Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday is the “latest” entry of the underground cult classic series Parasite Eve. The series was based on a horror novel by pharmacist and microbiologist Hideaki Sena and serves as a prequel to the games. The franchise has evolved into its own series while still keeping key elements from the novel. Much of the original team from the 90s Square Enix era returns to work on this game since the series was a collaboration between Kadowka, the original publisher, and SquareSoft, before the Enix merger. This was part of the 90s boom in the west for Japanese entertainment, especially R rated anime, and J-horror, a form of underground cult entertainment that is not accessible to the Western mainstream.
The Third Birthday takes place 10 years after the events of the previous games and is once again set in New York, just like in the first game. The game is stylized like a procedural TV show but it is in a non-linear format that’s really out of sequence. The stories atmosphere were very dark and apocalyptic.
Strange creatures known only as the Twisted, are just starting to appear in New York cannibalizing every human they see and now the world is once again in crisis.
The series protagonist Aya Brea is once again put in the crosshairs of a world ending event. She must find out who the Twisted are and destroy them before they destroy human civilization. Besides Aya, there are plenty of other returning characters from the previous games like Kyle Maddigan, Eve Breya, and Kunihiko Maeda.
Throughout the series Aya is a very conflicted character. She is often considered to be an outcast due to her genetic connection to Eve and her supernatural powers makes her peers suspicious of her. She just wants to survive, protect her friends and her family, and to stop any threat once and for all. While life went on for people in New York, Aya will never forget what happened. She has made it her life’s goal to prevent the tragedies that happened in New York decades ago from ever happening again.
Deaths and transformations are very grisly and unnerving and the series is notable for its body horror elements and the dark side of humanity and science experiments. The concepts and story themes of the series are extremely dark and very disturbing and this game, just like the previous ones, are not meant for the faint of heart.
The game uses a full real time action third person gameplay in contrast to the mixture of active real time and turn based game of the previous games. You can select multiple difficulty options from easy to hard. You can visit shops during checkpoints during the game and also refill ammo and health. You can also read through notes and profiles of the characters in the game. You can also unlock new outfits that come with their own bonuses and special enhancements.
Overdrive is a new feature in this game. You can use it to move from body to body of your allies and to move quickly. You also gain the health as well as the target you are controlling either full or near death. You can use it to critically attack enemies while you are locked onto them with your weapons once they are weakened. You can also take control of mounted machine guns and a helicopter and its very powerful. You can hide behind cover and also recover health.
Another new feature is Liberation Mode. Each time you shoot an enemy, it fills up the gauge where Aya can use infinite ammo and move quickly, and use powerful dual wielding guns to kill enemies for a short period of time.
You can use a variety of weapons in the game and also upgrade and customize them with various parts you upgrade. You can even level them up as well the more you use them and also unlock more powerful variants of parts and weapons. After each mission, you are graded on your performance such as how much enemies were killed and whether you died or not. The higher your grade, the more rewards you will get like extra xp points and money you earn. The objectives in the game are common ones seen in any other third person shooter; go to this location, kill enemies defend locations and so forth.
The animation is superb and even today, still looks great. Square Enix is really one of the best animators I have seen. Yoko Shimoura, the composer for the series and for Kingdom Hearts returns and she does an excellent job capturing the horror atmosphere of the series. The audio quality again was outstanding and takes full advantage of the PSP capabilities. The graphics and cutscenes they are highly detailed and well animated and even today, they remain impressive. The frame rate never dropped thanks to the developers exploiting the full of the PSP capabilities.
The character designs are once again done by Tetsuya Nomura and the overall art direction looks really well done and nicely detailed. The enemies in the game looked very unnerving and just as the name says Twisted. The level design was well executed and New York looked very accurate to what it would have looked like in the 2010s.
There is a lot of bad things that can be said for this game. The games story is really badly written and very convoluted. This was done by the Final Fantasy 12 writer who is notorious for his confusing, muddled and lackluster writing amongst Square Enix fans. If you are a newcomer, you are going to be really lost on what has happened and the plot is not easy to follow. It felt like it was trying to be something else and sacrificed what made the series so great. It took the Japanese horror and changed it into another 3rd person shooter game but with Parasite Eve elements in it. The time traveling elements is really out of place as previous games did not have this story element. Introducing Aliens seem odd as they appear out of place in the franchise and did not fit into the overall horror theme.
There is so much continuity and plot hole errors in the game because of the time travel elements in it. The ending of the game left a lot of unanswered questions. The Twisted even out of existence, still remains a presence and there is more than likely another disastrous event waiting to happen be it a return of Eve or something else.
The characters are very cliched and can be seen in other media. Aya is one point an action heroine and another point a damsel in distress, yet in previous games, she is capable of handling herself in combat quite well but is clearly distraught over being involved in incidents like the spontaneous combustion during the opera on Christmas Eve. She is very submissive and never really seems to be questioning what is happening and is really meek in contrast to the previous games laidback outspoken New Yorker type. She also is a pushover and treated like a rookie by her superiors. To add insult to injury, despite saving the world twice, she has to once again prove herself to others, except for the returning, characters that she can save the world once again. Her significant other Kyle Maddigan is the stock action hero type that has been done to death countless times in other media. Kunihiko felt way too much like the stereotype of an anime otaku and he has a habit of being really perverted at the most random moments.
I have no problems at all with fanservice in games if it makes sense like in Bayonetta. Fanservice in this game does not make any sense and is really pointless considering the X rated violent nature of the series. Aya never even uses her own looks to seduce an enemy or to manipulate anybody in the series. The clothing tear off during battle scenes just for the sake of fanservice puts you at a serious disadvantage as you have to go all the way through a battle field just to survive while you are taking more damage then you normally would.
Square Enix has a notable history of using top voice acting talents but the voice acting and script feels cliched and cheesy in this game. It feels really toned down compared to previous games just to appeal a more mainstream audience instead of focusing on the quality of the horror and story of the game.
The camera felt uncomfortable at times and the shooter mechanics felt off balance and somewhat confusing. The over energy system was not that great. It was really nothing with an assorted mix of stat boosts and combinations that don’t mix together. If you mix things up, you are going to get status ailments that will hinder you. This felt like a more simplified version of the melding system from the portable console Kingdom Heart games. One of the ways to unlock a weapon is you have to beat it 6 times going through the same things over and over again. In fact, unlocking stuff in the game is extremely monotonous and time consuming.
While this is not game that killed the series despite its decade long dormancy,it is certainly not the worst game I have played but not the best either.
It gets about 3 stars out of 5.
Parasite Eve fans would certainly get a sense of enjoyment out of it. Considering the remake of Final Fantasy 7 and the remaster of Final Fantasy 8, this game is a perfect candidate for remake. Improve the original gameplay and turn it into a real time action third person shooter with JRPG elements, but keep the original story intact and update it to fill in whatever plot holes the original had.