At The Height of Evolution – Sony Playstation – Parasite Eve – 1998

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Parasite Eve
Sony Playstation
Squaresoft
1998
Genre: Horror Action RPG

Some gaming companies are a bit better known for taking chances. This tends to take place before a company establishes itself and its niche. Square, if the stories are to be believed, took a huge chance with Final Fantasy to save the company. Clearly, this paid off more than some other deviations from the norm for other companies. This also may have given the company more motivation to take the occasional step outside of the comfortable.

Parasite Eve is an earlier role-playing game from my Playstation novice years. While this tends to be the case with a lot of my earlier role-playing experiences, I truly felt that as I played through this game again with some years under my belt, I appreciated this game much more than I had back in 1998. As the company’s first game to achieve a Mature rating from the ESRB, this is probably an obvious statement to make, since the game is almost 20 years old at this point, but this brings up the question as to how has the rest of the game has aged. Even more, how does it look against the rest of Squaresoft’s library at the time and since it became Square Enix?

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The wire-mesh orb around Aya signifies her effective attack range.

Parasite Eve opens on Christmas Eve at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. NYPD detective Aya Brea is on a “date” to the opera in a rare night off that quickly goes awry. As the lead of the opera, Melissa Pearce, sings at the climax of the show, the audience begins to burst into flames, enshrouding the hall in a blaze that takes the lives of everybody- except for Aya.

Taking matters into her own hands to apprehend the young woman, she, along with her partner, Daniel, and a scientist, Maeda, become involved in a fantastic story revolving around humanity’s biology and evolution and concerning the survival of the human race as a whole.

There are a few notable things to bear in mind about this game, nearly all positive and progressive for the time. First, the plot is nearly 100 percent the reason for the ESRB rating. Throughout the game, the antagonist is attempting to birth the ‘Ultimate Being’. While this involves several scientific conversations- of which I personally can’t validate the accuracy of- it also involves a lot of conversation about insemination and attempting to stop said conception and birth. The imagery in the game is also grotesque on a visceral level in some of the well-detailed cutscenes, showing animals being torn apart in transformation and other unsettling images outside of the core matter.

Aya Brea is also an exception in the ‘heroine’ stereotypes of the time. She is not scantily clad, instead being garbed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket throughout most of the adventure. There is also no sign of forcing a romantic plot. While Aya is hit on once by a fellow younger officer, it is not persistent as with many female leads from the time. Even her date at the beginning seems more interested in himself than her. Her conversations mostly revolve around the actual plot or, when confronting the antagonist, detailing what it happening and unraveling the plot. Given some of the stories of Square Enix’s recent conferences and conversations, this is a huge step forward in a time before they may have taken a few steps back.

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That’s a little bit simple, but- yeah, that’s about the half of it.

Mechanically, the game has some interesting tricks up its sleeve. The only stats that Aya can advance are her ATB (Active Battle System) which determines how often she can act, and Item Capacity, so that she can hold more, as items are fairly prevalent, despite not having shops or any place to purchase them. All of the stats for Aya are determined by manipulating and transferring parameters from old pieces of armor and weaponry to new pieces through finding ‘Tools’. The parameters can also be advanced by using Bonus Points that Aya receives through leveling up. While this can be a really nice way to control how your battles play out and what benefits you receive from the armor you want to use- especially since you can transfer your best equipment to a New Game EX once you finish the game- if you dismantle the wrong piece of equipment, it could potentially be frustrating.

Battle play out as a hybrid of turn-based and action RPG. When battle ensues- usually while entering a new room or area- Aya’s ATB begins to run. Once it becomes full, the player can pause the battle to enter commands, which consist of using the equipped weapon, using a power through Parasite Energy (this game’s version of ‘magic’, for all intent), or using an item to heal up. In between, however, the player will be maneuvering Aya to avoid enemy attacks. It does make for interesting strategies, but if the player wants, it is easy to power through with enough knowledge of the upgrade systems and exploration for bonuses for armor and weapons, usually found as items (‘Offense +2’ or ‘PE +1’, for example).

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Eve cuts a terrifying and vengeful figure.

In all honesty, this is probably my favorite RPG that I have replayed through from Square’s Playstation library, at least currently. The story is handled well, never dwelling for too long or getting bogged down with extraneous business over the six days that it takes place. The modern setting and characterizations remind me a lot of the older Persona games in tone and weight. All of the characters are believable and fleshed out, particularly Aya and Daniel. In it’s 15-20 hour run time, Parasite Eve does more than I feel most of Square’s games did at the time by keeping things concise and oriented on the plot, even when it gets complicated. It may help that Parasite Eve is based on a novel, or it may be that this was a combination of the US and Japanese Squaresoft teams. Whatever it was, it was a boon to the finished product.

On the technical side, as well, the game is constructed beautifully. The menus are clean and easy to navigate. Tutorials are given as the game progresses, but they quickly make way for the actual game, as opposed to being out of the way to access or popping up ten hours in. Items lists are easily able to be sorted, and rather than having to discard old items, the player can access a weapons storage facility at the NYPD to store weapons for upgrades later, should they choose to.

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And yes, you get to fight a reanimated T-Rex.

The downsides to the game are near negligible. The main problem being that the game isvery linear. There is one ‘optional’ dungeon in the first run through that lasts for about 20 minutes of the game’s run time. Other than that, you are follo
wing the story with very little freedom outside exploring for treasures or getting lost in ‘dungeons’. Setting up for an EX Game feels almost hollow, though the Chrysler Building acts as an optional challenge should one want to play through again and experience its 77 floors of battle. The only other issue is visual, though, and doesn’t have a ton of bearing on enjoying the game, per se.

Parasite Eve is gorgeous, though shows some signs of its age through the limitations of the time. This reflects in the character models in cutscenes, save for the antagonist, Eve, who appears suitably ethereal and inhuman in her models. The environments are the rendered 2.5D fare that most Squaresoft games and other ambitious RPGs of the time exercised, though the realistic and dark surroundings never become bland or too repetitive. The only real issue is that while most games make a point to outline special items and chests for the player to retrieve, many of these blend into the environments, taking a keen eye to discern and thorough exploration in unlikely places to gather everything you can.

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The menus are clean and easy.  The gun model names might get a little confusing, however.

The audio of the game feels incredibly ’90s’. There is a lot of bass and synthesizer used, but it keeps up the tension as the story unfolds. With a fun piece of information, Yoko Shimomura, composer of games such as Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts, brings some music to the project that doesn’t always feel like her usual work. While the soundtrack isn’t entirely memorable, it does a lot to enhance the game while it is unfolding, and the final sequence’s beats and tones will probably be the one track I’ll take away from the game, both due to the actual sequence in the game and effect that the soundtrack has on amplifying the action.

All in all, Parasite Eve is still a strong role-playing game, and the rough edges of the game that have resulted from the passage of time are obvious but don’t deter from the experience. Spawning two sequels, the game clearly left a mark, though neither of the sequels are as well regarded as the original.

The game appears on the Playstation Network as a PSOne Classic, so it is accessible through the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita, if you are interested in checking out this unique work from Squaresoft- which you definitely should be, if you are looking for an engaging role-playing game that you may not play many times, but you’ll enjoy on the one trip you may make through it.

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