Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Horrorthon: Parasite Eve

I was put off playing Parasite Eve for a long time because here in Europe we only ever got Parasite Eve 2. While I didn’t play much of PE2 it seemed like a very lacklustre Resident Evil clone and didn’t hold my attention so I assumed the original was the same. Turns out I was very wrong; Parasite Eve is a strange mish-mash of action and RPG that works exceptionally well.

I recently read at Jeremy Parish’s Telebunny that Parasite Eve was a collaboration between the Japanese Squaresoft and an American based team with CGI created by a big name Hollywood effects studio. This would make a lot of sense since Parasite Eve is set in New York during the Christmas holidays. When Japanese developers try to recreate American culture they usually get it very wrong (gloriously so in the case of the Mother series).  Parasite Eve’s depiction of New York nails the cop drama dynamic, albeit a cop drama filled with horribly mutated creatures.

The depiction of New York is surprisingly accurate
Parasite Eve is a sequel to the horror/sci-fi novel of the same name by Hideaki Sena. The game and book give a good science fiction explanation of the science behind the plot but in short the mitochondria of human cells evolve enough to become sentient and rebel against the rest of the cell to try and become their own form of life. As someone with a PhD in science it actually makes some sense although it gets a bit crazier in the videogame. The game opens with NYPD cop and protagonist Aya Brea going to the opera with her bellend of a date. That’s when everything goes wrong. When the female lead of the opera, Melissa, begins to sing the audience start to burst into flames. Everyone except Aya seems to be affected. It’s a wonderful piece of CGI that is up there with the best openings of any game. Aya chases down horribly mutating Melissa who now calls herself Eve. It’s not just people spontaneously bursting into flames that she has to contend with but the local wildlife are also mutating into horrible creatures. Over the next 6 days Aya and the NYPD must hunt down and stop Eve’s malicious plans to create a new dominant lifeform.

Nearly 15 years on the opening cutscene is still disturbing.
At first glance Parasite Eve looks like a Resident Evil clone. The backgrounds are CGI rendered stills with polygonal models imposed on top of them. Parasite Eve is a more linear experience that doesn’t focus on puzzles and searching for keys, although there is a little of that. Some people will be glad to hear the Parasite Eve does away with Resident Evil’s tank controls. Although battles aren’t random, they trigger at certain points in the field and enemies are not visible until battle is initiated. During battle you are free to move around avoiding enemy attacks until your ATB gauge is full allowing you to attack, cast ‘parasite energy’ (magic), or enter the menu.  When you attack a wire frame appears around your character showing the effective range of your weapon. Attack outside this range and your shots will deal less damage and likely miss. It’s a bit like Vagrant Story except it works a whole lot better since you can freely dodge attacks. The depth comes from knowing the right time to attack since you are stationary and vulnerable while attacking.

You are free to move to avoid attacks but once you commit to an attack you are locked into it and cannot move until the animation is complete. During this time enemies can freely attack you.
Being an RPG you can of course level up but the most important system in the game is weapon and armour customisation. All weapons and armour have base stats as well as bonus stats. These bonus stats can be transferred to other pieces of equipment. You can build up some serious bonus stats using this system. You can also transfer item abilities such as rapid fire, acid bullets or auto potion to pieces of equipment using the same system. It’s a system that allows you to really craft your own weapons. You can also carry over a piece of armour and a weapon to the EX mode, a form of new game+. You’ll need them since this opens up a new rock hard 77 floor randomly generated dungeon in the Chrysler Building. Completing the Chrysler Building gives the games true ending.

Parasite Eve the game can be a little silly in places and doesn’t compare to the novel in terms of narrative but it’s no less entertaining. Fighting grotesque mutants is fun but the heart of the game is the characters themselves. Aya Brea is an excellent strong female protagonist and the game never focuses on her sex appeal, an unfortunate rarity in videogames. Her relationship with her fellow officers and Maede the Japanese scientist is well fleshed out. Her partner Daniel is especially well written, his terribly parenting skills make him a lot more believable. Then there is Eve herself, a great villain that constantly harasses Aya throughout. It’s wonderfully paced, clocking in at about 15 hours. Plot revelations and impressive CGI cutscenes come thick and fast so there’s not a slow moment in the game.

Crappy dad, great cop partner. Why is Aya called Karen here? Answers on a postcard.

The CGI backgrounds and cutscenes look good for their time but have aged a little. The CGI cutscenes are well directed which makes up for slightly dated CG. Graphically it is somewhere between FFVII and FFVIII. They really managed to achieve the cinematic feel the creators set out to achieve. The wintery New York depicted in the game has echoes of cop dramas like Law and Order, except with more mitochondrial monstrosities of course. The soundtrack, composed by Yoko Shimomura of Street Fighter 2 and Kingdom Hearts fame, is excellent despite a somewhat fake sounding opera sample.

Parasite Eve is a wonderful combination of horror, action and RPG and I’m amazing Square has never returned to the same gameplay formula. The battle system works brilliantly and more RPGs should take from short length of the game. The lack of filler and slow boring exposition scenes leaves the game excellently paced. The contemporary setting is a refreshing alternative to the overdone fantasy and sci-fi settings. I’d go so far as to say that Parasite Eve is the best combination of action and RPG since Secret of Mana. The game is available on PSN although only in the US and Japan but Europeans still have access to to these stores so there's no excuse to miss out.

If you don't play it Eve will set you on fire.


  1. I've got the PAL sequel and the third game for the PSP but I've never played either due to not playing this one first. Thankfully I have a chipped PS1 so I may have a crack at picking up an NTSC copy from America. Nice overview by the way - don't see these games discussed too much so I wasn't clued-up on what they were like.

  2. I need to give this a go since it's on the PSN and maybe I can get it on the PSP too.

    1. If it's on PSN it will work on the PSP, I'd say it would be a good platform to play it on as well.