Corpse Party: songs of the dead


Review by · May 20, 2016

We collectors owe a debt of gratitude to XSEED Games, and especially to their localization specialist and Corpse Party champion, Thomas Lipschultz.

You see, this two disc set, available exclusively with the physical copy (“Everafter Edition”) of the PS Vita title Corpse Party: Blood Drive, combines three full soundtracks from Japan, the cost of which to import separately would have been well over $200, on account of the original CDs being only available as LE bonuses (meaning you had to buy the game to get the soundtrack). Now, for $50 retail, you can get all three of those albums (mashed into a two disc set: just look at those disc times!), alongside the latest of the three games in the original Corpse Party scenario, and an enormous full-color artbook. Even if you didn’t want the game, $50 is a worthwhile price for the soundtrack alone, and the artbook is a great bonus for fans of the series’ beautiful and frightening artwork.

So, what are these three Japanese discs I keep referring to? The first album, Corpse Party Blood Covered Repeated Fear Yakubarai Ongakuban, came with the Japanese version of the PSP game that we know simply as Corpse Party. The game had undergone a full remake (“Blood Covered”) and a port from PC to PSP (“Repeated Fear”) by that point, and the album packaged with it included only 16 tracks. There is, for hardcore collectors, a two volume set of soundtracks published directly by the original developer, Team GrisGris, outside of any game-and-soundtrack bundle. Both volumes are rare, but they include over 60 tracks total from just the first game in the series. So completionists may want to watch for that.

But the 16 tracks from the PSP bonus disc are certainly fantastic in their own right. You’ll notice that disc one of the US set only has 14 tracks. The final two tracks from the Japanese version, two additional vocal versions of “Catastrophe Drenched in Darkness,” were cut. One was the “ARTERY ver.” and the other “VEIN ver.” — the duo “ARTEVERY VEIN” includes Asami Imai (voice actor for Blood Drive protagonist Ayumi Shinozaki) and Eri Kitamura (voice actor for series recurring character Yuka Mochida). They basically separated the two singing in harmony and made two separate tracks, which were little other than filler. Hence, they got cut.

Next, we have the bonus soundtrack for Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. This was a visual novel-style game with heavy direction from developer 5pb. and very little in the way of exploration. There were no standalone soundtracks published for this one, though two drama discs were released separately. The in-package Japanese disc, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Special Music CD, contains 25 tracks. The second half of disc one in the US collection has 24 tracks. What happened? Well, track 2 from the Japanese disc, the piano ballad version of “Shangri-La,” got moved over to the end of disc two as a bonus track. So we actually get the entirety of the album, which remains the most complete version of the Book of Shadows OST in existence. So for those keeping score, disc one features a heavy portion of the original game’s music and a complete soundtrack for Book of Shadows. And we’ve only explored half of the collection so far.

So then, on to the second disc, which is devoted to the game with which this collection arrives, Corpse Party: Blood Drive. The Japanese version of the game was bundled with a single-disc soundtrack simply entitled Corpse Party: Blood Drive Original Soundtrack, which features the full 38 tracks from the game. And, how about that, disc two also has 38 tracks! However, there is one change. The bonus track on the Japanese disc, track 38, was a live performance of the classic “Chapter 1” theme from Corpse Party. XSEED pulled this track, for whatever reason, and put in its place the aforementioned “Shangri-La (Piano Ballad Version)”. Once you hear that piece, I think you’ll agree that they made the right call, given the 80 minute hard limit they faced with CD production.

With all of this history and provenance established, it’s clear to see that this is a collection of rare music. Collectors ought to take interest for that reason alone. But as I have personally experienced dozens of times in my life as a VGM collector, “rare” and “good” are not guaranteed to overlap. So is the music in the Corpse Party series any good?

To do this set justice, I first thought it only right that I consider each of the three games’ soundtracks separately. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed a pretty strong consistency throughout the soundtracks. For a comparison, think of Final Fantasy I through III. The main composer is always Nobuo Uematsu, and the sound hardware is the NES chip set. Were there original melodies in each game? To be sure! Can someone have a favorite among the three? Yes, why not? (And that favorite, for the record, really ought to be FF3.)

Similarly, the Corpse Party soundtracks tend to work with a certain pattern. The instrumental BGM for all three games are done by Mao Hamamoto, who seems to have been with Team GrisGris for at least a decade. His discography basically includes Corpse Party titles and a couple of other GrisGris projects. His composition abilities allow him to write music for a variety of different genres, though they are all pretty keyboard-friendly: piano, pizzicato string, sustained synth choir or synth orchestra triads, etc. Hamamoto’s BGM work includes whatever is needed in-game. As such, we find lovely tracks like the spooky-yet-danceable “Nightmare of the School Years,” the peaceful respite of “Good Friends,” the rhythmic and intense “Unsolved Mystery,” and the horror-rock guitar work of “Torture.” Whatever scenario the games call for, Hamamoto always passes muster. He also manages to work orchestra bells in whenever possible, which for me is a major plus. You simply must have orchestra bells in a horror game, especially an anime-style horror game. He even has blood-curdling screams emulated with bowed strings in “A Haunted Room.” To call this song disconcerting is an understatement. This is great BGM for a horror game, without question.

Outside of Hamamoto’s work, we have the vocal themes. Each game has at least two vocal tracks (opening and ending). Sometimes there are more for multiple endings, for a dramatic midpoint in the game, or even a vocal that isn’t explicitly used in-game but exists as an “image song,” perhaps featured in commercials for the game in Japan. Let’s delve deeper into some of these.

First and foremost is “Shangri-La,” sung by Asami Imai. I am awestruck that the developers had the foresight to have Imai voice Ayumi Shinozaki, who is only one member of the Corpse Party ensemble cast, and who clearly becomes the series’ protagonist only later, as 5pb. fleshed out the story with Book of Shadows and Blood Drive. “Shangri-La” appears here as a short, in-game 90 second track to accompany the opening FMV. It’s a great song, but you really want to hold out for that bonus track at the end of disc two. The piano ballad version is shockingly good. In fact…just listen to that now. Not only are the vocals more decorative and pronounced, but that piano accompaniment is beastly. The track is a solid six minutes long, and it rounds out this fantastic collection of music perfectly.

Other vocal pieces include “Catastrophe Drenched in Darkness,” “A Prayer for Confutatis,” “Where the Flowers Bloom,” “Pandora Night,” “In the Rain,” “Incarnation,” and “Translucent Days.” That is a lot of vocal tracks! They could sell as their own collection and do relatively well in the Japanese market, I’d imagine. Imai and her character-voice counterparts sing these songs, and while they vary in chord progression and tempo, they all have that gothic-pop thing going for them. I am especially enthralled by “A Prayer for Confutatis,” but if you’re looking for something a little happier, “In the Rain” is a great choice.

To summarize, I think I’ve reached my personal conclusion. This isn’t just a set of rare music: it’s a set of good rare music, which is a beautiful thing indeed. The “your mileage may vary” caveat applies, as always, so be sure to listen to the audio samples. If you played either of the prior Corpse Party games and were even a little intrigued by them, maybe this is a sign that you should pick up the physical version of Blood Drive. The game itself has yet to really win me over, but this incredible set of music is worth more than the asking price as far as I’m concerned. And, seriously, that artbook too…wow. The two CD set and artbook are great artifacts for fans of the series, and for fans of anime-style horror in general. Get both before they, like half of your Heavenly Host-adventuring classmates, disappear!

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.