Franchises can do a weird thing when they are left to sit for a long period of time. The Parasite Eve franchise has seen two different entries, but both of these games had a few differences between them as the series evolved into the newly developed survival horror genre which began back in the late 90’s. Now there has been eleven years since the release of the last Parasite Eve game but fans of Aya Brea and the series have finally gotten a third game.
Not everything is as it seems. The only thing signifying The 3rd Birthday is the third entry to the Parasite Eve franchise is the 3 in the title. Many things have been changed in The 3rd Birthday but the well-recognized Aya Brea is still here. Now with changes to nearly every aspect of the game, will The 3rd Birthday live up to the decade long wait?
The 3rd Birthday starts innocently enough. Snow is falling in New York and it is Christmas Eve 2012 and everyone is enjoying a peaceful winter day. That is of course until a blackout sweeps across the city and leaves citizens stunned as the city around them begins to fall apart. Strange vine like monstrosities begin erupting from the earth and tear apart everything in their path with no reluctance for human life. Buildings crumble, debris falls onto hapless civilians and even the Statue of Liberty becomes home to a city destroying vine.
The vines are something never before seen in the world and the world classifies these plant like organisms as The Babel. The opening cutscene certainly sets the tone for a game where humans are at the mercy from unknown creatures that tear apart a city and the struggle to survive begins. A year has passed since the initial destruction of New York and Aya Brea is the only one who can work to prevent these disasters. Aya is now part of the Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI) and is able to dive into the past through an ability called Overdive. Through this ability she is assigned to dive into specific events in the past and do what she can to change the events in the past and change history.
Now the story itself revolves around lots of time traveling thanks to Aya’s ability and this also means that players are given plenty of information to take in at once. Thankfully the game contains a glossary of information that can be read in case they feel lost to the events occurring. This helps greatly because the storyline is certainly a great aspect of The 3rd Birthday with plenty of plot twists and tense moments.
One thing can leave a sour taste in the mouth of fans of past games however, and that is Aya Brea herself. Due to circumstances you will have to find out for yourself Aya is not who she used to be, losing her memories and it seems her personality. Strong female characters are hard to come by in the video game world and Aya Brea often was seen as one of the pillar examples of a strong female lead. This changes however in The 3rd Birthday as she is often meek and unsure of what she should do when facing a difficult situation. This could easily be attributed to the fact that Aya has lost all memory of who and what she was as memory loss could easily create a personality shift such as we see here. As a whole it still feels like a loss that Aya isn’t quite as we remember her but she still is the only one the world can turn to.
Square Enix has always been a company that you can look to for graphically impressive games and The 3rd Birthday is no exception to this rule. Cut scenes play out with CG movie quality that you will be hard pressed to find on most other PSP titles. These cuts cenes are practically flawless in their presentation and the eye candy doesn’t stop when the cut scene ends.
The characters outside of the cutscenes are also very well detailed and look great on the small screen of the PSP. Aya’s clothing gets torn realistically enough when she takes too much damage or is hit by a powerful attack and she really looks like she is getting hurt from her appearance. The Twisted themselves come in a variety of different forms and, while not really scary, are certainly a sight to behold. The world of 3rd Birthday is just as great to look at as everything else with enough plenty of unique areas for Aya to dive back into despite being centered on an urban setting.
Fans of Chuck and Supernatural should hear a few familiar voices because Aya Brea herself is voiced by Yvonne Strahovski, Sarah Walker from Chuck while Kyle Madigan is voiced of Jensen Ackles of Supernatural fame. The voice work by the characters themselves is some of the best you can find but unfortunately the dialogue that they are provided is a bit of a disappointment. This can be attributed to the translation effort from the original Japanese game to English which is depressingly blunt with little nuance.
The 3rd Birthday plays as an over the shoulder shooter with the player always in control of Aya. Before every mission begins the player has an option of buying various weapons and performing a battle simulation which lets the player figure out the best weapons they want to use. Aya can bring three weapons into battle at a time, though one recommended weapon is her default pistol which, while not as strong as other weapons in the game, has infinite ammo and is certainly a useful piece of equipment in tight situations.
Weapons usually lock on to the closest Twisted when they are aimed and can be switched by pressing left and right on the D-Pad but the camera can often be a hindrance which I will address later. As a whole every weapon is also customizable with various upgrades to increase a weapons statistics which is a necessity as the player comes across stronger and more advanced Twisted as the game goes on.
