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The 3rd Birthday review

Solid
AT A GLANCE
  • Pretty cutscenes and graphics
  • Unique Overdive mechanic
  • Challenging difficulty
  • Some control issues
  • Lack of quicksave option
  • What have they done to Aya?!

Parasite Eve fans have nervously awaited The 3rd Birthday's arrival for quite some time now. Some of us were disappointed when it was announced for PSP, coupled with a vaguely pessimistic outlook because the title, which dropped the Parasite Eve name entirely, suggested it wasn't a full sequel. Despite this, Aya Brea reprises her role as protagonist, and the action-RPG gameplay is mostly intact. It's definitely a different take on the series though, both in gameplay and story.


Above: The cutscenes are particularly pretty, but the in-game graphics are strong too

Here's the set-up: monsters called Twisted are taking over the world in present day, and humanity is on the verge of complete annihilation. Aya Brea has the unique power to use a device that sends her consciousness back in time, where she can "dive" into a nearby person and control his or her body. By going back to the time of the initial Twisted outbreak, Aya hopes to change the timeline by defeating the Twisted before they can spread.

The combat is similar to that of the first two Parasite Eves, in that it's an action shooter that mainly involves auto-targeting while dodging enemy attacks. Aya's powers have been substantially pared down compared to the first two games (her Parasite Energy powers have been completely removed), but she still has a few special moves, including a brief but intensely strong powerup called Liberation, as well as the all-new Overdive ability, which is easily the most interesting thing the gameplay has going for it. During battle, Aya's consciousness can jump from soldier to soldier any time (you use the triangle button to select which soldier to transfer to), which can be exploited in several strategic ways.

For example, you can use Overdive to arrange the soldiers in advantageous formations across the field to minimize casualties and maximize efficiency. If your health is running low, you can switch to a soldier with more HP to save yourself from death, but conversely you can also switch to someone with low HP to allow recovery and preserve your squad's numbers (HP regenerates while Aya is standing still).  Aya can equip three guns of her own that travel with her as she dives from body to body, but each soldier has an additional fourth gun that differs from soldier to soldier that you can experiment with. All together, Overdive definitely adds a layer of depth that complements the gameplay well.

The combat is nicely varied in other ways, too. Aya's arsenal of guns all function distinctly, and you have good options not only for her trusty handgun but for assault rifles, shotguns and the like. Some weapons, like sniper rifles, can't use auto-targeting, and the aiming mechanic works well to add a nice traditional shooter element to the gameplay. There are also a few sequences where you get to control heavy equipment like tanks and copters, which breaks up the regular 3rd person sections nicely so that the action never feels monotonous (it also helps that the game is fairly short – I beat it in just under 10 hours).

The combat does suffer because of the limitations of the PSP controls though. Most annoyingly, since you move Aya with the nub and move the camera with the d-pad, it's impossible to control the camera while Aya is moving, which can obviously be extremely frustrating during battle. The L button re-centers the camera, but it's also used to auto-target the nearest enemy, so it isn't helpful for adjusting the camera during fights. To change targets you also have to use the d-pad, meaning that you can't switch targets while running and dodging either. Often it feels like a third hand is needed to properly use the controls. 

Aya's new Overdive ability might enhance the gameplay, but the concept of diving through time definitely hurts the story. Unlike the fairly straightforward (if somewhat bizarre) plots of the previous Parasite Eve games, The 3rd Birthday's story jumps all over the place and is often difficult to follow. The time discontinuities and alternate realities only further muddle a story that's already confusing and convoluted to begin with, and the story often makes huge leaps that you just have to shrug and go with. Yet despite the scattered confusion of the plot, the one thing that's glaringly obvious from the start is who the not-so-secret secretly evil character is. There's something wrong when you can somehow see the twist coming a mile away even though you don't totally understand the story.


Above: Using Crossfire directs all soldiers on the field to attack the targeted enemy at once. Aya can also use an Overdive Kill on staggered enemies (shown by the yellow triangle) for massive damage

And while we're talking about story and characters, I would like to take a moment (or several paragraphs) to express my strong objection to what has become of protagonist Aya Brea. I'm a huge fan of the first Parasite Eve, and Aya is a major reason why it continues to rank highly in my favorite games of all time. She was one of the few game heroines who actually felt totally realistic. Everything about her seemed believable for her role as an NYPD detective, from her practical wardrobe to her dogged resolve and bravery. She was sexy too, and when Mitochondria Eve suddenly attacked the opera she was attending at Carnegie Hall, she was still able to drop enemies cold while wearing a dress and heels. But of course, she changed into jeans and a t-shirt/jacket as soon as she could afterwards, because that's the practical thing to do if you're heading into combat. In a game about sentient mitochondria trying to usurp the human race, Aya Brea was as down-to-earth as a character could get.

