Merry Christmas, Internet! For those loyal readers who have followed my work since…well, October, you know that I like to coordinate horror games with the Halloween season. In part, this works well because horror games sell well, whereas I have a more difficult time finding games with 4th of July themes (Assassin’s Creed 3, maybe), St. Patrick’s Day themes (uh…Leisure Suit Larry on the XBox likes to drink), Labor Day themes (Down with Shin-ra!) or Secretary’s Day (…I’ll leave this one to you). However, thanks to Square Enix and their own version of the war on Christmas–starting with the Santa Clause boss battle in Secret of Mana–I have a perfect specimen of a game for this Holiday season that I wouldn’t waste on any other time of year. So this week, I intend to celebrate Parasite Eve for a magical Christmas adventure, as it contains the birth of an incarnate god, bountiful freebies you don’t have to pay for, a festively dressed villain, rivers of slime, and the video game protagonist whose stocking I’d most like to stuff.
Beginning on Christmas Eve and spanning the course of nearly a week, Parasite Eve tells a heartwarming holiday story of spontaneous human combustion. Aya Brea, a young cop in New York City, attends spends the evening at the opera. The experience holds exactly what we’d expect your average night at the opera to contain: first the singing, then the panic, screaming, the audience running in terror trying to get out of the theatre. However, unlike most opera performances, everyone bursts into flames. Except, of course, for the lead actress, Aya, and Aya’s date for some reason they never explain. Aya confronts the actress, or rather Eve, the actress’s collective mitochondria, who claims to have overthrown the shackles of its bourgeois cell oppressors. They fight, Eve flees, and Aya pursues, but the villain escapes to plan the world’s greatest sperm bank heist.
From there, Aya goes on to discover a river of slime with a grudge against humanity in the sewers of New York. The slime heads toward a museum to protect the villain, but Aya draws her out, leading to an epic showdown against the backdrop of a slime-covered statue of liberty. But all along, the slime served as a womb, and ultimately it gives birth to Viggo the Carpathian! Er, wait…I might have confused Parasite Eve with Ghostbusters 2.
Weird as all that sounds, the game actually plays very seriously with a complex, well-written storyline. For those of you who slacked off in anatomy, first of all your teacher dodged a bullet having to answer a thousand questions on spontaneous combustion, but more importantly, our cells contain organelles called mitochondria. These microscopic pseudo-organisms have their own fragmented DNA, so as the game’s title suggests, they use us as a host. However, what the title completely missed the boat on is that they’re symbiotic (friendly) instead of parasitic, producing the energy that, well, you know…keeps us from dying. This energy, theoretically, if the mitochondria all went into overdrive at the exact same time, might produce enough heat to…well, probably not. But the game uses that as a weapon for them to seize control of our bodies to have their tiny little ways with us.
Combat blends traditional RPG tropes–magic, weapons, items–with a free moving action system against a pre-rendered background. Aya can equip different types of guns, each with their own advantages and disadvantages in combat. Handguns sacrifice range for high speed and moderate power. Rifles increase power and range, but fire slowly. She can also find shotguns, grenade and rocket launchers, and tonfa clubs. Furthermore, each weapon comes with its own subset of abilities that the player can move around and customize through the use of special tools.
And they fit all that, plus a bonus dungeon in the New Game + option, into a game less than 10 hours long. Replaying this after playing its sequel for Halloween, I remember why this game works so brilliantly. Its compact storyline doesn’t leave anything out. Out of the six or so major characters, each one of them feels human. We know more about each one of them besides whatever they need to drive the plot forward. Hell, the fucking German Shepherd has more character development than any of the characters from the sequel–including Aya. In retrospect, this game succeeds because it doesn’t play up Aya as some love-starved twit, ready to submit to the first hunky boy she runs across on the job. Because what scrawny video game nerd in the late 1990s wanted to see the lovely Goddess of RPG heroes wind up with the over-inflated douche of testosterone, Kyle Madigan? If anyone, she deserves to to wind up with the brilliant yet socially awkward scientist whose genius pulls her through dangerous situations time and time again.
Dr. Maeda, I’ll tell you exactly what the parents of a friend of mine told me after she went off and married the biggest douche in the country: “We’re sorry. We were pulling for you.”
On behalf of brilliant but socially awkward RPG fans everywhere, have a wonderful holiday season…but maybe stay out of Manhattan for a few days.