Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday – PSP

parasite_eve_the_3rd_birthday_trailer_y_fecha_de_comercializacion

Okay, the gamer girl slobbering on an xBox controller wasn’t hot to begin with. Who signed off on Aya frenching the barrel of a gun?

Parasite Eve as a franchise has suffered a major identity crisis over the years. Once a strong, confident horror-themed RPG, in its rough teenage years she caved to peer pressure, trying too hard to fit in with the cool kids in the survival horror clique. So she dressed just like a Resident Evil game, did drugs (developed by Umbrella), showed off just enough skin to keep the boys interested, and severed all ties with her good friends, “breakthrough battle system” and “well-written plot.” And sure, we were all interested for a while, but then we realized she was just a poor imitation with nothing of her own to make her unique. Then in 2010, twelve years after the release of the original game, Square-Enix releases The Third Birthday. How has our old friend fared in the intervening years? Did she reconnect with her old interests and go on to lead a successful and productive life? Or is she running around, still acting like a teenager trying too hard to get the boys to like her? Take a wild guess.

Shower

Excuse me…just have to wash up a bit.

Nothing like a really bad extended metaphor to open an entry, right? The problem is, Square has gone through a similar sort of identity crisis, distancing itself from all the dice-rolling fun of fantasy RPGs it enjoyed in the nineties and started producing games that more resemble Michael Bay’s 10-hour wet dreams than a game appealing to their traditional fan base. (Who would have thought that having my interests go mainstream would actually make me more of an outsider?) I can recover from that. The bright side? PS4s are expensive and now I won’t have to buy one. Unfortunately, they took Aya Brea, the only girl I loved in high school who didn’t try to push me down a flight of stairs, down with them. I played The Third Birthday with the intention of using it for an October entry, but it turns out the game has fewer horror elements than a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Bride

None of that “wiggle your big toe” coma shit! I’m getting my revenge now!

The story begins with Aya Brea, more than ten years after her last adventure, and follows her as steadily and coherently as a schizophrenic schnauzer after drinking a bottle of tequila. I tend to criticize games that require you to read the in-game encyclopedia in order to understand what’s going on. The Third Birthday lowers the bar even further as reading the files leaves you with more questions than when you started, and most of those questions fall on the lines of, “Did someone actually write this story, or did they just paste together scraps of paper from the dumpster behind the Call of Duty development team’s building?” It really does feel like everyone in the building was told they had fifteen minutes to write a paragraph from a paramilitary adventure, and when their time was up, whatever they had done was coded into the game. In order to get a rough feel for what’s happening, you have to finish the game. Only in the ending sequence does the Third Birthday give any semblance of actually having a plot, but because it plays the same scene about five times, each with alternative events, Square could have displayed the games coding and I’d have a better idea of what they were going for.

3rd_Birthday_gameplay

You spend the entire game exterminating giant cockroaches.

As far as story is concerned, The Third Birthday passes Star Wars prequel level of bad, overtakes the Force Awakens easily, and heads right on into Matrix: Revolutions territory. The awkwardly charming Maeda from the first game is now a horny, giggling mad scientist, and you have to put up with the douche bag from the previous game as a major character. It contains all the standard Square-Enix tropes: a bad guy who turns out to be good, a good guy who stabs you in the back, and a fair amount of Judeo-Christian pseudo-symbolism with as much cogent meaning as a bag of scrabble tiles thrown into a wood chipper. But if you can ignore that, it makes for a pretty good action game. Coming off of Final Fantasy XIII the year before, Square was still high on its discovery of hallway-based gameplay, and hadn’t yet figured out that linear level design is about as likely to make a comeback as bell-bottoms, cod pieces, and the sheepskin jerkin. Aya moves from one room to the next, fighting monsters. She can pick up occasional “ammo recharge” items and can crouch behind small barricades, but can otherwise interact with the environment about as much as a polar bear trapped on an ice floe.

dna

Oh yeah. There’s this thing, too. They don’t really explain it and it doesn’t help much.

But while all of those seem to detract from the ability to have any fun in a game, The Third Birthday focuses entirely on Overdive combat. After stripping away any mention or implication of mitochondria from the game, Square gave Aya the ability to jump into the past by jacking into the Matrix, where she can spontaneously possess anyone around her like Agent Smith in a disintegrating tank top. The national guard is present for nearly all battles, and Aya can dive from one to another in order to exploit an enemy weakness, access a new area, or evade attacks. While dancing around, wearing these soldiers like a Halloween costume, she uses their health bar and has access to whatever special weapon they had equipped (a feature that can be exploited for extra ammo). If you don’t think too hard about Aya blood-bending these guys like an evil puppeteer, leading them into dangerous situations and then abandoning them to their deaths, this gives the game a fast-paced strategic element. You have plenty of combat options at any time, and the enemies fall just on the inside of being too difficult to enjoy. If I did have one complaint about the battle though, the guns hit the monsters with all the destructive force of a spit ball. No matter how fun the combat is, whittling down an enemy’s health by lobbing styrofoam packing peanuts at it takes a lot of time, which feels especially tedious in the more difficult battles. I would have been perfectly fine with enemies dealing more damage if it meant I could load my guns with something a little stronger than Nerf.