Needless to say, I was unhappy when Parasite Eve II portrayed her as a miniskirt-clad, machine-gun toting over-sexualized stereotypical caricature of a woman, complete with shower scene. The 3rd Birthday takes the ridiculousness to a new level though – her destructible clothing is particularly cringe-worthy, with her left ass cheek completely exposed at all times unless you constantly pay to have her clothing repaired. Her character has been completely stripped not only of clothes but of personality too, and she's portrayed as just a mindless yes-woman taking orders without question.


Above: It gets way worse than this - her pants almost completely disappear at full damage 

Don't get me wrong – gratuitous over-sexualization certainly has its place if that's what the character/series is known for. If a game is initially built upon the foundation of pillowy mounds of breasteses, that's one thing – but it seems disrespectful and crass to change a pre-established character so dramatically in such an obvious boner-baiting ploy. Imagine if Mirror's Edge 2 restyled Faith as a busty bombshell parkouring around the city in a string bikini with boob and ass physics, for example. It feels wrong to those of us who knew Aya from the first Parasite Eve. It's as if Square-Enix got Aya Brea mixed up with Aya from Onechanbara.

Speaking of unfortunate recharacterizations, Dr. Maeda returns from the first Parasite Eve, but instead of the mild-mannered genius we were introduced to before, he's depicted as a lecherous creep – with no explanation for the character change whatsoever. What the hell? He had a polite crush on Aya in the first game, but in The 3rd Birthday he grotesquely and vocally gets excited about the prospect of Aya's little sister being an underage, more "nubile" version of her. Why happen?!

The story may turn off fans of the first two Parasite Eve games, but if you can get past the inane plot and characterizations, there's still a solid action-RPG underneath. Even on the easiest difficulty it's quite challenging too, and there are lots of real incentives for playing through multiple times and leveling Aya's equipment and abilities (of course, upon completing your first playthrough the first item you unlock is a maid outfit… ugh). It's almost worth recommending more to people totally new to the series, because if you're not invested in the characters you'll have less issues with the direction The 3rd Birthday has taken. Here's hoping Aya gets the respect she deserves if Parasite Eve ever gets a full sequel on consoles.

Mar 25, 2011

More Info

Available Platforms: PSP
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix, HexaDrive
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence

29 comments

  • Bluefox - April 17, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    Regarding Aya Brea, it sounds like an unfortunate development. But I haven't played the previous PE games so I don't know much about her. What I DO know, is that this is a shooter where your enemies are monsters! I've been waiting for a game like that to hit the psp, most of the shooters now are versus other military personnel and it gets boring after a while with no story to back it up..
  • ghostlion88 - April 4, 2011 3:51 p.m.

    Well what can I say? I have no problem whatsoever with beautiful female nudity in games. It was kind of inevitable here because they probably wanted to use Aya's sexual appeal to help sell the game, and because...well, you get a bunch of male developers who sit behind computers and drawing boards for hours everyday, not seeing much of the outside world, and they're bound to start releasing repressed fantasies in some form. But I do sympathize with the reviewer here. The exposure of Aya's skin should have been more optional in consideration for some female gamers who understandably would like to play as a character with more dignity. Hang in there Carolyn, more games have got to come out eventually where they get it right. And I'm not sure this is quite the "Other M" of Parasite Eve. Maybe the story is butchered (I wouldn't know, having never played any other PE games), but the game is quite fun to play, and I would have enjoyed just as much whether Aya got naked or not-though, admittedly for me, it does make it a hundred times better.
  • Cleanser247 - March 28, 2011 5:05 p.m.

    I've been watching stuff on this game for a while now. Great review!
  • Fusionmix - March 28, 2011 11:25 a.m.

    Yeah, another game I will not be getting. Hotness or no. An incomprehensible plot and stupid main character? Yeaaaahno.
  • philipshaw - March 28, 2011 9:54 a.m.

    I was interested in this game,thought it was going to be the systems last big game but what they have done to the character sounds awful. Also those controls just sound bad,they should have went the MGS:PW route and allowed camera control with the face buttons
  • Darkhawk - March 28, 2011 5:58 a.m.

    Good review. I'm glad someone called Square out on this. The original PE is easily one of my favourite PS1 games, but this has me quite concerned. Plus: all I really want is the original combat mechanic back. (They used it in Vagrant Story, but I think that's it.)
  • ssjMrFord - March 28, 2011 3:49 a.m.

    While there was a shower scene in PEII the game didn't really mess with her character that much. She's still a strong, level headed cop (fed this time) that can handle herself. Also, if you were actually paying attention you'd see that Aya is actually wearing shorts the entire game, it makes sense as a majority of the game takes place in a freaking desert.
  • Flashinthepan - March 28, 2011 12:36 a.m.

