Parasite Eve is the new cinematic RPG from Squaresoft and the first game published by the newly formed Square/EA. The game is a combination of Panzer Dragoon Saga style battles and Resident Evil style exploration. Combined with a surreal story based on a Japanese novel of the same name, Parasite Eve is a unique and entertaining experience.
"The most dangerous enemies lie within."
The Mitochondria: microorganisms living within human cells and providing energy. They have existed symbiotically with the cell's nucleus for hundreds of millions of years. The mitochondria have their own genetic code and are capable of evolving and multiplying. After years of research it has been discovered that all mitochondria can be traced to one source: a human female in ancient Africa, identified as, "Mitochondria Eve". What if this organism had its own agenda and was waiting for the day to take over the human race? It is Christmas Eve in New York and she has awoken. The final battle for survival has begun, and our enemy is ourselves.
You control Aya Brea, a rookie detective on the NYPD police force. While attending an opera on Christmas Eve, she witnesses the re-birth of Eve through a young singer named Melissa Pearce. Aya is the sole survivor of the carnage that Eve reaps that night and is the only one who can stop her before mankind is lost.
The story is solid and fast paced, pulling you into a reality very close to our own. It is also complex, not holding back on the college lectures on basic biology. You'll definitely know a bit more about the way your cells work when the game is over, though the concept of revolting mitochondria is a bit far fetched. The character of Aya is very well conceived and realized. She is a classic character; orphaned as a child she grew up a tomboy and was determined to become a cop. There is a sadness about her that counterpoints the tough exterior and it makes her extremely likeable. I felt drawn to her character and would have liked the story to further explore her past between childhood and her time on the force. Maybe we can learn more in the almost guaranteed, I hope, sequel.
The supporting cast unfortunately doesn't carry the same weight as Aya, not even the villain. The girl that Eve takes over had a lot of potential but we don't learn much about her personality. Aya's partner, Daniel, also had some potential but his best moments revolved around his pseudo father/daughter relationship with Aya. His personal life, and especially his relationship with his son, rarely gets the attention it deserves. Instead we're stuck with the stereotypical cop that is devoted to his job instead of his family. I would have preferred that the side story with his family was ignored and his relationship with Aya was explored more. The other supporting character, a young scientist from Japan, is rather interesting. His obvious affection for Aya and his backward attempts to express it are humorous and endearing at the same time. It's just too bad we don't get to see that much of him as he doesn't appear until later in the game.
Since this is the first game from Square/EA, I was paying close attention to the translation done by their team. And I must say I was very pleased. The script was transferred flawlessly and localized very well. The dialogue isn't especially colorful and there isn't all that much text, but it's definitely a good sign that nothing is misspelled and sentences are structured properly.
Overall it is a well told story but character development is a bit too sparse. More character interaction is needed and you feel almost no animosity toward the villain. Instead you feel sorrow for the beautiful girl that was taken over by Eve and whose body she inhabits. The relationship between Eve, Melissa and Aya is quite intriguing but doesn't really get explored to the extent it should be. Rather than an emotionally draining conflict we get plain explanations of powerful ties. I'd like to read the book if I could find an English copy just to see how close the story was translated. And maybe I could find what the game was missing in terms of depth through the book. A loss of character exploration is usually during the translation of a novel to the movie screen. I just wish Square hadn't taken that cinematic RPG label to the fullest extent and given us a few more pages of interesting dialogue. I know they did what they set out to do in delivering a cinematic gaming experience, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.
The graphics in Parasite Eve are simply fantastic. They use the same combination that Resident Evil made famous: polygon character model in a pre-rendered environment. The backgrounds are as good as those seen in Resident Evil 2 with a load of detail in almost every screen. The clutter of the NYPD detective's office, snow lining the tree branches in Central Park and the shopping district of Soho are all represented in incredible detail and clarity. Dramatic lighting further enhances the atmosphere and it is all very true to New York City itself. If you've ever been there you'll be surprised that this game wasn't developed in the city itself. I have to commend the team on their research of the areas they tried to represent.
