After waiting eleven years for a sequel to Parasite Eve II, The 3rd Birthday is not exactly the game I was expecting. That’s a hard sentence for me to write—the weight of my personal history with Parasite Eve alone almost betrays my hand. I’ve long grown used to Japanese developers’ penchant for paper-thin-psycho-anime-style sci-fi storylines in games, and learned to take them with a grain of salt.
And yet T3B’s narrative is so nonsensical and uneven it leaves me at a loss for words. It almost feels more like a side-story than a true Parasite Eve 3. Aya’s character is more or less completely different, as are the world, the characters, and the game’s design, and the slowly unraveling narrative feels disconnected, almost jarringly so at times. Though the game has its reasons and it begins to resemble the sequel to PE II that it actually is by the end, fans looking for a linear progression in the same vein of the first two games will most likely be disappointed with T3B’s fragmentary progression. Basically it has the designs to be a sprawling epic narrative, but is generally undermined every step of the way, making it hard to ever connect with anything that’s going on. I don’t remember the last time a game continually jerked me around from “Oh, that kind of makes sense,” to “WTF?” and back again so many times, but so it is with The 3rd Birthday.
However, let me be clear: I am not saying that I don’t enjoy T3B. It’s still a fun game. Its execution just leaves something to be desired. As it stands, the game plays sort of like Resident Evil 4, only with an auto-aim button and an interesting body-snatching mechanic ripped from Prototype (or Square’s own Mindjack, if you prefer). Essentially Manhattan has been laid to waste by mutated species called the Twisted, and Aya, a member of a government counter-insurgence agency created to deal with the problem, has to leap back in time in order to prevent certain future events from happening using an ability called Overdive. Overdive doesn’t actually send Aya back to the past, but rather sends her consciousness there, temporarily inhabiting the body of whoever she’s possessing at the moment. This makes up the basis of combat: Aya can overdive at any time into any adjacent NPC, which can give translate into an advantage in battle, given that when you overdive you inherit that NPC’s health, weaponry, and vantage point. Overdiving into enemies is Aya’s other major skill, which implodes them from inside before sending Aya’s consciousness back to the last NPC she was in.
What works well with overdive is how Square hasn’t skimped on its usage. The Twisted are quick and agile, and often attack in large groups—in fact game battles get so intense that if you’re not constantly on your toes, you can easily die in a matter of seconds. Make no mistake, even on normal difficulty T3B requires a lot from its players, and expects you to pick up the mechanics of battle quickly with what at first appears to be a relatively steep learning curve. However, overdive is always key. By quickly jumping from ally to ally (generally the only NPCs you find are military personnel brought it to deal with the monsters), you can maintain distance between you and your target, something that becomes absolutely essential in the latter half of the game. You may often find yourself using soldiers as bait for monsters before leaping out and attacking the Twisted from behind, which despite its moral dubiousness, is a handy tactic to employ in certain cases. Still, the game is highly challenging—almost unfairly so at times, given certain situations with respawning enemy points, not to mention all the game’s action taking place in real-time—so if you’re expecting an easy time of things, you’re going to have your hands full here.
Luckily Aya has a few RPG tricks up her sleeves, though. Weapon customization is back, but Aya also has a gene grid that can be used to unlock and level up abilities like regenerating health for both the player and NPCs, attack up, crossfire (a group attack that focuses all NPC energy on a single target), and other offensive and defensive measure. It’s not quite magic, and if you’re expecting a wide variety of cellular special abilities, you’re again going to be disappointed, though like its predecessors T3B seem to be a game that demands replays before you can make use of a lot of its deeper strategies. However, once you’re leveled up a bit and can clear a room of Twisted (who often have really high health meters) in a matter of minutes, it’s deeply satisfying.
Square still seems to be hurting for focus to some degree, as a lot of the things I mentioned above I had to either figure out on my own or simply were almost too buried to really be accessible. It took three or four hours to get the hang of how and when to use overdive as well as getting used to the pace of combat (only MercurySteam’s Castlevania has kept me as vigilant in battle in the past several years). Aya’s gene upgrade system has no tutorial that I could find, though if you’ve played enough RPGs you can figure it out without too many problems—that being said, it still feels buried underneath T3B’s overlying action game shell. I’m not ever one to advocate handholding in games, but there are few times where at least a little more direction would have been helpful. In some ways the lack of direction makes T3B feel like a throwback, while in others it just comes off as unfocused. You may have to fight a little to really enjoy the game to its fullest extent.
On other hand, T3B may be the most gorgeous PSP game I’ve seen yet, with only Peace Walker giving it a run for its money; Yoko Shimomura’s beautiful soundtrack is the perfect blend of old and new motifs; the action, once you get the hang of it, is mostly a lot of fun, give or take a few ridiculously unfair scenarios. Even the real-time damage to Aya’s costumes, needlessly sexist almost to the point of parody, are a nice touch, since you have to repair them in order for any given outfit to perform at top defense (a notion I had to learn the hard way on more than a few occasions). The 3rd Birthday is undoubtedly a hot mess, but if fans can look past its flaws, there good game lurking somewhere beneath its surface, waiting to be enjoyed. Well, as long as you’re not looking for Parasite Eve 3.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The 3rd Birthday is a testament to the idea that the last games on a console always look the best. This one is a stunner. 3.5 Control
For the most part, the standard control setup works well, aside from the occasional autoaim problem. Getting your reaction speeds up to par can take a bit of getting used to, however. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is fantastic, but a lot of the voiceover is pretty bad. Aya’s Yvonne Strahovski gets to do little more than utter little gasps like a Japanese schoolgirl. 3.4 Play Value
The 3rd Birthday is fun, if not quite Parasite Eve. You may have to dig for its value at times, though the tough gameplay is eventually rewarding. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best