Review – Parasite Eve

I should have saved this one for Christmas. Parasite Eve beats on every definition of Eve that it possibly could, so of course it starts on Christmas Eve. Not that I’m complaining; placing any kind of story around a holiday is a great way to establish its setting, and if there’s one thing that Parasite Eve excels in, it’s setting.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Parasite Eve was a 1998 game for PS1 that proudly touts on the box that it’s by the same people who brought you Final Fantasy VII. However, rather than a fantasy cyberpunk JRPG, Parasite Eve is something unique.

Yeah. Wow. Holy crap.

IT BURNS!

As far as opening scenes go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that tops the intro in Parasite Eve. It involves the protagonist, Adzu… sorry, no, that’s what I named her. It involves protagonist Aya Brea as she attends an opera where, without warning, the entire audience spontaneously combusts right in front of her eyes, leaving only her, her cowardly date, and the lead actress unmelted.

From there, things go completely bonkers. The plot primarily involves Aya, a New York police officer, in pursuit of the former lead actress, who has now become a horrific monster and is threatening humanity with her mitochondria. Yes, mitochondria. I hope you paid attention in grade school biology because you will hear that word about a million times throughout the story.

I’m not sure what pretensions the plot has, but it loves throwing around big words. It doesn’t add up to a smarter plot because it all boils down to, “evil scientist messes with nature and creates a monster.” If anything, all the attempts at science talk are a distraction. It becomes hard to tell if the plot is throwing a twist your way, or if you just missed something while skimming all the fancy words.

MITOCHONDRIAC

Which isn’t to say that the story isn’t enjoyable. While the dialogue is stilted by its own pretentiousness, the rest of the narrative is told stylishly and with a lot of visual flair. In what would almost be a hallmark for Square RPGs of the era, there are a lot of FMV cutscenes between all the action bits. A lot of these are filled with gooey, disturbing imagery — presented with the most detail that 1998 CGI could muster.

The plot has an interesting texture. The environments are deserted, which give the atmosphere a feeling of isolation. It pulls the “humanity’s last saviour” angle rather compellingly, even if it’s no more believable than other games of the era. The protagonists are always one step behind the antagonists, and seem to constantly have a direction to go in, but no clear idea of what they’ll find there. It keeps you guessing as to what situation will crop up next, even if the narrative is generally one note.

It’s like the word “mitochondria” was on everybody’s word-of-the-day calendar.

GAL ABOUT TOWN

Gameplay takes place on a pre-rendered background, much like the PS1-era Final Fantasy games or Resident Evil. Combat is handled mostly through random encounters when you walk into a room. It’s an active time battle system where you move in realtime, but can only fire after a bar fills. It’s unique and it functions, but that’s about the best thing I can say about the combat system. It otherwise lacks a lot of strategy, as you can only shoot and use rudimentary magic. You can also dodge enemy attacks, but they don’t telegraph them very well, and often they’re homing projectiles that are difficult to get out of the way of.

Rather than a cohesive gameworld or overworld style map, you select the area you’re going to visit by selecting it on a map of New York. It’s a pretty stylish selection screen and it prevents any unnecessary circling. Generally, you can tell if you chose the next location correctly by whether or not a cutscene plays after you make your selection.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

When it comes down to it, either the game is confused or I am, because there are a lot of things that didn’t quite click. For starters, there’s the weapon upgrade system that I wasn’t able to take advantage of until, like, the end of the game, because I didn’t fully understand it. Simply put, you take stats and traits from one gun, and combine it with another gun to make a better gun. So you’re picking up all kinds of guns along the game and gluing them together to make a good gun. Will it be a grenade launch? A rifle? An SMG? A pistol? Could be any of them, because their stats are all similar and it all depends on how you glue them together.

Yet, you still level up. There’s an RPG somewhere underneath this game, but the stats aren’t really clear. Does my attack actually power up my firearms as well? The only positive effect that I noticed was that HP went up and magic happened.

You earn different spells or “Parasite Energy” attacks, which allow you to heal, protect yourself, deal damage — standard stuff. However, your energy recovery is slowed the longer the battle goes on. Seriously. I’m guessing this is to prevent you from simply dragging fights out to regain energy, but it means that in longer boss battles, you’re continually at a greater disadvantage. That is unless you change your armor which reverts your PE recovery for some reason. I wish I figured that out earlier in the game.

Speaking of drawn-out boss battles. This game is majorly in love with final bosses. I don’t want to spoil too much, but be ready for so many damned final boss forms. And if you die, you go back to the last save and cutscenes are unskippable. Yeah, enjoy that.

Combat isn’t great, but the atmosphere is terrific.

BWUH?

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Parasite Eve it would be “confusing.” A lot of its mechanics seem neat, but they don’t jive well and come across as underdeveloped or just poorly thought out. The story uses a lot of big, confusing concepts to tell what is at its core a very standard and routine plot. And to further add to the confusion: I can’t gauge how much I like the game. It’s very difficult.

I think I liked it, mostly because I recognize how stylish it is. That is, incidentally, how I’d rate Final Fantasy VII. The excellent cutscenes, well-realized environments, and enjoyable characters really lift the game up where the narrative and gameplay tend to let it down. What I came away with was a game that I will probably carry with me for a long time, but not necessarily one that I think was sterling. Do I recommend it? Yes, probably. It tends to get in its own way, but it’s still a worthwhile experience.

6/10

This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using an original disc copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 161 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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