The polygonal character models are also excellent and move fluidly. All their body language enhances the story and tells us even more about the character. And gratefully the gestures are not overdone as they have been in other games. A simple nod of the head or a look is really all that is needed and it is executed to near perfection in this game. The models are also texture-mapped and look very nice, at least from a distance. As you get closer they tend to get very pixilated. It is also obvious that they spent more time on Aya than the other characters. Her textures tend to be cleaner and much more detailed, especially in her face. Her striking blue eyes always shine through. I can't really fault them for focusing on her, but for a few up close scenes I wish they'd have put a little more effort into the other characters. Sometimes they don't even bother with a face texture, using well-placed shading instead. The mutated enemy creatures are varied and quite disturbing. From giant rats to mutated bears the enemies never disappoint. The bosses are also well made and some of them are huge, taking up most of the screen. Polygons are really advancing combining the fluid movement that hey always had with more and more detailed character models. More and more polygonal games are displaying a unique look and the artist's unique style is coming through. I haven't forgotten about 2D yet, but Aya Brea has certainly been running through my mind. The spell special effects are clean but not very spectacular. They are far from bad, but when you see the rest of the game they look a little weak in comparison.
One of the main features of the game that has been hyped beyond belief is the FMV cut scenes. And trust me, the hype doesn't even come close to expressing how mind blowing the FMV is. You are absolutely glued to the screen when one comes up instead of wanting to skip past it like you may have in other games. Right from the very opening when the camera swoops down on the Statue of Liberty as snow gently falls on her face, melting and giving her the appearance of crying, you will be hooked. It's almost worth owning the game just to see the cinemas in their full screen glory over and over. The opening scene in the opera house is absolutely beautiful and horrific. I could describe it to you but it would never be as good as seeing it. The characters are much less stiff, their hair flowing and clothing rippling around them and facial expressions much more pronounced and realistic. It is extremely smooth and light-years beyond Final Fantasy VII and even Resident Evil 2. Only actual cell animation like in Ghost in the Shell or Lunar is smoother and looks better. While the CG FMV is much cleaner now, less like plastic toys and more like 3D cell animation, it still has a ways to go to match the unique look of hand drawn art.
The sound effects in the game are adequate if not quite attention grabbing. The different weapons all have their own sound when fired, explosions and other dramatic effects are all strong but many are lifted from other games. All the magic sound effects sound familiar as well. The sound of Aya's footsteps on different surfaces is well done and really adds to the atmosphere in each area.
The music in the game is fantastic and fits the emotion and theme of the game perfectly. A mixture of techno, orchestra and excellent piano arrangements create a great mix of gothic and intense music to accompany a gothic and intense game. The quality is top notch and the soundtrack is probably worth purchasing. They also use an operatic voice throughout which is basically a warbling midi effect. It works very nicely but occasionally goes too far with the effect and the spell is broken. The opera singer is gone and a weak midi effect is left. You only notice it in the opening and when you really listen for it, but a voice sample instead of the midi effect would have been nicer and not that difficult.
"Lock and Load."
The gameplay is a mixture of Resident Evil style exploration and Panzer Saga's real-time battles. Real-time interactive gameplay seems to be the new trend in role-playing games and I must say that I like it. The battles always feel fresh and never totally repetitive. You only control Aya in the game and it is analog compatible, which makes things much easier. Aya can walk and run by pushing lightly or all the way on the analog stick. With a digital controller you have to use a run button and that can distract you during battles. Switching between walking and running is necessary in battle to keep your foe off balance and recognizing your patterns. Controlling Aya is a breeze and unlike Resident Evil you don't always have to press forward to go forward no matter which way your facing so control is much more intuitive and easy to pick up. While exploring you press the x button to examine objects or chests. The pre-rendered nature of the backgrounds sometimes makes it difficult to see what you can examine so you'll spend a lot of time clicking away at objects. The pre-renders also create some blind spots in areas where you just have to inch along pressing x because you can't see parts of the room. It's a minor inconvenience in only a few areas but it can be very time consuming. Items that you can find in chests located throughout the game include power-ups, health items, keys, ammo, weapons and armor along with various special items.