    What I wouldn't give for a PS3 release of this game.(probably my hands, possibly internal organs.) I still haven't played the second one, because it was $45 used at the store, so I was looking forward to the third installation in P.E. Maybe I'll have to break down and buy the second game, unless a nice someone can lone me a copy. Also, Maeda is the Otican of Parasite Eve, so to hear he isn't involved anymore makes me tear up a little.
  • AngeDechu - March 27, 2011 9:41 p.m.

    Well, people, I have my issues with the game too (was a fan of the first two PE), but....there is a detail that explains rather well the character difference. (Spoilers) It's not Aya we play. It's Eve. Eve used her overdrive thing (by accident) on Aya... (Meh, for one time, story and game mechanics are not separated) shourg
  • 510BrotherPanda - March 27, 2011 5:03 a.m.

    Never played a PE game before. This over-sexualization makes this sound like the 'Other M' of 'Parasite Eve'...
  • meg127 - March 26, 2011 8:47 p.m.

    Its Square Enix what did you expect? They destroy characters and create stupid plots for fun.
  • waffman11 - March 26, 2011 7:24 p.m.

    The camera control with the D-pad wouldn't be a problem for me- as a massive fan of the Monster Hunter Freedom series, I learned to hold my left index finger around the system to hit the D-pad while moving. It's actually a fairly comfortable position once you get used to it.
  • broj5870 - March 26, 2011 5:11 p.m.

    its too bad i was deff upset to hear its only for the PSP. Im playing P.E. on my p3 right now with the guide and let me tell ya, a good game is still a good game and i LOVE Parasite Eve.
  • Cyberninja - March 26, 2011 3:24 p.m.

    the reason why the game is so different is because SE lost the rights to the Parasite Eve name and characters somehow but they managed to legally use the character Aya if they made a completely new story and had no connections to the old games.
  • MkLangley - March 26, 2011 10:16 a.m.

    @ViolentLee Its not the same at all, Samus didn't have a personality before Prime, and even in the prime games she was plain terrible. Other M was a pretty big jump in development, she exposed her past and we could gradually see how Samus grew into the bad ass she is today. It was a very conceivable and solid character. Just because some people don't enjoy exposure fragility doesn't mean its a bad thing. Kratos has to be one of the worst developed characters of the industry because of just that, he is just a plain, 1 dimensional forced bad ass.
  • paganpoet - March 26, 2011 8:07 a.m.

    @RebornKusabi Are you serious? I'll agree that Leon and Chris have both become more attractive as the series has progressed, but let's talk when one of Chris Redfield's alternate costumes is little more than a loin cloth...only then will he be as "overly sexualized" as the female characters in the series.
  • aJAWSOMEocelot - March 26, 2011 8:06 a.m.

    Made outfit upon completion? I will have to be a misogynistic bastard about this one. I am so in!
  • ViolentLee - March 26, 2011 7:48 a.m.

    What have they done to Aya? The same thing Other M did to Samus, apparently. Not cool...
  • quincytheodore - March 26, 2011 5:15 a.m.

    I can relate to the reviewer. The reason Aya is (was?) a compelling character is that she's beautiful, but still realistic. Her personality and as you've said, down-to-earth manner was unique compare to booby horde. I was excited about the realistic in-game damage because clothes do get torn apart in battle, and the char will get scrapped, that makes sense. Most RPG, let say FF XIII, has Lightning and co running as fugitive for 50 hours straight across forest, mine, town and even sewer. Without wardrobe change, make-up or even bath (I don't say they should include bath scene, but I wouldn't mind, I'm rambling...) they still look like Cocoon Next Top Model. That's unrealistic. I hoped that in-game damage will be a plus point, maybe like new Tomb Raider, not something that would actually hurt the game. And they even changed the personality of the chars, that's seriously odd. Do they think that it's to appeal to new generation or something? Is this even made by the same team, if not, did the new team just made sh*t up? At least the old team must have sent some memo, "Don't screw my characters!" Major disappointment. :(
  • ranzatsu - March 26, 2011 4:44 a.m.

    I played PE and PE 2 when I was only eight and I enjoyed it so much. You can say I've been waiting for this game for so many years, and I'm still gonna get it. I guess Aya lost her memories, since in the recent trailers, since she doesn't remember Kyle or anyone else, explaining her change in character. And besides. If you guys have noticed her artworks for the previous games, she's already been in sexy poses. And the clothes thing? Square had said that it's normal for your clothes to get torn as you receive damage, and it's not meant to be erotic. The other costumes you can put her up in are also man-targeted, but the more revealing your costume is, the lower your defense. Your speed goes higher, though. I still wish they'd give her other costumes other than a bunny girl outfit... Hope you guys don't lose your heads.

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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