The Twisted themselves come in many different varieties. There are your standard simple enemies which appear often enough and are easily defeated. But for every common Twisted is a Twisted that has a certain twist to it, or a special skill that makes it extremely difficult to destroy. For example a certain Twisted can paralyze and grab Aya in its claws and can cause imminent death. The catch here is that Aya can then switch to a different body and eliminate the Twisted without any worry of death yet. The boss twisted are of a completely different design however as these bosses often only have a specific weak point that can be attacked but can also deal out near instant kill attacks that Aya must avoid by either dodge rolling out of the way or switching to a body that will not be killed.
Avoiding enemy blows is a key strategy in The 3rd Birthday. Although Aya may be able to avoid death by switching to a different body in the area, these various soldiers can also be hurt on their own. Aya can dodge roll or side step incoming attacks and if timed right can avoid damage. The problem with being damaged is the fact that health regeneration is very slow and only happens when Aya is completely still. This can be done by hiding behind cover but cover can be destroyed in only a few hits so managing your health and the soldiers’ health around you is a must.
I’ve spoken much about the Overdive system that The 3rd Birthday employs and I’m sure you’re curious about it as well. The Overdive system allows Aya to occupy the body of any living soldier in the area around her. Overdive is an essential part of gameplay as some enemies can only be killed by a soldier that is carrying a specific weapon or is inside of a vehicle. Aya can still die and if she does suffer too much damage will end up losing her life. A few key sections of the game will provide Aya with only a few soldiers available to access which places Aya in difficult situations where if she cannot manage to protect the other soldiers and dispatch the Twisted in the area, she will be at their mercy.
Overdive doesn’t only allow you to switch bodies however. If an enemy is attacked repeatedly enough they can be stunned. When they are stunned Aya will have a short period of time where she can dive into the enemy Twisted and deal massive damage which will usually kill weaker foes and hurt stronger ones severely. Using weapons with a high Impact rating will increase the players’ chance to stun an enemy but also deal less damage overall. By aiming at one Twisted for a period of time Aya will link with other soldiers where she can direct them to perform a Crossfire ability where every soldier in range focuses their fire on that specific Twisted, increasing the chance to stun them.
Besides the ability to dive into enemies Aya also has the Liberation ability. Liberation fills up over time as Aya defeats enemies and deals out damage. When the bar is filled up Aya can activate Liberation mode, giving her a drastic increase in power. Aya will be able to warp around the battle field, take significantly less damage from enemy attacks, dual wield pistols that do very high levels of damage and cause the enemy to become stunned quickly and the use of her Overdive Kill does even more damage than before. Liberation can change the tide of nearly any battle but can be difficult to charge and the lack of Overdive in a difficult battle could mean the death of Aya.
Now Aya is able to gain experience as she kills different Twisted but she is also able to obtain something called Over-Energy Chips when she Overdives into friendly soldiers or Overdive Kills Twisted. These chips can then be inserted into a 3×3 grid that represents Aya’s DNA and provide her a variety of different abilities. These abilities range from faster healing, more damage from your weapons, defense increase and more. The chip cannot be removed once it has been inserted into the DNA board but it can link to other abilities of the same type immediately next to it.
The grid system is difficult to learn at first but it is a necessity to master as the skills and buffs provided by the Over-Energy Chips provide lots of help in battle. Two chips of the same type placed next to each other will add their levels together, meaning a level 3 chip will add onto a level 2 chip to make a level 5 skill. Players can also place chips on top of other chips and overwrite the chip in that place. This can cause the level of a skill to increase or decrease while it may also completely mutate the DNA and change the chip entirely. It can be quite confusing at first but mastery will make Aya’s DNA a powerful assistant in battle.
Earlier I mentioned that the camera made fighting some enemies difficult and this is quite true. Being on the PSP it is inherently an issue that without dual analog sticks, camera control is an iffy affair with the D-Pad. This is only made worse when most areas involve enclosed spaces and it will be difficult to see what you are shooting at or what is hitting you at times. The auto-aim feature is helpful in this case but when the player uses a weapon without auto-aim such as a grenade launcher or sniper rifle the aiming is sluggish at best and can often cause the player unnecessary damage.
Now The 3rd Birthday may appear a bit odd as a sequel to the Parasite Eve franchise but it can be better seen as a reimaging due to the amount of changes. Aya Brea returns but the gameplay and design are quite different from previous titles. The body switching mechanic is not only interesting in its own right, but is also implemented well. The camera holds back the title and many fans will be upset by the way that Aya has changed and, even though the story is good in its own right, the way it is presented is a bit disappointing. The game has a respectable length to the title for a Shooter-RPG, clocking in at around 12 hours for one playthrough with New Game+ options letting the player start the story again with all of their levels and weaponry intact.
I give The 3rd Birthday