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Parasite Eve – PS1

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.

I should have a word with the fire marshal. Those curtains are supposed to be flame retardant.

I should have a word with the fire marshal. Those curtains are supposed to be flame retardant.

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.

Uhh...I really don't know what I should be looking at.

Uhh…I really don’t know what I should be looking at.

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.

One of the earliest 3D games (not done with vector graphics), Parasite Eve plays smoothly and has impressive visuals, even eighteen years (God, I’m old…) later. When introducing combat to the game, a fully animated CGI cutscene shows a rat’s mitochondria seizing control of its cells, transforming it into a hideous monster of nearly the same size and temperament of a real New York City rat. Although in all fairness, I thinking hanging out backstage at the opera would make me bleed out of my eyes as well. Naturally, though, the spectacle doesn’t end there; the dedicated player will also get to see people melt into a giant ball of Kaluha, a german shepherd transform into a four-legged vagina with teeth, and the main villain transform into several different forms that might be arousing if it didn’t look like someone had stuck a Barbie doll in a microwave.

Impressive cut scene, but don't think we didn't notice your RPG hero leveling up at the beginning of the game by fighting rats underground.

Impressive cut scene, but don’t think we didn’t notice your RPG hero leveling up at the beginning of the game by fighting rats underground.

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.

Generally I don't like it when pretty girls--even fictional ones--have boyfriends. But if the game doesn't feel he merits a name, I somehow don't mind him that much.

Generally I don’t like it when pretty girls–even fictional ones–have boyfriends. But if the game doesn’t feel he merits a name, I somehow don’t mind him that much.

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.

Maeda finds one of many NYC cops who has attempted to culture himself by studying world languages.

Maeda finds one of many NYC cops who has attempted to culture himself by studying world languages.

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.

Parasite Eve 2 – Playstation

Note: Gamersgate supporters would like to see less of this.

Note: Gamersgate supporters would like to see less of this.

Back in the late nineties when Squaresoft could do no wrong, they made a bold move by backing away from Nintendo in favor of Sony. This meant two things for me. One, I had just blown my entire finances on an N64 and they had just rendered that purchase useless. Two, they now had virtually limitless room for bigger and better games. So when I finally gathered enough pop cans out of local garbages and exchanged the sticky, tobacco-ridden gold for a Playstation, I had to resort to begging for games for Christmas presents. When I popped that disc in the little gray box and hit power on Christmas morning (fuck baby Jesus! I’ll go to church when he’s earned enough EXP to unlock his parasite powers!), I met Parasite Eve, and thus began a lifelong relationship with a game that would inspire me to piss off my high school teachers with endless questions about the motives and abilities of mitochondria and at least one major research paper on spontaneous human combustion.

"Full Frontal" must not translate well from Japanese.

“Full Frontal” must not translate well from Japanese.

So when Square announced not only a sequel, but a sequel with a full-frontal shower scene (some people may have exaggerated certain reports), naturally I…had no cash and put off buying the game indefinitely. I really do wonder why I put off the game this long. But I finally got my hands on the working game, and now for your special Halloween article, I present “Parasite Eve II, or Resident Evil, Symphony of the Night.” The rumors I heard involve an all-out, knock-down, out-for-blood difference of creative opinion, with the director of the first game wanting an RPG detective story with the development team wanting to do something more like Resident Evil (I will update if I can find a source confirming). While the director seemingly won the first game (one imagines with a level-68 meteor spell while under a protect charm to ward off 9mm bullets), the development team apparently zombified him for the sequel, as the game reads so closely from Resident Evil’s play book that you can practically see the scribble marks over “T-Virus” right beside every mention of the word “mitochondria.” A rip-off this blatant could even garner plagiarism accusations from Terry Brooks.

Apparently, Mitochondria can write flame throwers into your DNA.

Apparently, Mitochondria can write flame throwers into your DNA.

The story follows Aya Brea, the most drop-dead gorgeous survival horror protagonist I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, three years after saving all of humanity from rogue microscopic organelles with murderous intentions and ambitions of world-domination. Despite the fact that the first game wrapped up all loose ends nice and tight, mitochondria still occasionally alters the DNA of people and animals because if they didn’t, well, the sequel wouldn’t make sense, would it? Aya has pulled a Leon Kennedy, leaving the police force to work as a government agent. Her boss sends her to investigate Raccoon City the town of Dryfield, where she discovers an abandoned underground laboratory dedicated to replicating the T-Virus neo-mitochondria. Oh, what horrors of dialogue writing will she face? What plot holes might she fall into? Stay tuned to find out!

Are you my mummy?

Are you my mummy?