Battles do not occur randomly and are instead triggered when you reach a certain point in a room. The same battle may occur again when you re-cross that point. Battles are in real-time and Aya is controlled exactly the same way as when she's exploring. While trying to avoid enemy attacks, Aya's AT bar will fill up. When it is full she has a few options. She can use any items in her inventory to heal herself or equip herself with a new weapon or armor. She can attack if she is in range of her opponent. Range depends on the weapon being used and can be enhanced with power-up items. Handguns have a short range but your AT bar fills faster while rifles have a long range and take longer to be used again. Also, the further away you are, the less damage you will do and the chance of a critical attack is lowered. Your strategy will depend on your enemy, as some will do more damage up close while others are deadly from a long range. Some will have both short and long range attacks so you have to choose your poison and equip appropriately. Which armor you equip is just as important. Some armor is stronger against physical attacks while others are strong against magic. Some armor will allow your AT to raise quicker while others let you carry more items. Picking the right armor or creating a perfect balance through power-up items is very important if you want to beat the game. Each battle will test your reflexes and ability to think quickly. You are able to pause in battle to catch your breath so don't feel too intimidated. Aya is also able to use Parasite Energy, or magic, due to her relationship with Eve. You learn new spells as you go up in levels and you can heal, create barriers, speed up your AT, slow your enemies and much more. Using it drains Aya's PE bar and if you use it all she will stagger and take some easy hits. The PE bar will constantly rise during battle and the rate it rises also depends on the armor you are wearing. You can use the parasite energy outside of battle to heal, but the bar won't rise again until you go into another battle.
Throughout the game are weapon and armor power-ups that you can find and use. You can raise your weapon's attack power, its range and the number of bullets it can fire in one round. You can raise your armor's physical defense, parasite energy defense and its critical attack defense. The number of slots on your weapon limits how many power-ups you can add. There is no limit on armor that I could find. You can add more slots to a weapon by taking it to the weapons department at the police station. If you have been putting a lot of power-ups on one weapon and you find a better one you can move those added power-ups to the new weapon with a tool. Tools are located throughout the game and you use them by going into the menu and selecting the tool option. You choose the weapon you want to add to and the weapon that already has the power-ups and use the tool on them. Your new weapon will improve but the old weapon will be lost for good. It works the exact same way with armor.
While you gain experience in battle like a regular RPG, you also gain bonus points depending on how well you fought. When you get 100 bonus points you are able to raise an attribute by one. You can improve a current weapon or armor or you can raise the speed your AT bar fills or raise the number of items you can carry. You can create a different Aya every time you play depending on how you use your bonus points.
The game is well balanced challenge-wise and slowly prepares you for the difficult battles and huge mazes later in the game. You never feel bored or that the game is impossibly difficult. The pre-rendered backgrounds sometimes unnecessarily limit your movement in battle as your forced to stay on a set path. It is most noticeable in Central Park where you have wide-open spaces all around but you can only move on the main walkway. There are only 6 to 8 hours of gameplay but it is an intense 6 to 8 hours and really doesn't need to be longer though I would have liked more dialogue. Don't be fooled by the short playing time because it doesn't feel that short. Resident Evil 2 is one of the best games I've ever played and I can beat it in less than 2 hours. It's not about the time spent, but the quality of that time.
Parasite Eve is far from your typical RPG, so much so that it has created its own definition. While it could have use more story depth and freedom of movement it is a high quality game that you will remember for awhile and want to play more than once. I know you'll definitely want to play more than once but I really can't tell you why. A good secret is only good while it's a secret.