Corpse Party: How Simplistic Graphics Make Horror Games Better

Corpse Party

There’s a little song that creeps into my head when I’m trying to fall asleep. The words aren’t in English, but I understand them all the same. A sweet, childish voice sings sweetly about the entrails of a dead friend.

Kids singing creepily is as overused as horror tropes get. It’s the kind of thing that makes me shake my head when I see it in a movie trailer. So why do I find it so chilling here?

That’s because it’s from Corpse Party, a 16-bit survival horror game for the PSP. Created with RPG Maker, the game’s graphics are as basic as it gets. While there are character portraits and event CGs, the game forces you to rely on your imagination as you explore a haunted, body-filled school.

Corpse Party

Games and movies have never been able to frighten me the way stories do. The horrors I envision in my head are scarier than anything I might see on a screen. Plenty of games have left me spooked, but they’ve never been able to unsettle me in the way a good horror story can. That’s not the case with Corpse Party.

Corpse Party makes you imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a hopeless, horror-filled school. It requires you to be an active participant in the story, searching through classrooms when you’d rather hide. It heightens its scares with surprisingly potent sound effects and music.

Sweet Home

Of course, Corpse Party isn’t the only pixel-sprite horror game that’s made me want to sleep with the lights on. Capcom’s Sweet Home, a NES RPG that a precursor to the Resident Evil series, is scarier than any Licker. Simplistic games like Ao Oni and Yumi Nikki have managed to chill me to the bone. Even if the story isn’t anything to write home about, sprite horror games consistently frighten me in a way no other games can.

Games like Amnesia and Pathologic are incredibly scary, but they just can’t compare to the terrors in my own mind; games like Corpse Party give my imagination a chance to run wild. Pixelated sprites aren’t right for every horror game, but they’re something I hope developers will use more.

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