Parasite Eve - Staff Retroview  

Host Dawn
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Bizarre, but never boring
+ Unusual setting
+ Equipment altering is fun
- Aya moves slowly
- Frequently hard to see
- Cramped inventory
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   Parasite Eve is quite different in genesis and execution than most other Squaresoft titles. Not only are its title and central idea taken from a novel rather than the creation of Square's brain trust, it also takes place in the real city of New York. While these and other facets of its story clearly differentiate it from most of the games Square made for the PlayStation, actually navigating through the environs of Parasite Eve makes its connection to other creations of the company clear. Full of interesting ideas, time has nevertheless not been entirely kind to Aya Brea's introduction.

   Aya Brea is a rookie cop on the NYPD who has agreed to attend an opera performance at Carnegie Hall with a persistent young man. The performance goes awry in the uncommon way of audience members undergoing spontaneous combustion. As the only officer on the scene, Aya takes the initiative to pursue the onstage performer making no attempt to hide her responsibility for this mass slaughter. The woman is now a creature called Eve, and was apparently created through the innate power of mitochondria in human cells to overtake everything and unleash their long-concealed dreams of dominance. Aya's cells are the only ones able to withstand the ability of Eve to generate so much energy from human mitochondria as to induce spontaneous combustion — thus the task of saving New York's residents falls to the rookie cop.

   If judged solely for treading ground not seen in other RPGs, Parasite Eve's plot must be deemed a total success. When logic is applied to its circumstances, however, problems begin to arise. Leaving aside the concept of mitochondria having sentience within the cells of every living organism instead of ribosomes or the Golgi apparatus, many developments fall apart if any thought is applied. If the entire audience for a performance at Carnegie Hall suffered the fate of Spinal Tap's drummers in one night, the public reaction would be considerably larger than sending one reporter to cover the event, and the government reaction would probably not be limited to one police precinct attempting to solve the case. Once Eve has acted again and the military is called in, the notion that New York could be completely evacuated in one night is laughable. On a smaller scale, the characters are reasonably interesting, but their dialogue and actions often fall victim to the rationale of big-budget movies that ask for suspension of disbelief in the face of foolishness. The story never becomes boring, but neither is it a paragon of quality writing. There is definitely something to be said for an RPG plot that forgoes the usual stock situations, and events move along quickly enough to keep any slow spots from appearing.

So those are velociraptors, huh?  Coulda fooled me. So those are velociraptors, huh? Coulda fooled me.

   When Aya is called upon to do some fighting, the combat system is revealed as an action RPG version of the Active Time Battle used in some other Square titles. The central tenet of the player and enemies needing to wait a little while before taking another action is here, but translating it into an action RPG means some things are different from its usual implementation. Aya can run around the battlefield in an attempt to avoid enemy attacks, and the range of her own strikes matters. Contrary to what might be expected, her bullets decrease in potency if enemies aren't right in her face, and can miss altogether from across the screen. Considering battlefields are generally one fixed screen Aya can run around in a few seconds, the mysterious loss of power her bullets suffer can only be explained as an attempt by Square to keep the player moving. While it may be lacking in logic, this fact does help keep Parasite Eve from feeling too much like a pure action game. The far more logical need to replenish ammunition for firearms is not an issue due to the profligacy of drops from enemies of bullets. At its core this combat works, and killing enemies is reasonably entertaining even though some issues permeate the system.

   Central to the game not feeling like a pure action title is Aya's slow movement. In battle it is mandatory to use her Haste spell if one would like to dodge certain enemy attacks, and that status does not last long. The game is fortunately generous with means of healing Aya, considering the many hits she will take unavoidably. Keeping up with the damage dealt by enemies is usually not a problem, but in certain fights the heroine's laggard movement is quite dispiriting. Replenishing Aya's stock of healing items is very easy until the final stretch, so taking damage is not a major issue most of the time, letting the player concentrate on hitting the enemy.

   Particularly in lengthy boss battles, the limited inventory will cramp Aya's healing capacity. Her magic recharges automatically, but the rate at which it does so decreases with use, leaving items as a necessary supplement in certain cases. At the beginning of the game, the inventory is incredibly constricted, but Aya slowly increases her carrying capacity as she gains levels. This lessens but does not eliminate the problem, considering that enemies love to dump items onto her in their death throes.

   In addition to the sometime-expansion of the inventory limit by Aya gaining a level, the player can do it manually using the bonus points she acquires at the same time. Her recharge time between actions can also be improved, along with enhancing the effectiveness of her equipment. A different means of customization comes whenever an item called a Tool is found, which allows aspects from one piece of equipment to be transferred to another. The clip size, number of shots fired, and range of firearms can be improved in this manner, while the defensive aptitude of armor can also be dramatically enhanced. The methods by which Aya's survivability improves comprise one of the best parts of the game, responsive to considerable and enjoyable tinkering with very worthwhile rewards.

They don They don't even die in PLEASANT ways? Truly she is a monster!

   Exploring Parasite Eve's locations is akin to looking around those in other PS1 titles from Square, and comes with the same frustration factor. Most of those backgrounds are quite pretty if taken as abstract art, but finding which parts of them Aya can interact with requires a great deal of patience. Many areas are very dark, with items that would be hidden in plain sight if the environment was better lit. At least the exits tend to be easily intuited, though this is an odd feature to tout.

   Parasite Eve has quite a few FMV sequences, and though they no longer have the wow factor of 1998 CGI, they remain visually effective. When the game switches to its standard graphics, the visuals show their age by being on par with other Square RPGs of the era. Blocky and indistinct, these visuals aren't noticeably worse than other 3D PS1 titles, but they aren't much better either. At least Yoko Shimomura's score is in keeping with her other efforts through the years, effectively complementing the onscreen action at most times and simply sounding very catchy at others. Several parts of the game lamentably choose to employ sound effects exclusively, thus limiting the time her compositions will be heard.

   Most of Parasite Eve is easily manageable in terms of challenge. Grinding for levels or remaking Aya's equipment is a simple task, up until the finale, at which point the player is prohibited from leaving to do any of that. This makes the difficulty in the final portion of the game considerably higher, and takes up a significant percentage of a game that can be completed in under ten hours.

   Parasite Eve has a lot of good ideas, and setting an RPG in modern day New York overrun with crazy creatures is rife with potential. Some of the game even manages to live up to that potential, and the experience as a whole is certainly one that stands out from the crowd. Everything feasted upon by this parasite is not made stronger, however. Numerous clunky aspects keep it from the top pantheon of Square titles, but the novelty and worthwhile aspects make it worth a look.

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