I have a confession to make – I never played the original Parasite Eve games. I fully intend to go back and play them when I get the chance (especially since they’re available on the PSN now, assuming it ever comes online again), but I went into this review of The 3rd Birthday with the mindset of letting the game stand on its own as if the previous games didn’t exist. I’m not entirely sure playing the earlier games would benefit your understanding of this title or not, but considering the words Parasite Eve are not in the title of The 3rd Birthday anywhere, SquareEnix themselves are banking on the fact that you shouldn’t have to play the earlier games before delving into this adventure. Read on to see what I thought.
The 3rd Birthday is a third-person shooter with RPG elements, that puts you into the shoes of a former New York City crime fighter by the name of Aya Brea. In the year 2012 (next year!), during a calm Christmas Eve in Manhattan, the city is attacked by some funky creatures affectionately referred to as the Twisted. About a year after the attack, a special task forced called Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI) is formed, and one of its members is Aya. She doesn’t remember much about her past, but she’s discovered to have this ability to transfer her soul into other human bodies by use of a special Overdrive System. This system both is capable of sending her into the past to help quell the invasion of these Twisted, as well as helps control her ability to jump into other people in that time period.
Now, judging by the description I just gave you, it would seem that the game has a rather sensible and understandable plot. I seriously do not know what the hell is going on at SquareEnix these days, and what sort of special narcotics the game writers are dabbling in over there, but the narratives in their games are just getting more and more convoluted as the years go by. From that basic plot, the game basically devolves into a mass of unintelligible, metaphysical dribble. After about 10 hours or so, once I completed the game, I seriously looked up from my PSP with glossy eyes, contemplated the monstrosity that I had just witnessed and my head immediately started hurting.
This is the second SquareEnix game in a row where I feel like the writers are just taking a bunch of random video game story concepts that might make sense independently of each other, throwing them all into a jar, shaking them up, then pulling them out at random and attempting to make a cohesive story out of them. It just doesn’t work. Thankfully, the gameplay of The 3rd Birthday is actually pretty darn fun, and not as convoluted as some other recent titles from the developer.
As you would assume to be the case in a third-person game, you’re controlling Aya with a fairly distant over-the-shoulder cam. It zooms in at various points depending what weapon you’re using. Locking onto a target, switching targets, dodging and just generally moving around is very fluid, and everything works well with the PSP. It’s hard to deny that SquareEnix has definitely gotten better with shooter-type gameplay over the years. Remember Dirge of Cerberus? Let’s not even go there.
That Overdrive ability I mentioned earlier is what really makes things fun. It allows you, at will, to shift Aya’s consciousness into another body. Typically in these missions she’s accompanied by other soldiers of the time period, so there are usually plenty of warm bodies around to shift into. You’ll have the soldier up on the balcony with a sniper rifle, the one across the room on the other side of the gigantic enemy, the one on the side around the corner that the enemy hasn’t yet seen – there’s a huge opportunity for strategy. What’s interesting about that is you can take multiplayer strategic concepts and apply them here, in a single-player formula. You can flank the enemy fairly easily, surprise them, hit them from a distance, distract them by hopping into a soldier and drawing their attention, then switching to someone behind them and laying waste. There’s a huge variety of options when it comes to using this Overdrive system to your advantage.
Of course, this is also quite handy when the host Aya is currently occupying is about ready to drop dead due to excessive pounding by a Twisted foe – just Overdrive into another nearby body and continue the fight uninterrupted. All this adds together to make the already rather intense action even more fast-paced and just plain fun. Coupled with the Overdrive ability, you also have the Liberation ability, which is a quick burst of power for Aya, that also makes her invincible and allows you to just drill into an enemy almost nonstop to finish it off.
Considering the fact that you usually have other helpers scattered around the battlefield with you, you can also use them to coordinate an assault on a rather pesky foe. You just lock onto a target and hold it long enough that an option comes up that you can use to direct everyone’s fire to the same enemy, effectively destroying it in only a few seconds. When the enemy is near death, another ability becomes available that allows you to temporarily shift into the enemy and destroy it from within, and this is highly satisfying when done at the right moment.
For the RPG side of things, Aya does level up, you gain experience from kills, as well as points to upgrade your weapons and abilities. You also can buy new weapons and various parts to improve various aspects of firing a particular one.
While you scour the depths of Manhattan to attempt to stem the tide of the Twisted, one of the coolest aspects of the game doesn’t even relate to the gameplay at all. Instead, it’s the level of detail that is present, as well as the production value of the character models and animation that is contained within these stages. Having visited New York City recently, I was instantly transported back to the likes of both the above-ground and underground areas of Manhattan that I personally witnessed. Everything looks exactly as it does in NYC, and that’s a testament to the level designers at SquareEnix and how well they researched things to bring about this level of visual polish, down to even some of the smallest details.
Just generally speaking, The 3rd Birthday looks absolutely gorgeous. I’ve said it before recently, and I’ll say it again – say whatever else you will about SquareEnix’s recent titles, but they are some of the best looking games on the PSP, hands down. Add the amount of visual detail and polish, as well as Aya’s smooth animations to the already intuitive and enjoyable battles, and the gameplay segments of this title stand out above the overbearing story.
The audio is both dramatic and tender, depending on the emotional level of a given point in the story, and it really works well with the desperate feeling you get as you make your way through the infected city. I was initially excited about the voice talent that SquareEnix lined up for this game, including the gorgeous Yvonne Strahovsky as Aya herself, but unfortunately the dialog doesn’t work with the voice acting at all, and things seemed forced at various points, and this works against some of the heavy emotional plot points. You’d be surprised how important the acting is when it comes to drawing someone into a story, especially when the quality is lacking, like it was here. Although, to her credit, Aya probably embodies the best voice acting in the game.
Ultimately, I really hoped the story would be more understandable and straightforward, but it drops into a lot of heavy-handed metaphysical nonsense pretty quick. Although, if you can manage to just push through that, the combat and presentation of The 3rd Birthday is top notch and definitely something you’ll want to check out. It actually is a cut above many of the other SquareEnix titles I’ve played recently for this handheld just for those reasons alone. Does it stay true to the Parasite Eve games that came before? I couldn’t tell you that. But, it is a fairly solid title that has a decent foundation of its own. Plus, hey, you get to see a steamy, sexy shower scene featuring the game’s heroine at a certain point, what could be better than that? Story aside, I certainly recommend fans of shooters and RPGs alike check out this title, if for nothing else to ogle at the stunning presentation of it all – and have fun shooting ugly monsters in the head while you’re doing it.
- Title: The 3rd Birthday
- Platform Reviewed: PSP
- Developer: SquareEnix, HexaDrive
- Publisher: SquareEnix
- Release Date: March 29, 2011
- MSRP: $29.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.