The 3rd Birthday Review
Back in my PS1 days, I loved Parasite Eve. My friends were more into Metal Gear Solid, the Final Fantasy games and Xenogears, but Parasite Eve remained a personal favorite. It combined a lot of what I loved about the emerging survival horror genre with the turn- and time-based fights of traditional RPGs – only with a heavier emphasis on the action. There was no standing in a Red Rover line, attacking and defending with boring menu after boring menu; no, the player had full control of Aya Brea, the game's protagonist, and she was armed with some pretty substantial human and supernatural weapons. I'll admit that I couldn't follow the story until I replayed the game a few years later, but what a story it was! In fact, Parasite Eve is one of the only PS1 discs I still have on my shelf. I just loved that game.
Now the second Parasite Eve sequel, strangely called The 3rd Birthday, is on the PSP (there was a Parasite Eve II in there somewhere, I just never got to play it). The announcement of this title a few months ago had me all worked up, in the way a Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Kid Icarus (!) or Adventures of Bayou Billy revival would. But now that its here, this isn't the best birthday ever I had hoped for.
The events of The 3rd Birthday happen sometime after the events of Parasite Eve II. No longer is Aya an NYPD officer with some mitochondrial hidden powers; she is now part of an organization attempting to keep the Twisted, a new type of enemy, from wiping out the Earth's human population. The thing is, that may have already happened. Our hero spends her time in the recent past, jumping from body to body with a process called Overdrive. Its kind of hard to explain, but I'll go for it. Aya hangs out/is imprisoned by CTI, a pro-human group. She takes missions from them, which usually involve using her Overdrive to jump to an exact point and place in time. Once there, she, and the others in the area, do battle to change the course of the future. Story elements do eventually expand, but the first bits feel very "Terminator-esque."
Unlike Parasite Eve, which focused more on action than RPG, The 3rd Birthday is a straight-up third person shooter with some very light RPG customization. If you liked the puzzles and inventory of the first game, this one will probably just aggravate you. If you're in the mood for one of the better shooters on the PSP, The 3rd Birthday will probably scratch that itch.
Back to the Overdrive, it doesn't just allow Aya to jump back and forth in time, it also allows here to take control of the other soldiers – and even the enemies – on the killing fields. If that sounds too complex and annoying, you are right – at first. The opening scenes can be shot through without a single Overdrive body switch, though you will lose the lives of the soldiers attacked while you aren't paying attention. Later in the game, especially during larger fights, you'll have no choice but to jump around. You'll definitely want to be in the right place at the right time when a monster shows its only weakness, and a lot of time that can only be done by flashing to a soldier on a certain balcony or behind some distant cover. Thankfully, the game puts your feet to the fire and forces you to get good at jumping from body to body, and before long it feels pretty natural.
Overdrive allows for the jump into enemies as well, but you won't have any control over what happens when you do so. To activate this, both Aya and another soldier must be focusing on a single enemy for a set period of time. A triangle appears on the enemy when it is is ready, and an Overdrive jump into its body will cause a whole lot more damage than any of your guns or powers. This also fatigues Aya for a moment, forcing balanced use of the system; Overdriving a single enemy may kill it, but it does nothing to help against the six that have Aya surrounded while she can't move. This is battlefield strategy lite (just one calorie), but it does keep things interesting.
The 3rd Birthday may not be the Parasite Eve sequel I wanted, but it is still a pretty good game with a major flaw – linearity. The 3rd Birthday doesn't have much in the way of side quests, it has a minor character building/leveling system and even if it did have these things, there is too much blasting going on to consider them. The story doesn't match up to the original, either; and the environments, though well detailed, are small and point A to point B target practice. If you can ignore these missteps and make it to the end of the game (it isn't a very long one), you'll be treated to some cool final boss battles and a nice story wrap-up, but this isn't a game you'll be thinking about when you aren't playing it.
Is Aya Brea's third adventure worth it? If you like shooters and past Parasite Eve titles, probably. If you want a Square Enix title with a more RPG slant, then steer clear. I had fun with the game beginning to end, but I have a sneaking suspicion I could be one of the few that will.
Final Rating: 74%.