Has Parasite Eve Devolved?
In none too many words: it depends. Upon first booting up The 3rd Birthday, a veteran of the 1997 classic Parasite Eve will notice one of two things missing from the formula of the Playstation 1's vaunted 'Cinematic RPG' - either they'll focus on the RPG component being dropped in favor of an over-the-shoulder shooter system akin to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, or they'll focus on protagonist Aya Brea not QUITE being the take-no-nonsense cop they fell in love with on a toasty Christmas Eve at Carnegie Hall. How the metaseries has progressed from Point A to Point B is a long, winded - dare I say, Twisted - tale.
Dive! Dive!Perhaps the biggest (mechanical) departure from Parasite Eve and PE2 is T3B's newest expression of Aya's paranormal genetic superpowers: rather than various support and attack skills firing akin to a magic system in the previous titles, Aya's redubbed "Over Energy" takes on a litany of chance-to-passive-boost skills that take a backseat to the primary mechanic of the game: the art of the Overdive.
See, in yet another nail in the coffin of Aya not quite being herself, for most of the game she's actually possessing National Guardsmen and SWAT officers in the midst of their own Point-A-to-Point-B campaigns against the game's core creatures, the abominable and hard-hitting (if somewhat repetitive) Twisted. Death is cheap, so long as you don't indulge too often - careful management of the spare bodies you're Overdived into and placement of the ones you're not immediately using are key to hitting targets hard, and the more you have on hand the better. The Overdive system even manages to pay lip service to the weird mitochondrial science that Square seems to be distancing itself from via not branding the game as "Parasite Eve III" - Aya's primary finishing move is scrambling the genes of Twisted via the same consciousness-projecting antics that let her body-hop from soldier to soldier.
A Piece of RefrainIf any aspect of The 3rd Birthday may be considered a five-star performance, it has to be its soundtrack - Yoko Shimomura is back in the composer's seat after being absent for Parasite Eve II, and it shows from the second the opening FMV keys up. Remixes of PE1's defining themes (well, the ones that don't incorporate Eva's Aria, anyway) intermingle with all-new melodies, each adding their own flavor to the game's increasing shoot-and-scoot challenges: the perennially-airy "Arise Within You" punctuates urban assaults while frantic themes like "Bloody Black" and "Terminus Zero" accompany claustrophobic battles with the most formidable of Twisted, and one PE1 holdover winds up getting turned on its head for what could be the game's most defining boss fight.
You've Caused a TIME PARADOX!!T3B's plot, while possessed of its own kitschy sci-fi merits, sadly could wind up being the fly in the ointment for longtime PE fans. Where once there were infodumps on the mutation patterns of mitochondria and a chilling "what happened during Christmas 1997 could potentially happen anywhere (and already did in Japan)" feel, there's now a time-travel driven yarn that doesn't quite live up to the 'survival horror' moniker - a drift into fantasy territory only exacerbated by a sudden injection of the sexuality PE games traditionally left to the concept and promotional art. Aya's clothing functions as armor, and a clear conflict of interest is in play between how little damage it mitigates, how easily it gets damaged, and how seductively it tears away. I can't even be arsed to reread the instruction manual these days - fittingly enough because the first thing the cover greets you with is a shot of Aya's bum encased in the all-too-torn-up jeans she's sporting on the front of the game case.
The average Giantbomb user might think this a tad prudish, but all I can say without spoiling the meat and potatoes of the game's plot twists is that, yes, the ending WILL make this Action Girl's multiclass into Sex Object all the more alarming. ESPECIALLY if you wound up unlocking a shower scene or two along the way.
Time is the Judge of AllAll in all, if The 3rd Birthday truly proves anything, it's that Parasite Eve remains the vintage it once was, but the places it sours in definitely mark where it's sat untapped by Square for far longer than necessary. Whether these are directorial mishaps or artifacts from its initial development as a cell phone game are still up in the air (though rapidly coming down on the former), but just like the others in its line, T3B at least proves to be a gun-tweaking, gene-overclocking, creature-blasting good time.
(And hey, you can get Aya and Lightning to dress as each other via a Lightning costume unlockable in this game and a PSN DLC code for an Aya costume in Dissidia Duodecim: Final Fantasy - hilarity is BOUND to ensue when Square Enix's old and new gunslinger girls join forces!)