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Monday, August 21, 2023

The 3rd Birthday

The Parasite Eve franchise was a nominal hit for Squaresoft in the PlayStation 1 era, blending survival horror and action RPG in a slick, well-presented fashion.  Over a decade later (and following the merger with Enix several years prior) a third game on the PSP was announced that would allegedly continue the long-dormant tale of Aya Brea.  But was the 3rd Birthday worth the wait, or was this one franchise best left at the relatively high point it ended on?

The start of my time as a devoted RPG fan can be traced back to a very specific era - the mid-to-late 90s, when technology was rounding a very big corner.  CDs were the new standard storage medium, 3D graphics were rapidly becoming the new norm and companies were finally stepping away from the stodgy tropes of the roleplaying genre, which up to that point had mostly been cookie-cutter D&D clones set in samey looking dungeons with only the barest minimum of a Find the Macguffin plot between a lot of monotonous stat crunching and monster bashing.  They were fast becoming epic movie-like productions, with inventive gameplay mechanics, imaginative settings not bound by any prior genre tropes (and actively avoiding them at every turn), and amazing stories with rich characters told by the small handful of people with the talent to write them and the tech and artistry to make them spring off the screen.  Squaresoft was undeniably an enormous part of that change too, with games like Final Fantasy, SaGa Frontier, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics keeping me hooked for hundreds of hours as I learned all their mysteries, explored their amazing universes and followed their captivating storylines. 

Parasite Eve may not have been the most acclaimed game of theirs from that era, but I still had quite a lot of fun with it as both a "cinematic RPG" and a clever blend of action-RPG and horror elements, with an alternate campaign and some seriously in-depth weapon customization adding a fair bit of replay value.  I wasn't as fond of its sequel for a number of reasons, but it was a decent survival horror if nothing else and continued the story and themes in a logical way.  Then came this wretched abomination on the PSP nearly a decade later, which not only disregards the scientific basis and unsettling mood of the first two games (and the original novel), but actively makes a mockery of everything else fans liked about them too.  Aya has her personality completely removed in favor of becoming a submissive soldier to two arrogant schmucks who constantly feed her objectives, and who are about as emotive as robots themselves owing to the amazing VA direction.  The clever blend of action and RPG elements is discarded in favor of the worst kind of mundane third person cover shooter gameplay - mowing down wave after wave of bullet-sponge enemies for hours on end with virtually no variety or tactics to employ.  The only idea that approaches uniqueness is the ability to "Overdive" into an AI-controlled character to swap positions on the fly and gain access to a fresh supply of weapons, as well as occasionally "Liberating" into an enemy to deal a big burst of damage, but it never factors into the tactical aspect of the gameplay in any significant way, unless you really care about racking up an arbitrary level ranking and grinding out zillions of points to unlock new completely combat-inappropriate outfits.  Which you really shouldn't.

But it gets worse. The monster designs just look stupid and overdesigned rather than frightening ("oh, they're called the Twisted because they're all wrapped up like Twizzlers!  Ha ha ha, we're so clever!").  The story and writing couldn't be further removed from the adult themes and body horror of the original, and is instead exactly in line what you'd expect from the same era of Square Enix that brought us Final Fantasy XIII - a constant barrage of glittery visual effects, shitty one-liners and trite power-of-love-and-friendship tweeness as a desperate bid to distract you from it having more gaping plot holes, ugly art design and one-dimensional characters than Battlefield Earth.  Just to punctuate my point, even the game's writer has stated on multiple occasions that he has no explanation for the opening shootout that drives the plot; if you can't even give a reasonable explanation for the fundamental driving force behind your story, you have no business writing one, period.  And of course, the big twist is also the biggest insult of all - they kill off Aya in the most half-assed way imaginable and  reveal Eve's actually been inhabiting her body the entire game, ensuring there will never be another entry in this franchise again.  Did I also mention there's multiple shower scenes and her clothing gets more damaged as you take hits, so they've been about a half-inch away from whoring out a twelve-year-old the entire game?  Yeah... stay classy, Square Enix. 

In closing, everyone involved with this dumpster fire - the board that approved its pitch, the designers, the artists, the developers, the committee of pretentious schmucks that wrote it, the QA team that spent months of thankless work slogging through it over and over again to get it to pass compliance, the producers that approved its gross-ass content, the publishers that bought ad space to promote it and shipped copies of it to stores, and every single person they suckered into shelling out $50 for it - wasted their time and money.  It may not be the worst-playing game Square Enix has ever produced, but it sure is the biggest backhanded insult to their audience and emblematic of every single thing wrong with the company during the period it came out in.  Even giving it the lowest score possible on my rating scale can't adequately convey how heinous an experience it is, so I'll put it this way: go ahead and give every other game I've reviewed on RPGreats a retroactive extra half-star, because none of them deserve to be rated as low as this.  The only silver lining is that it barely missed the era of platforms that have integrated microtransactions and loot boxes, because you know they wouldn't hesitate to cram that shit in too if they could.

I feel gross even posting these screenshots but I think it'd be cowardly not to show you just how low this game stoops.

Developer: Hexadrive
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: 2010
Platforms: PlayStation Portable 
Recommended Version: N/A