Nine students trapped in an otherworldly school building in which spirits are trying to kill them in grisly ways, if they don't eat each other first; we don't need high-quality 3D graphics where the downloadable PSP title Corpse Party is going.

In a post on the PlayStation Blog Xseed localization specialist Tom Lipschultz talks about the deep psychological horror pervading the impending 16-bit horror adventure, comparing it to today's shinier, more powerful survival horror titles.

When you hear the term "horror game," what's the first thing that pops into your mind? Probably "zombies" since that seems to characterize much of the horror genre nowadays. Most modern horror games assault you with wave after wave of zombies, and you can typically one-shot them back to their graves. They may look scary, but when's the last time you were actually frightened in a zombie shooter game? Maybe you had an exciting time playing one, and jumped at a handful of startling moments, but the mere fact that you're able to defend yourself – that you have a means of fighting back – makes just about every entry in the genre less horror than action.

In contrast, Corpse Party gives you no real means of defending yourself. Your protagonists are normal people trapped in an extraordinary experience that threatens their lives, their sanity, and their humanity. He invokes games like Clock Tower or Haunting Ground. In those titles, death is almost inevitable; you're simply delaying it in the desperate hope that you'll find some way to survive.

They may be cute little 16-bit characters on the screen, but the characters of Corpse Party are very human. As time passes in their prison they'll succumb to madness, turn on each other, attempt suicide, or give into ravenous hunger by dining on their companions. There is a way out (there are more than 20 endings in the game, most of them bad), but knowing that and actually finding it are two entirely different things.

As for the 16-bit graphics, Lipschultz says the disconnect between player and sprites can actually make the experience even more horrifying.

Oddly enough, Corpse Party's 16-bit-style 2D visuals contribute to the terror. This visual style provides a sense of distance between you and the characters under your control, which has a rather chilling consequence. Effectively, you're given more than adequate visual feedback to comprehend the exact situation that's occurring, but since most everything is shown through animated character sprites, you're left with the task of envisioning the gory minutiae on your own. And as any true horror fan can tell you, the human mind is capable of imagining pain and torment far more potent than anything a screen can display.

And now I really regret not having a PSP.

Corpse Party should hit the PlayStation Network sometime next month.

Corpse Party and the Psychology of Horror [PlayStation Blog]


You can contact Michael Fahey, the author of this post, at fahey@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.