The 3rd Birthday ReviewGreg Knoll
Am I playing this on the PlayStation 3?
However silly and deranged that sounds, it was my first thought when I began 3rd Birthday. I'm not one to begin a critique raving about how gorgeous a game is, but it's stunning (not just Aya mind you) and-as I said-could rival some games available on the more powerful hardware in Sony's line-up.
That seems to be the one thing Square has done flawlessly-the mechanics of the game. There are no bad voice-overs, no dingy cut-scenes and no apparent glitches. While it may intimidate some to play a third-person shooter with only one analog stick, what they developed works-by instilling a targeting system via the shoulder buttons, where the left locks on and the right fires your weapon. The odd, inane camera angles from the first two are gone, replaced with a stationary shot tight over Aya's shoulder that moves when she targets another enemy. It's quick and precise, one flick of the D-pad switches targets and square allows for quick changes of your weapons inventory. Speed is necessary because 3rd Birthday doesn't follow the usual random-encounter situations present in the first two Parasite Evil titles. Any battles are done in real time, with no switch between idle moments and fire-fights. It more resembles Gears Of War or Socom 4 than Final Fantasy.
Such a new endeavor has both its good and bad points. It's a far more commonly played genre and it's easier to pick up and get used to. Battles are no longer dull, drawn-out hurdles to overcome in order to further the story. They're fast and sometimes overwhelming, utilizing a mix of rapid-fire guns and finding suitable cover-that as well easy as pushing one button. With the market over-saturated with RPGs, it was a nice change and a pleasant shift from the well-known series.
However, I worry they strayed a little too far from the original formula too quickly, not giving gamers time to adjust. Die hard fans of Parasite Eve may find the new route jarring, especially since Square has re-released the original and allowed gamers to enjoy it once more. A better option may have been to ease players into it, chipping the old style away to make way for the new.
Gone, also, are Aya's wonderful mitochondria powers-better known as spells. She no longer has the ability to heal herself, poison enemies or speed herself up with haste. There are some options that allow you certain leniencies like refilling your ammo, temporarily increasing your defense and strength, but these are items found on a newly introduced DNA board, where you can attach OE Chips with different influences-greater firepower, the ability to heal teammates, etc. And while that's an interesting twist, their use is subconscious and happen and random intervals where the gamer has no control. It's somewhat disheartening, especially since that was one of the most prominent and entertaining things from the first two.
Yet with disdain there is also hope. While 3rd Birthday may have eliminated one amazing aspect, they've introduced another that in many ways is far superior-Overdive. Aya isn't actually battling all these enemies she encounters-not technically at least. She lives in a bleak, desolate future where new frightening creatures called The Twisted have taken over. Two years prior they came, rupturing up from the earth to overtake New York. Tiny violent monsters and massive abominations that swallow skyscrapers whole. No one could fight them, none knew how and they've controlled ever since. However, and inexplicable for most of the game, Aya has the ability to travel into the past-soul only-and change the outcome of pivotal battles by controlling random people present at that time. Once there, she could switch from soldier to soldier by using the Overdive technique or even use it to rupture an enemy from the inside. It adds yet another quick, fast-paced element of strategy to the game. You don't' have the option to heal, but if you're overwhelmed or trapped, you can lock on to another party present and warp to their body. If they have higher HP, you're safe for the time being. You'll also travel to where they are, sometimes giving you an advantage by instantly placing you at an enemy's weak point or getting you out of a tight bind if you're in a closed off area. So long as there is someone else in the area you have the ability to switch to them. Every so often, as well, you can warp into someone carrying a new weapon, like the intense satellite laser or the soldier manning a helicopter's machine gun.
It was entertaining, without question, but I'm left to wonder why they eliminated the tools from the original Parasite Eve when combined it would have been incredible. Perhaps, though, that would have made Aya too powerful. Only Square can say for sure.
And ultimately that is my biggest complaint about 3rd Birthday. I wished they had taken the time to ease gamers into a system that's brand new in all aspects. It feels like they pushed too hard to redefine the series entirely. From a newcomer's standpoint they would find a fresh, unique, well-constructed title with incredibly ingenious elements. For those of us who have played the Parasite Eve games before it may not be what we expected. That's not to say it's bad game-not by any means-it's just so sudden and abrupt of a change it takes some getting used to and some disappointment to get over.
Ultimately, I'm curious to see where it goes from here-whether they'll ease back and introduce more familiar elements or they'll remain steady and push this new design. Either way, I think it would work and it did work here. Let's face it, you have to start somewhere. Parasite Eve was completely unique when it came out, and that one turned out just fine. Maybe this is only the beginning.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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