“They don’t make them like they used to” is a phrase that is becoming more and more relevant as far as gaming as concerned. Looking at a company like Square Enix, it might be difficult to realize that, once upon a time, their non-Final Fantasy titles weren’t relegated to pointless mobile titles and blatant cash grabs, but were instead considered to be some of their best work. In between Final Fantasy titles, gamers were treated to unique games such as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and the subject of this review, Parasite Eve. Originally based on a Japanese horror novel, Parasite Eve blended concepts from the newly popularized Survival Horror genre with Square’s well-known style of quality RPG, creating one of the most unique games of the PS1 era. But is this ‘Cinematic RPG’ worth revisiting like other Squaresoft classics?
Set in New York City in the year 1997, Parasite Eve introduced gamers to the character Aya Brea, a no-nonsense NYPD officer who becomes embroiled in a strange and terrifying series of events that plague her city. While attending an opera performance on Christmas Eve, Aya witnesses the spontaneous combustion of the entire audience, with Aya mysteriously emerging as the only survivor. The act was performed by the lead actress of the opera, whose body has been taken over by a creature who identifies herself as ‘Eve.’ Eve tells a confused Aya that it is her mitochondria that spared her from death, and that the time will soon come for the mitochondria to be set free. What follows is a six-day war between Aya and Eve, as Aya attempts to put down the rebellion of the apparently sentient mitochondria, as well as uncover why she is apparently immune to Eve’s power.
Keeping in line with the ‘cinematic’ motif of the game, Parasite Eve is structured and plays out like a summer sci-fi blockbuster, but fortunately it is a pretty good one. The pseudo-science and technobabble used to explain the sentience of the Mitochondria sounds like something right out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but it does remain consistent throughout a story which, to its credit, sticks to its own internal logic. Aya is a great female protagonist, and the remaining cast, while small, is also well-rounded and engaging. Outside of a couple of grammatical errors, the game’s writing is pretty solid for a 90s RPG, showing that Square was putting more effort into their localization after the spotty translation of some of their earlier games (Final Fantasy VII included). In short, while Parasite Eve’s story doesn’t reach the heights of some other games, it’s still entertaining and engrossing enough to keep you playing, and it’s certainly better than the pen-vomit that would serve as plot in the two sequels.
Parasite Eve isn’t a very long game, taking about ten hours or so to complete, although there is a post-game dungeon accessible through a New Game +. The game takes place across six days/chapters, with each day adding new locations to the world map of New York City. Generally, each chapter will have a single location serve as the main sequence of the chapter, following some exposition scenes.
Combat in Parasite Eve is very similar to another Squaresoft RPG, Vagrant Story, with a combination of real-time and turn based mechanics that actually works. Combat works on an Active Time bar similar to the Final Fantasy games, but Aya is able to move around the battlefield in real time. When the AT bar is full, Aya is able to use an item, one of her Parasite Energy powers (the game’s equivalent of spells, which drains the game’s equivalent of MP), or attack with her equipped weapon. When selecting to attack, a green dome will show the range of Aya’s weapon, and this range, along with other factors such as the weapon’s stats, will determine how much damage is dealt.
The core concepts of Parasite Eve’s gameplay are interesting, but I do have a few gripes. First of all, the controls aren’t that great. This is a common problem with PS1 action games, but its slightly more egregious here due to the game’s nature as a horror/RPG hybrid. While Parasite Eve does use analog control to move Aya, she runs so slowly that it can actively become a hindrance during combat. In trying to mimic the direction of horror games such as Resident Evil, Square made the mistake of incorporating some of the design flaws, including fixed camera angles which obscure key items. Unfortunately, they also included some of the more annoying aspects of RPGs as well, such as a high random encounter rate. Combining these problems makes exploration rather tedious. That’s not to say the mix of horror and RPG is entirely a bad idea, but it does come with some inherent problems native to both genres at the time of their release, although to Parasite Eve’s credit it didn’t incorporate the horrible tank controls of Resident Evil (unlike Parasite Eve 2, which plays like a bad RE clone). Finally, systems such as weapon customization aren’t explained that well in the game, meaning the player will have to experiment a lot or look up clearer instructions if they want to make stronger equipment.
I’ve praised the visual direction of PS1 Squaresoft games before, and Parasite continues the trend, with gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds and well done FMV sequences. The in-game character models show a major improvement over the Popeye-armed denizens of Final Fantasy VII, as well, and they all animate very well. Of particular note is the enemy designs, which wouldn’t feel out of place in a standard horror game- there are lots of frightening depictions of mutated animals, both in and out of the FMVs. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Yoko Shimomura’s excellent score for the game, which provides a suitable sense of atmosphere throughout.
Parasite Eve is a noteworthy experiment for Square. While I did have some issues with the gameplay, which at times proved frustrating, it is still one of the most unique PS1 games ever made, and it does provide a good story and an outstanding presentation. Frankly, this really is the kind of game that just wouldn’t be made anymore. For those who are curious or looking to play some of the PS1’s more interesting classics, the game is available on the Playstation Network for a very reasonable $5.99.
SCORE- B- (Good)