The Parasite Eve games, developed by Squaresoft, blend elements of survival horror with those of traditional RPGs. After an eleven year hiatus following the release of Parasite Eve II Aya Brea is back in this “cinematic action RPG” for the PlayStation Portable.
Not fitting squarely into any particular genre, The 3rd Birthday is an incredibly difficult game to describe. It throws elements from third-person games, tactical-shooters, survival horror, and RPGs into a blender. The combination is about as pretty as you might expect.
Story is something crucial to any RPG. The 3rd Birthday’s narrative is poorly delivered, largely incomprehensible and makes less sense as the game wears on. It is December 24, 2012 and everyone in Manhattan is having a grand old time. Suddenly, giant tentacles and monsters appear and begin destroying the city and slaughtering its residents. Yes, tentacles. Pardon me while I facepalm for a moment.
Luckily, Aya Brea is back to defeat the monstrous “Twisted” that have invaded the city. With a psychic time machine and the ability to transfer her soul to another person’s body, something called an “Overdive”, Aya can project consciousness on people in the past to alter history. From there the plot really jumps off the deep end, exploring concepts of time travel and existentialism.
If you’re unfamiliar with the rest of the series the Parasite Eve games were a part of the wave of survival horror titles that hit the PlayStation in the late 1990s. Parasite Eve II, in particular, was similar to the early Resident Evil titles. The 3rd Birthday all but abandons those roots. Aside from the subject manner of monsters and somewhat clunky controls, there really isn’t much in the way of survival horror here anymore.
Similarly, RPG elements still exist but don’t have a terribly large impact on the game as a whole. As the game progresses Aya will level up, earn new abilities, and acquire new gear. If you’re a fan of staples of the genre such as exploration or intricate stories, you may be in for disappointment.
There’s absolutely no semblance of exploration in The 3rd Birthday. Players will progress linearly from room to room, solely tasked with defeating the enemies. Intermittent save rooms and cutscenes are the only diversions in the grind towards the closing credits.
On the story front, this is possibly Square Enix’s worst effort since Final Fantasy XIII. When playing The 3rd Birthday it quickly becomes apparent that far more effort was put into making the cinematics look pretty than conveying a truly thought provoking or engaging narrative experience.
If there’s one aspect of the game to praise, it’s the visuals. Say what you want about Square Enix, but they know how to make a good-looking game. The 3rd Birthday is no exception, and is easily one of the best looking games on the PSP.
Another saving grace for the game is combat. As a third-person shooter, the game is decent. With most weapons, you can lock on to targets automatically. So, the challenge isn’t in hitting enemies as much as it is staying alive long enough to deal out enough damage to defeat them. In this aspect, the game is more comparable to Capcom’s Gamecube title P.N.03 than either traditional shooters or horror titles.
Weapons such as sniper rifles, grenade launchers require you to aim for yourself. The combination of a less than perfect camera and the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick can make using them a chore.
The 3rd Birthday also features some squad-based shooter elements. Throughout the game Aya will be accompanied by several other soldiers into battle. Under the right circumstances, gunfire can be concentrated onto single enemies for considerable damage. It’s not a particularly deep element of the game; you won’t be telling individual soldiers to fire at particular enemies or creating formations, but what little there is works well enough.
Aya can also Overdive to any soldier in the vicinity, and possess that person’s body. If you are about to die or just want a different vantage point, it’s as easy as hitting the triangle button and diving across the room to another soldier. This ability also has an offensive component. Sustaining an assault on a particular enemy for a period of time will cause a triangle emblem to appear over the enemy. This ability allows Aya to project her psyche on the enemy for a powerful attack.
Attacking enemies also fills up a gauge called “Liberation”. When using this ability Aya’s movement becomes incredibly fast and allows her to deal out a significant amount of damage, oftentimes facilitating powerful Overdive attacks. Liberation is incredibly fun but is unfortunately short-lived, lasting only for a few fleeting moments.
Combat is definitely exciting, if slightly repetitive, and definitely ratchets up the tension as the game progresses. Unfortunately, the fun is oftentimes interrupted by periods of extreme frustration. Regrettably, luck and persistence plays more of a role in surmounting these obstacles than actual skill.
Measuring any of the individual components present within The 3rd Birthday to their respective genres as a whole shows that the game isn’t terribly successful at anything it does. However, those comparisons aren’t exactly indicative of the overall experience. It’s a fun and reasonably well-made game that, unfortunately, attempts to do too many things to do any of them very well.
It looks gorgeous, but the story is incomprehensible and poorly delivered.
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The 3rd Birthday is fun, yet frustrating at times.
The score and sound effects are decent, yet largely inappropriate given the subject matter and situations with which it is presented.
You can several hours into a single playthrough, but aside from some unlockable costumes and an additional cutscene there isn't much reason to do so.
The 3rd Birthday is a fun and reasonably well-made game that, unfortunately, attempts to do too many things to do any of them terribly well.