The game plays well, let me say up front. Rather than borrow Resident Evil’s raise-the-gun-and-hope-for-the-best method of aiming, Parasite Eve 2 introduces a lock-on method of aiming, which allows you to point your gun directly at whatever you want to die. You can even see it, too…if the enemy hasn’t wandered out of the pre-rendered camera angle. Battles also have a more realistic flow than in the original game. Granted, from a game play perspective, PE1‘s combat system worked nearly flawlessly. However, it did take a leap of faith to understand why Aya always felt the need to step back and re-evaluate her strategy/situation/life between attacks. PE2 lets her pull the trigger as fast as the bullets come out of the gun.

PE2 drops some RPG elements from the first game, including leveling-up. Throughout the game, guns simply don’t get stronger, and Aya can’t suddenly take a shotgun blast to the face without flinching. On one hand, yes this makes the game more realistic, but assuming most people bought this game based on the merits of the original storyline where a flying opera singer with a velociraptor claw for a lower torso recruits your microscopic organisms to turn traitor and set themselves on fire, I think the target audience only cares about realism to a very small extent. Sacrificing game play for that element of realism may have about the same effect of eating tree bark instead of pasta and expecting health benefits from the all-natural ingredients. It may make you feel good at first, but in the end you’ll find yourself with significantly less health after taking damage in a cut scene. Right before the final boss. Seriously. Fuck you, game.

Then I could do what all snowmen do in summer.

Then I could do what all snowmen do in summer.

This element of realism grows a little murky when calling in to save your game for the first time. PE2 still uses phones as save points, but feels the need to put someone on the other end of the line, and every time you find a phone, after standing there wondering if it dials out (while the player watches, wondering how Aya ever passed high school, let alone her NYPD exams and field tests), we have to listen to the commentary of the NPCs, like a Greek Chorus of Nitwits repeating to the player what we already know. Especially astute players and their walkthroughs might access a minute sub-plot about a mole in the agency, but this proves about as vital and interesting as a pile of toenail clippings. Anyway, the first time you call in to save, your boss authorizes you to use weapons and armor you find on corpses. Thanks chief, but won’t I make the dead guys happier by dying myself rather than taking their stuff?

Bad writing plagues this game. Resident Evil often stitches together stories by ripping pages out of dime store sci-fi novels and pressing them together in whatever order they fall, but next to PE2, Resident Evil rises to the quality of Dostoyevsky. Characters speak in unnatural, stilted dialogue, like a troop of actors who all simultaneously forgot their lines, the premise of the play, and everything they learned since the third grade. Aya, one of the most awesome, badass protagonists of all time suddenly feels the need to flaunt her girliness by criticizing the P.I.’s outfit and telling us about the clearance sale she visited the previous weekend. And let me tell you, nothing builds up to an exciting climax of an epic survival horror game like a series of long, boring cut scenes filled with exposition that won’t matter thirty seconds later.

Smooth. On the upside, I no longer feel as bad for some of my failed attempts at talking to girls in high school.

Smooth. On the upside, I no longer feel as bad for some of my failed attempts at talking to girls in high school.

Ladies and Gentelmen, your villain. Code Name: Love Potion

Ladies and Gentlemen, your villain. Code Name: Love Potion

The original Parasite Eve showed a lot of effort in writing. They showed us a connection between Aya and her antagonist, which made their final confrontation meaningful as more than an obligatory battle. The story gave her doubts and personal conflicts. PE2, on the other hand, refers to the primary antagonist as “the big guy,” and he never takes off his army mask. You don’t know his identity or his motivations, much less how he connects with Aya or the events of the previous game. They introduce a private investigator as sort of a love interest, but they have even less chemistry than Leon and Ada in RE2, spend almost no time together, an remember how I said you lose HP in the cut scene before the final boss fight? Yeah…spoiler alert…he shoots Aya. In order to earn the trust of the villain that he betrays in the same cut scene. But no biggie, right? ‘Cuz he’s a hot guy. What else does he need?

I try to get away, but something irresistible just keeps drawing me back.

I try to get away, but something irresistible just keeps drawing me back.

The game doesn’t suck. Completely. Although I maintain that RE-style walking controls never helped anyone and feel even clunkier here where Aya automatically tries to reorient herself towards her target enemy, thus constantly steering her slightly back towards any enemy she needs to escape. The overly simplistic weapon customization system pales in comparison with PE1. And the puzzles, while they earn bonus points as interesting challenges, might offer too much of a challenge for someone who just wants to get on with the game, thus making a walkthrough necessary for completion. But I did play through the game twice (even though the New Game Plus option gives you nothing worthwhile) in order to get both the bad ending and the…well, still bad, but longer ending.

I couldn't find a clear solution anywhere online. Use this screensshot! This screenshot will help you finish this puzzle!

I couldn’t find a clear solution anywhere online. Use this screen shot! This screen shot will help you finish this puzzle!

I guess the “good” ending best sums up the obliviousness of the development team. A year after Mr. Sack-of-Flour Personality disappears, Aya visits the Museum of Natural History in New York–because when Alan Grant needed to relax, he spent some time on Isla Nublar–and the doors burst open behind her to reveal the Private Investigator, and I couldn’t find myself caring less about this bland, poorly written douchebag who shot me right before the final battle. Kick his ass to the curb, Aya! You can do better than him, and you have a birthday coming up…