PARASITE EVE / Squaresoft / PS1

Parasite Eve is based on some novel that took Japan by storm. It was translated into English, but apparently no one really cared much about it in the West. I haven't read it, but near as I can gather, the game is a sort of sequel to the novel, rather than a recreation of it. Main character Aya Brea is a wholly new creation from Square. The story is just this giant mess about mitochondria using humans as a vehicle while they evolve, then the mitochondria want to separate and form more highly evolved beings or something, and there's this chick named Eve running around causing havoc in the quest to form babby. So here you go with New York cop Aya to stop her.

Aya also apparently has this evolved rebel mitochondria within her, though it doesn't make her go crazy like it does to Eve, which was never really fully explained to my satisfaction, but whatever. Instead she gets to use it for "parasite powers", which for all intents and purposes are magic spells. The game plays like a Resident Evil clone, but combat occurs at random in JRPG style. It's semi action based; the best comparison I can think of are the two 16-bit Shadowrun games, where you run around taking potshots at enemies who are also moving on the screen. You thus get a limited ability to dodge attacks, but really, most of the time you're just standing around trading shots in front of each other in macho meathead style out of necessity. More on this later.

If I had to sum up Parasite Eve in one sentence, it would be : "Running around huge, dark environments slowly fishing for obscure hot-spots." The game has some very lovely hand-painted backgrounds, but they're way too goddamn big in terms of scale for Aya's size and how slooowly she moves around even when running. Too much game time is consumed simply watching her slowly trudge across a huge screen. That, and the zoomed-out perspective plus dark tones in the art mean that fishing around for non-obvious "hot spots" to click on (cupboards, interactive background items, etc.) just becomes even more of a chore. And it's made even WORSE by how finicky and precise you have to be in your positioning when clicking on said hotspots. It's easy to not even see what you're supposed to be clicking on, but even if you have an idea, you can still miss it simply by not being on the right pixel in front of it when you push X.

When combat occurs, you're almost always tucked into tiny environments with barely room to dodge ... yet Aya uses only guns (and her Parasite Powers.) There was potential here to make a fun action-oriented combat engine, maybe let Aya do combat rolls or something with the otherwise unused L and R buttons ... but all we get is Aya trotting around as slowly as she does when moving outside of combat, and unable to fire without standing still and aiming forever. Dodging enemy attacks is really more a matter of random luck than skill much of the time, and with some of the tougher enemies it's just out-and-out impossible. Combat is thus largely stiff and annoying.

It's also one of those games that has easy-to-moderate difficulty all throughout, but suddenly ambushes you with a ridiculously tough final boss battle at the end that if you're not adequately prepared for, you have to load a save from an hour ago and watch like half an hour of unskippable cinematics again. This particular one is just an insane 5-parter which you'll never possibly tote enough ammo and healing items in to outlast unless you grind well above and beyond anything you need to to get through the game up to that point. In other words, if you don't read something like this beforehand, the only way you'll be properly prepared for the final boss is by either being psychic, or by being one of those OCDs that has to max out all their levels in a game before finishing it.

Up until the bullshit final boss, I had found Parasite Eve moderately enjoyable solely as a quasi-dungeon crawler. It has a pretty good soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, and nice background art. The game also has a very cinematic focus, and the story is on the OK side, even if most of the characters are walking one-dimensional cliches. It's one of those games that isn't good enough to make it near the top of the pile during my home leisure time, but was fine for something to pass the time during long bus commutes on the PSP. Parasite Eve's main game is only about 10 hours long, however. If you can tolerate Grindan Forever to get by the shit final boss, you'll find that THIS IS NOT A TRUE ENDING, and to get the game's "real" ending you have to start a New Game Plus and go through the Chrysler Building, some 100-level bonus dungeon with a bunch of tough battles. I couldn't be stuffed to do all that, but if you do I'd guess it adds another 10 hours or more to the overall game length. The outdated Resident Evil style and sometimes glacial pace will put a lot of people off, however, and on the whole you're not missing much if you just let this one go by.

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