It’s the day before Halloween and, thus, the last day of our Horror Video Game Roundup. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the horror induced by genre tropes (Resident Evil), helplessness (Slender), dread and atmosphere (Silent Hill), big budget production values (Dead Space), and ghost and slasher genre conventions (Fatal Frame and Clock Tower). One thing that each of these horror games have in common is that they are entirely lost in the moment. That is my very nice way of saying that none of them have a story worth mentioning, and some of them (Slender) just plain don’t have stories. It is easy to make a horror game or movie that skimps on storytelling elements. After all, isn’t it scarier when you keep things simple? The Squaresoft-made game, Parasite Eve stands up to that presumption and shouts no. Today we are looking at Parasite Eve ,the game and to a smaller extent, the series.
|Back when the Soft meant quality.|
I am going to expose my bias right up front so everyone knows exactly where I stand on this game as I move forward. Parasite Eve is my favourite video game by a rather large extent. Combining JRPG, horror, and mild shooting elements, it certainly brings a lot to the table. Parasite Eve was intended to be targeted entirely at the western market. As such, New York City is the setting and it is based a lot more in reality than many JRPGs; it was also a lot gorier than any other Square game, garnering the developer its first M rating. Labeled a cinematic RPG, the game is loaded with horrific FMVs as well as terrific set pieces. These FMVs were of the utmost quality at the time. They had to be, after all, Square was using the game to test Final Fantasy VIII’s cinematic graphics.
|This is basically a rendering of Squall.|
The story is deeply science fiction horror. The basic premise is that an evolved strain of mitochondria (Stuff in cells that creates energy for us) has gained sentience and it tries to dominate the nucleus, which has the effect of trying to wipe out the population of New York (Grand oversimplification). While those details seem a little silly, they aren’t presented in that way. The game opens horrifically with the lead actress of an opera setting the audience of fire with no explanation as to how she could do such a thing. The mystery of how this person calling herself Eve has such powers, where she got them and what she plans on doing with them is critical to the game’s effect. Unlike other games the mystery actually is solved, not by conveniently scattered notes hanging around a mansion, or megalomaniacal villains, but by solid police work.
|Horrible tragedy or avant-garde theatre?|
The main character of Parasite Eve is a rookie detective named Aya Brea. As such, the game requires your character to go through obstacles like interviewing scientists, and getting permission to investigate certain points. This adds a certain level of realism and also allows the game to dole out details about the plot in a meaningful way. The game really examines what would happen in such a major crisis, from the early investigations to full out evacuation of one of the world’s biggest cities. The similar escalation of the protagonist’s own personal involvement with the villain is just as compelling, as is the level of threat Eve embodies throughout the game.
|Why Parasite Eve is worth your time|
Then there are the creatures. All of the monsters of the games are animals that have been horribly mutated by Eve’s strain of mitochondria. From the first horrific appearance of a rat to a giant three headed dog, monster transformations in this game remind me a lot of John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is possibly why it is my favourite movie. I don’t think my descriptions can do this point justice, so in lieu of a full paragraph, here are two FMVs from the game.
Parasite Eve 2 did away with everything that made Parasite Eve 1 unique and special, but it made an incredibly solid niche for itself. The game fell back as a pure Resident Evil clone, with tank controls, sparely populated environments and adding many survival horror aspects to the game. Horror was also dialled back. In place of a well told story with character development and rising tension, Parasite Eve 2 made a Resident Evil game that was better than any Resident Evil game ever made. Keeping the RPG elements really pushed the game forward. Every enemy would give you various amounts of experience and bounty points (“BP”). Experience was used to upgrade special powers, such as the ability to set enemies on fire or paralyze them with slow cell death, while BP was used to purchase guns, ammo and supplies. Survival is toned down, instead, your character becomes the hunter, as you are encouraged to seek out enemies instead of trying to run from them. However, Parasite Eve 2’s great legacy came from its post game modes. The amount of replayability of the game was astounding. From Bounty mode, which puts end game enemies at the beginning, to Scavenger mode which makes items, weapons, and ammo incredibly scarce, Parasite Eve 2 is a very special game even if it had to ignore everything that made Parasite Eve 1 so great.
|This is the infamous shower seen. So for all of the Lechers out there, the game is currently on the PSN.|
Then there is the more recent attempt to revive the franchise: The 3rd Birthday. In all honesty, 3rd Birthday lives and dies by its gameplay, which, on the PSP, was top notch. Unfortunately, it toned down the RPG elements and replayability from Parasite Eve 2. It did try to focus a little more on horror, but its story is nearly incomprehensible and there is next to no character development or action. To make matters worse, even though the PSP was stronger than the Playstation 1, and it looks like Square pumped a good chunk of money into the game, The 3rd Birthday had, by far, the least interesting and generic enemy designs. Couple that with a slew of bad design choices and a very short story and you have a game that falls down everywhere by its gameplay. Fortunately, games are defined principally by how fun they are to play.
|I should note, as a Square game, The 3rd Birthday is probably the best looking game on the PSP.|
The sales of The 3rd Birthday were rather dismal, which was incredibly predictable since it came out in the waning twilight years of the PSP, and other much better games such as Peace Walker and Valkyria Chronicles 2 had suffered heavily from this. Unfortunately, this means that the series could be dead once and for all. This is a real shame as the concept of the original Parasite Eve was strong, and, truthfully, a remake of the quality of the Resident Evil 1 remake would probably make real waves. Unfortunately, Square is far to busy in their role as publisher and pumping out as much Final Fantasy as they can to worry about giving a solid effort to their lessor franchises. Just look what happened to Chrono Trigger.
|I love Lightning, Square, but do you know who cares about these guys more than her? Everybody ever.|
So that’s the end of the Halloween Roundup guy and ghouls (Sorry). I tried to cover the mainstream series as well as a couple of the lessor known once. However, the bulk of horror games are niche one-offs, due to the law of diminishing returns in horror. There were plenty of great games I didn’t cover. For any PC user looking for a scare tomorrow, I can’t recommend Slender enough, but I would also strongly push Amnesia: The Dark Decent, a game I did not cover as I have not played it; however, word of mouth is very positive on the game. If you can possibly find a copy of it, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a wonderful look into Lovecraftian horror on the Gamecube. Of course, Playstation 3 users should just go to the PSN and download Parasite Eve, now.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer