Before the 128-bit era, many Japanese games, especially RPGs, never left Japanese shores. But over the years, many of these classic, never-before-localised games have been released in English on consoles and handhelds. Walk Over My Corpse (Ore no Shikabane wo Koeteyuke), however, remains one of the few great JRPGs unplayed by western audiences -- despite a PSP remaster coming out in Japan late last year.
Good -- A Novel Concept
Set in a feudal Japan filled with spirits, monsters and the supernatural, Walk Over My Corpse starts with the death of two warriors at the hands of a demon. Upon their defeat, the demon takes their newborn child and places a two-fold curse upon it. First, the child and all its descendants will live an entire life in just two years. Secondly, they cannot have children with normal humans. However, there is a loophole -- no one said it was against the rules to mate with the gods. Thus the family must adventure across the world, building renown among the gods and growing stronger with each successive generation in the hopes of one day defeating the demon and breaking the curse.
Good -- Sumi-E Brings A Supernatural World To Life
Walk Over My Corpse's feudal Japanese setting is enhanced through its beautiful art direction. Backgrounds and monsters both in and out of battle are illustrated in the traditional Japanese art style of Sumi-e (ink wash) which then has been coloured with watercolors. The result looks more like a painting than a game. Moreover, using the Sumi-e style allows for a large and varied cast of enemy monsters, all derived from traditional Japanese folklore. In a time where polygons are king, it's nice to see the beauty that can come from 2D painted backgrounds and sprites.
Good -- Class-Based, Strategic Battles
When the game begins you only have access to two character classes, a swordsman and a naginata-wielder (the classes of your deceased parents). As you defeat the bosses in each dungeon you will unlock new classes, each of which has a specific role. Swordsmen attack one enemy in the front row for massive damage, while naginata-wielders can attack an entire row with one attack. Bowmen can hit the back row as well as the front, and spearmen can hit one target in the front row and the enemy behind them at the same time. Building a balanced party among the game's six classes is necessary for victory.
The battles themselves are more than a bit different from your standard turn-based RPG. At the start of battle, a set of slots spin and stop on the items you will receive if the battle is won. Unlike most JRPGs, the battles in Walk Over My Corpse end not when all enemies are defeated but rather when the enemy commander is killed. Thus to get the maximum experience points in each battle, you must kill all the normal enemies and save the commander for last.
Of course if you are just after the loot, killing the commander right off will make the battle faster. You will have to choose which way of fighting is best as your time in each dungeon is limited, and after 10 to 15 minutes, you'll have to leave (and return later) or choose to continue on with diminished stats. Falling in battle also diminishes your stats, and should they drop too low, your characters could die permanently, long before their two-year mark.
Good -- Good Breeding Is The Key To Victory
As you venture through the game's dungeons, you will gain special points after each battle. You spend these points to convince one of the game's many gods to create a child with one of your characters. Each of the gods is made of up of the four elements -- water, fire, earth and wind -- but favours one element far more strongly than the others.
On the surface level, the more expensive the god you choose, the better the child you get. However, certain gods will improve the bloodline's magic, while others will offer a better physical defence. What results is a balancing act to keep certain bloodlines in tune with what their class needs most -- while keeping them at least somewhat strong in other areas.
However, despite your best planning, sometimes you breed a character who is worse than its parent. There is a fair amount of randomisation in your characters' stats -- as well as the gods' -- and low stats from several generations back can rear their ugly heads when you least expect it. Of course, sometimes the opposite happens and you are blessed with a child far better than the sum of its parents. It's all a mixture of your good planning and genetic luck.
Mixed -- Lacking Story
Other than the game's back story (which you learn over the course of the introduction), the plot of Walk Over My Corpse is relatively straight forward. Other than your characters -- whose entire personalities are left to your imagination -- there are only three other characters in the game: the demon, your family maid, and a minor god who is interested in your progress. Granted there is one major plot twist in the middle of the game, but one single story element between beginning and end is hardly a plot.
However, in some ways this makes every action you take more memorable. Upon family members' deaths, the game presents a chronicle of their lives by showing bosses they defeated, children they bore, and tournaments they won. In this way you make your own story through your characters' actions. And after 20 or so generations, a simple glance at the family tree floods you with memories of your time as each of your many characters.
Bad -- Easy To Import, Hard To Play
Simply put, Walk Over My Corpse is nigh unplayable to anyone without a very high skill level in Japanese. While most games use modern Japanese and thus have many words from its two phonetic alphabets, Walk Over My Corpse is filled with as many old words and kanji as possible. The result is like having an American game that uses nothing but Shakespearean era English. While this is troublesome for many prospective importers, this negative exists solely because the game must be played in the original Japanese and not because of any inherent flaw in the game.
The PSP remaster of Walk Over My Corpse is a real gem of a game. The game now has difficulty settings (for more casual players) and a beautiful new coat of paint. Everything else remains the same as it always was, for better or worse. Those looking for an epic story along the lines of most JRPGs will probably find themselves disappointed with Walk Over My Corpse. But for anyone who loves dungeon crawling and wants to experience one of the most complex turn-based battle systems ever -- or just wants to call up a god for a booty call -- should give Walk Over My Corpse a try. Just beware of the language barrier.
Walk Over My Corpse (Ore no Shikabane wo Koeteyuke) was released on June 18, 1999, on the PSX; February 22, 2007, on PSN; and November 10, 2011, on the PSP. There are currently no plans for an international release.