lines from throughout the entire game and combine them together into playlists to create your own custom 3D conversations. Which is something that certainly can't be abused at all, of course! ;)

MAC: Could you clear up the Corpse Party series history a bit for us? This is not Corpse Party 2, but that also exists. It's all a little messy.

TL: Well, as you may know, 5pb developed Book of Shadows in-house (though don't worry: Kedwin, the original creator, still served as both a consultant and writer -- he's got writing credits in every chapter, and is actually listed as the sole writer in several of them!), while Team GrisGris set about developing their own sequel on PC (under the name GrindHouse). As a result, it's kind of like the series split in two after the first game: there's the GrisGris/GrindHouse Corpse Party branch, and the 5pb/Mages Corpse Party branch.

...I don't know if that's officially the reason for the inconsistent numbering or not, but it makes sense that it would be, at least!

My other theory is that all the Corpse Party games taking place in or around Heavenly Host Elementary School are, collectively, to be regarded as Corpse Party 1, while all the Corpse Party games taking place in or around the new hospital setting GrisGris/GrindHouse is introducing in Dead Patient are to be regarded collectively as Corpse Party 2.

Either way, there are six "official" Corpse Party games at the moment, as well as numerous unofficial fan-games (like Corpse Party Zero). There's the original 1996 freeware game (which is actually a very different game from the Windows/PSP version, and has been translated to English by some dedicated fans if anyone is curious), the 2008 PC reimagining (which gained the subtitle "BloodCovered"), our previously-released updated PSP port of that reimagining (which gained the additional subtitle "Repeated Fear" in Japan, but had all its subtitles stripped in North America and Europe), Book of Shadows (the game we're discussing here), the Japan-only 5pb/Mages romantic comedy "Corpse Party: Sachiko's Game of Love ~Hysteric Birthday 2U~" (yes, that's seriously the name of it, and yes, it is indeed a Corpse Party romantic comedy!), and GrisGris/GrindHouse's upcoming "Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient" on PC (which looks amazing).

MAC: It was honestly a little surprising to see XSEED release the first Corpse Party, so seeing the second game announced must mean that it's been a success so far. How has the reception been so far? Way beyond your wildest dreams?

TL: Can't talk sales numbers, so you'll forgive me if I answer with the vague statement that "the game has performed well thus far"... but as far as critical and fan reception goes, it's been an absolute runaway success for us, without a doubt. Fans can't seem to stop discussing it, and it's really gotten quite a reputation for itself among horror gamers. I'd call it a sleeper hit, and it makes me very happy to see people enjoying it (and getting scared by it!) as much as they are.

There's no doubt in my mind that anyone who enjoyed the first game will also greatly enjoy Book of Shadows, too. Forget the gameplay differences and all that -- the core of the game is still Corpse Party, through and through, and I honestly can't see someone loving one game without also loving the other. It's pretty much the perfect sequel where it counts.

MAC: It almost shows that Japanese developers need to quit worrying about what will succeed in the Western market and just make interesting games within their own creative realm. Good games will succeed. Along that line of thought, how has it been to work with 5pb on these titles?

TL: 5pb is great. They're quick to respond to emails, very accommodating of requests, succinct yet informative in their communications, and just an absolute pleasure to work with all around. In fact, working with them is so painless, it almost feels like there must be a catch somewhere. We usually have a LOT more trouble with developers than that. ;)

MAC: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the readers?

TL: Well, the one thing I haven't really touched upon in this interview is the Darkening system, which is a very subtle addition to Book of Shadows, but one that I feel is worth mentioning.

Basically, your character in each chapter has a Darkening percentage that starts at 0, represented by a meter on the menu screen in the shape of the traditional Corpse Party paper doll. As that character experiences frightening things, this percentage rises -- and as it rises, the screen gets more and more wavy and bloodshot, to such an extent that if you're past the 90% mark, you can barely see anything anymore.

If your Darkening meter hits 100%, you'll either get a flat-out Game Over, or you'll get a very special Wrong End. One of my personal favorite Wrong Ends in the entire game is a 100% Darkening ending, so definitely keep that in mind as you play.

Also keep in mind that in some chapters (particularly the first), exploring the school with a Darkening meter above 50% may be a very, very different experience than it would be otherwise.

...Aside from that, all I can say is... enjoy! And thanks so much for taking such an interest in the game!

Many thanks to Tom Lipschultz as well as the XSEED Games team for this interview. Readers can look forward to the release of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows on Jan. 15, 2013 via the PlayStation Network where it will retail for $19.99. While it's a PSP game, it will also be playable on PlayStation Vita.


  1. I can't wait for this. So excited! These games are just the right kind of horror for me. Though I could use less pee. I hope to see Dead Patient on Steam!

  2. Yeah, I'd say that Dead Patient on Steam would be a great next step. Can't wait to check this out next week.

  3. Getting this right away when it gets released!

  4. Great interview, so pumped for the game to arrive in Europe!

  5. Oh man, so hype.

  6. Just discovered the site and really like it! Think I'll stick around. :)