by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
A Strong Opening, with a Tedious First Act
Corpse Factory, the latest wannime visual novel from Australian developer River Crow Studio, boasts a striking prologue. It begins with a girl working at an upscale fashion store being framed for theft by her co-workers. After losing her job she discovers a strange website, called Corpse Girl which promises to kill anyone you choose. All you need to do is upload a photo and a phone number of the person you want dead, and in a couple of days, they'll bite the dust, but not before receiving a photo of their dead body from the future.
Unfortunately for our poor store clerk, she wasn't the only one that decided to use Corpse Girls' website. Apparently, somebody requested her death as well because when she wakes up the next morning, she gets a text message from a mysterious number with an attached picture of her dead body. Worse still, when she looks outside her apartment door she finds her own corpse waiting for her on the doorstep. Thoroughly freaked out, she opts to hurl herself off her balcony rather than face whatever grim death is awaiting her at Corpse Girl's hands.
After the opening, time rewinds a couple of weeks and we're introduced to the girl behind Corpse Girl, Noriko a 20-something data entry temp worker at a large bank, who created the website mostly as a macabre side project. There's no magic involved, just a little photo manipulation, a burner cell-phone, and an app that lets her spoof phone numbers. She just takes the photos of her victims and edits photos of actual corpses to resemble them and sends them out with a timestamp sometime in the near future.
Amazingly, one of the people she sent a death photo to immediately died in the same grisly fashion as the picture depicted. A normal person would probably write that off as a coincidence or even close down the website in disgust. Noriko however, being more than a little bit crazy, is thrilled with this development, responding to it with sadistic glee. Of course, just sending people photos of themselves dead is seldom enough to get them to actually kill themselves. So to satisfy her blood lust she eventually has to team up with a mortician, Kojiro, and her annoying valley girl co-worker, Tomoe, to steal bodies from the morgue, dress them up to look like the latest victim, and deposit them on the doorstep of Corpse Girl's victims.
This is a compelling enough premise for a visual novel. The problem is, that after that striking opening prologue, the first act moves with all the speed and agility of a crippled slug. An interminable amount of time is wasted as we walk through the routines of Noriko's life day by painstaking day. Seriously Corpse Factory, I don't want to hear any more about this chick's shitty data entry job or sit through another scene where she buys a can of coffee at the convenience store. It's not like she gets out much either, the girl is suffering from agoraphobia and can have a mental breakdown if she has to go to an unfamiliar mall.
The game is also let down somewhat by its dogged commitment to keep everything grounded in reality, never embracing the obvious supernatural possibilities of its premise. This is a story about a website that sends you a picture of your dead body and a vision of your corpse before killing you outright. Having the death pictures be photoshops, and the corpses be stolen bodies from the morgue is lame. I waited for a twist where Noriko and company had accidentally tapped into some supernatural force they didn't understand but it never came. Indeed, given the complete lack of any supernatural explanation, it's amazing that Corpse Girl can kill anyone at all.
Plot Holes and Character Issues
In addition to a shaky premise, there are plenty of issues with the way Noriko executes her Corpse Girl scheme. It's not too bad when Noriko is just sending photoshopped pictures to her victims. She takes reasonable precautions by using an internet provider that's not registered to her name and sending out messages with burner cell phones. Sure, the internet is registered to her neighbour, and the burner phones are stolen from her workplace, so it's not like they are untraceable, but there's enough there to make life difficult for the police or any curious onlooker.
However, once Noriko and company start leaving cadavers behind, all manner of logistical absurdities pop up. For starters how do they even get to these places in time? Sure Japan is not a particularly large country but driving from Tokyo to the far north or the far south would be a 30-hour round trip. The game avoids this by having every request come from the Tokyo metropolitan area, and if you're charitable you can assume that this is a stipulation on the Corpse Girl website.
More damning is the fact that the corpses the gang leaves lying around would be very easy to trace back to them. Each cadaver is lifted from Kojiro's morgue. Sure, these are all bodies that are slated for immediate cremation but it would be easy for the cops to identify them with either fingerprints or dental records. From there it would just be a matter of checking the paperwork to figure out which morgue these stiffs had been taken from. Then the cops could stake out the place for a couple of days, and catch Noriko and the crew in the act while they lifted another corpse. The least competent police force in the world could have this case cracked wide open in a week.
Worse than this though are the issues with character consistency. Noriko is particularly bad, as she is the main character, and she will often have to act uncharacteristically stupid to advance the plot. The most glaring instance of this is when the story wants Noriko, who is initially shown taking great care not to give away her identity as Corpse Girl to anyone, to team up with Tomoe and Kojiro. The game handles things well enough with Korijo, having him deduce Corpse Girls' identity from a few clues Noriko accidentally drops in her conversation. However, with Tomoe, Noriko just stupidly blurts out her secret with hardly a second thought.
It's not all bad though, while the writing might be sloppy the other aspects of the game are competently done. The character designs, for instance, are all solid. If you've been desperately searching for a goth waifu, Noriko will serve admirably. Likewise, the music does an excellent job of setting the tone without overpowering the narration. The voice acting as well is handled with a degree of skill and professionalism. Sure, I feel bad for Tomoe's voice actress being forced by the game's script to adopt an outrageous valley girl accent and repeated utterances of the words "skank" and "slut". Though here the ensuing cringe can be laid at the feet of the writers. However, this is a visual novel, meaning that even if the music, art, and acting are all faultless they don't count for much if the writing is lacklustre. Unfortunately, that is what we have with Corpse Factory, a mediocre story dressed up with excellent production values.
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Nice artwork and music, Solid prologue, Some creepy moments, Strong voice acting
Story is a bit slow to get going, Characters sometimes have to act like idiots to advance the plot, A couple glaring plot holes.