Parasite Eve is one of those franchises that never made it out of the original PlayStation era when JRPGs fell onto Sony’s first console like autumn rain. The first two games are often held up as PlayStation classics but the series seemed to be retired after 2000 when Parasite Eve II was released in the United States. 3rd Birthday is billed as a spiritual successor to the Parasite Eve series, but I certainly hope that the Parasite Eve games are better than this. 3rd Birthday is a poorly executed mass of ideas that does the franchise it claims to represent shame.
In the year 2012 on Christmas Eve, New York City is ravaged – the video game industry joining Hollywood in destroying New York City at least a few times per year – by tentacle monsters called Twisted. Series heroine Aya Brea is part of the Counter Twisted Investigation task force (seriously) and her role stems from her ability to use the Overdive System – no, not Overdrive, Overdive – which allows her to send her psyche into the past to change history. Thus Aya sets out to alter the course of history in the invasion of the Twisted and delve into a lot of expositive dialogue about her identity.
Aya has seems to have gone to the same school of characterization as Team Ninja’s treatment of Samus inMetroid: Other M. The strong, capable heroine the game seems to want to portray during combat is offset by every single moment of story development that characterizes Aya as whiny, submissive, and grating. When she isn’t cuddling in corners and trying not to succumb to the cold, her only role seems to be exploited by the tendency of Aya’s clothes being ripped off as a poor excuse to tease her physique. The irritation Aya provokes every time she opens her mouth makes the many, many deaths you’ll endure at least a bit tolerable.
The story proper starts off from a fairly stable launch pad but goes completely haywire within an hour as the narrative delves into an incomprehensible mess of existentialism and half-cocked philosophy and the relationship between the soul and the body. I like that the narrative attempts to tie themes into the core elements of gameplay but it seems like the writers and game designers were in completely different office buildings during development. Yeah, a few lines will make you question your role in the universe but the game generally just talks a lot without conveying anything of real importance.
3rd Birthday has been billed as a “cinematic action RPG” by Square-Enix and the game deviates from the survival horror nature of its predecessor. The “action” part consists of a bare-bones shooting formula that relies more on contests of who can stay alive longer than actual strategy or skill. Aya moves at a light jogging pace and a lot of enemies can cover the distance between you quickly. Enemies have ridiculously big health meters and certain foes can take away all of your health with just a few attacks. The game claims to deviate from survival horror, but similarly to a lot of survival horror games you’re the weak one up against these super strong otherworldly horrors – except that you’re expected to kill them all here. The game is basically a giant war of attrition with the deck stacked against you.
his is where Overdive comes in. The game touts the ability to have Aya possess bodies of different soldiers fighting alongside her on the battlefield, similar to MindJack. It’s a clever idea and adds a sliver of strategy to an otherwise extremely generic third person shooter, but taken at face value the ability to use soldiers as husks basically amounts to temporarily padding your health since you can abandon soldiers before they die. The occasional fun moment comes from rapidly jumping around to escape the giant marauding Twisted shaped like a testicle but all it does is reinforce the notion that all you’re doing is staying alive long enough to pepper an enemy with enough bullets that he’ll finally go down.
The attrition gameplay is made all the more apparent when you look at the only other uses of Overdive. If you attack an enemy long enough you can unleash a Psyche attack, which does a lot of damage but just briefly expedites the process of killing an enemy with a huge health meter. There’s also a Limit Break-esque technique called Liberation mode that lets you move swiftly around becoming a much more capable fighter, but it lasts only a few seconds and the bright flashing is almost painfully disorienting.
I could understand this sort of gameplay working in a survival horror context but the fights aren’t harrowing; they’re just irritating. The fact that you’re expected to kill all of these enemies through standard gunplay and the game’s own intended purpose of being an action RPG undercuts any sense of making you a survival horror character. It almost seems like in trying to be a spiritual successor 3rd Birthday wanted to stay “true” to the roots of its predecessors and wound up with something halfway towards an average shooter.
The “RPG” part of action RPG is sorely lacking. As you fight enemies you gain the usual experience and you can upgrade weapons to improve your survival skills such as increasing accuracy or ammo capacity. I barely noticed any significant effect in the upgrades I applied throughout the game, but for those of you here for Aya’s exploitation you can change her aesthetic appearance. There’s a rather transparent look at the intended exploitation of Aya when you notice that there’s a maid outfit. If there’s anything more appropriate than tight jeans for facing legions of fantastical terrors, it’s a maid uniform.
An astute reader may have realized by now that the constant battles of attrition in 3rd Birthday make the game mercilessly padded, which is why I was so surprised that the game took so little time. I cleared the entire story in about five and a half hours, and if my earlier criticisms of the story didn’t tip you off rather than a climactic finale you’re left with a pretentiously ambiguous ending. After enough deaths that reminded of my first time playingDemon’s Souls it wasn’t a satisfactory payoff by any means.
Depsite a few interesting gameplay ideas 3rd Birthday feels like an altogether different franchise rather than a spiritual successor to Parasite Eve. It doesn’t really hold up as either an action game or an RPG, and reducing Aya to a submissive sex object is something I don’t imagine sat well with fans of the series. The resulting game lacks appeal for Parasite Eve fans but really can’t bring anything to the table for a new audience.