Lately, I've been addicted to playing my PSP. So, when I heard there was a Parasite Eve title on the platform, being the fan I am of the series, I made sure to get The 3rd Birthday. The completely different style was surprising to say the least, but every bit as enjoyable as the previous two.
Console: Playstation Portable
Developer: Square Enix, Hexa Drive
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: 3rd Person Tactical Shooter
Release Date: March 29, 2011 (NA)| April 1, 2011 (EU)
So, what's different this time around? Well, just about everything I'd say. The game takes place on Christmas Eve of 2010 in Manhattan. Everything is business as usual until a massive creature known as The Babel explodes from the ground, destroying most of the city, and massacres the populace using spawned monsters known as The Twisted. Our protagonist, a CTI agent, Aya Breya, is the only person that can stop this seemingly invincible threat. You might wonder how, well, Aya has the unique ability to go back in time and posses another person's consciousness, dubbed Overdive. It's up to her to go back in time and stop the threat of The Babel and the Twisted before they wipe out all of humanity.
Aya, moments after her first mission
The story takes place over several chapters, or episodes, as the game calls them. Each episode reveals more about the threat of The Babel and The Twisted and how they're connected with Aya. With every completed chapter, the mystery is further fleshed out and more of Aya's mysterious past is revealed. Without giving away and important plot points, I can say the story is very well written, and has one of the bigger surprises I've experienced in a game. Long time fans of the series may be wondering why Aya's personality is so different this time around, and I can confidently say that the story answers this question and then some.
Aya, fighting with one of the many twisted
Obviously, this is an extremely beautiful game, easily among the best that the PSP has to offer. The character models and animations are smooth and lifelike, and each of the enemies has their own unique sprite. The backgrounds and lighting each are details and fit with the overall tone of the game perfectly, and the frame rate never staggers when there's a large number of enemies on the screen. Even in the latter chapters when there are multiple larger than life enemies, the game maintains a constant frame rate, which is impressive on a handheld. The amount of attention paid to detail is very apparent, as even the clothes that Aya wear take damage over time, and she takes an increasing amount of damage, the more ragged her clothing becomes. It's the little things like this that really go the extra mile to enrich the experience.
Aya, entering a resting area
The 3rd Birthday is a tactical third person shooter that progress through the story in missions. At the start of each mission, Aya is given a set of objectives that must be completed before she moves on to the next set. At the halfway point, there's always a resting area for the player to restock on weapons and health in addition to saving their progress. As the battles pan out, Aya is joined by several other military personnel, whom she can body switch with at any time to gain a tactical advantage over the battlefield. Often times if the player finds themselves on the brink of death or in a difficult position, relief is usually just a body switch away thanks to her awesome Overdive ability. There's also some light RPG elements at play here too. Each weapon that is purchased can be upgraded using money and experience points earned from defeating enemies, so if the player is having trouble in later levels, the option to replay already completed chapters to power up is always available.
The controls are just right for the game, being responsive and not having any input lag. Usually PSP shooting titles suffer in terms of gameplay due to wonky controls, but The 3rd Birthday manages to bridge this gap with a neat auto aim feature using the right shoulder button. It works most of the time, but in firefights with multiple enemies, it can sometimes target the one you didn't mean to hit. Aya is also surprisingly agile, having a dive roll ability and can also take cover behind the destructible environment.
Aya can also use a variety of guns, ranging from a sniper rifle to a handgun. The weapons all have their advantages and disadvantages, so picking the right one for the situation can really make the difference, as you're only allowed to select two to bring at the start of each level besides the one default handgun that's always with you.
For the RPG fans out there, the game also features a 9x9 grid known as the DNA board. This board allows the player to mix and match DNA chips that enemies drop to customize Aya in many different ways, including taking reduced damage or more heath regeneration. How Aya turns out stat wise, can vary wildly for each playthrough, and it's worth at least giving a try to see how many unique combinations you can make.
A battle scarred Aya battling a Twisted
Expect The 3rd Birthday to take at least 12 hours to get through if you're playing moderately, and that's not even including all the hidden goodies included in the game. For each successful playthrough, the game rewards the player with secrets each time, including alternate outfits for Aya to wear, or extremely powerful guns that would otherwise be unobtainable. There's even a super secret Lighting outfit for her to wear as a nod to all the Final Fantasy fans out there. For those seeking a challenge, there are multiple difficulty settings to choose from, so the game can be tuned to your specific level of skill and there's even an achievement mode included for all the completionists too. Factoring in all the unlockable content, The 3rd Birthday easily reaches 30 hours of replay value, making it worth your purchase and not a one time game.
The music of The 3rd Birthday is where the game really shines. Each piece is beautifully composed and fits the situation to the tee. There are thumping action pieces to get the adrenalin flowing during combat and eerie ones to keep the suspense high in the creepy missions. Even the main theme and menu music captures the odd atmosphere of the Parasite Eve franchise perfectly. I'd recommend playing the game with headphones so that each song can be fully appreciated. They're that good.
Aya, staring a The Babel in the distance
Overall, if you're looking for an excuse to get back into the long dead Parasite Eve franchise, or to take a quick peek and see if you like it, you can't go wrong with The 3rd Birthday. It has enough good things going for it to keep the longtime fans happy while also entertaining the new. You don't even need to be a fan of the series to enjoy this game, as it is a great shooter in its own right, with jaw dropping visuals, a stellar soundtrack, high replay value, and interesting, fun gameplay. I highly recommend this game, and it’s a must have for any PSP library. If you can look past its slight aiming issues and convoluted story, you'll almost certainly find something to like in The 3rd Birthday.
I give The 3rd Birthday a solid 8/10