Parasite Eve is a multimedia series that began life as a novel, written by Hideki Sen and published in 1995. Three years later, the series mutated, as Squaresoft released a video game sequel on Sony's original PlayStation. That game, also titled Parasite Eve, was unusual for multiple reasons. It was the publisher's first M-rated title. It also had a development team that spanned the Pacific. Finally, it essentially melded the styles of two of its contemporaries, Capcom's Resident Evil and Squaresoft's own Final Fantasy VII. The result was a unique game that garnered a significant following as well as a pair of manga series (one based on the novel) and a PlayStation sequel in 2000. The series then lay dormant for nearly a decade until finally word broke of a third game in the series . . . for Japanese cell phones.
On March 29, 2011, The 3rd Birthday shipped to retailers across North America. Everything had changed. Parasite Eve was nowhere to be found. The game had been moved from its original target of cell phones to Sony's PSP, 2010's best-selling system in Japan. And, perhaps most surprisingly, the gameplay moved even further from Square's role-playing roots toward a third-person shooter. Amidst such a dramatic metamorphosis, has the series evolved or devolved?
Third-person shooters have become increasingly popular, led by Epic Games' Gears of War franchise and, to a lesser degree, the more recent entries in the previously mentioned Resident Evil series. In 2010, Platinum Games had even successfully put a very Japanese spin on the genre with its speedy Vanquish. The map to critical acclaim had clearly been drawn for an evolution into this expanding genre.
The video is some of the finest available on a portable platform and really allows for a full-fledged, engaging story to be told.
Similarly, PSP development exploded, particularly in Japan, where Sony's portable platform had usurped the developer darling crown from the Nintendo DS. The PSP likely represented an attractive balance between lower development costs than its console siblings and greater horsepower and storage space than the DS or traditional cell phones.
When one hot property's trajectory crosses another's, the sky is the limit. However, for every chocolate collision with peanut butter, there is a Star Wars Transformers.
The 3rd Birthday takes full advantage of the UMD (or Memory Stick Pro Duo) format, weaving clean, crisp cinema sequences around its shooting action. This video is some of the finest available on a portable platform and really allows for a full-fledged, engaging story regarding series protagonist Aya Brea's struggle against The Twisted to be told, despite the game's more action-oriented gameplay.
Of course the other major strength of the UMD disc is its audio capability. Square has long been known for the quality of its musical compositions, and The 3rd Birthday does not disappoint, especially when headphones are used in place of the PSP's speakers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the voice acted dialogue. Being released so close to Square's Tactics Ogre remake doesn't help, as it really polarizes a great translation from a subpar one.
But this is where the chocolate and peanut better melt, leaving behind the Star Wars Transformers.
What do big third-person shooters have in common? They all utilize a dual analog control scheme, and that is a price of doing business in this genre. Square has kept some RPG elements, such as leveling-up and upgrading weapons, but ultimately, The 3rd Birthday is a third-person shooter, and its gameplay suffers tremendously from the choice of platform.
Instead of manually targeting enemies using the right analog stick, players are forced to auto-target with the L button. This leads to two major issues. The first, which is purely in-game, is that Aya will not always target the desired enemy. Logic says that either the quickest potential kill or the largest potential threat should be taken out first. Instead, a click of L will go after the nearest enemy, which may even be behind Aya, adding disorientation to the mix. The second issue is physical. Given the placement of the analog nub on the PSP, it is simply uncomfortable to move Aya with it while also continually pressing and holding L. Though hand sizes and shapes vary, it is likely many gamers will experience cramps due to the combination of the control setup and the speed of the action.
Arguably, one of the game's new gameplay features was likely a concession for its control issues. Aya can jump from ally to ally as she nears death using her Overdive ability. This unquestionably adds an element of strategy to the firefights, but the nagging feeling that one body would have been enough if the player were in better control of Aya's movements in general is hard to dismiss.
Also suffering on the PSP are the game's in-engine visuals. They are competent, perhaps even above-average for a portable, but that caveat simply has to be used too often with The 3rd Birthday.
Parasite Eve had high production values in 1998 and ran on current hardware. It seems as though its second sequel, almost a baker's dozen years later, should have been treated with more respect than a half generation more powerful hardware and a cramp-inducing control scheme. Sure, development costs were greatly reduced by going with the PSP instead of the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. But sometimes you get what you pay for.
Buy The 3rd Birthday on Amazon.com.