I sat down to do some work and after a while noticed that Geeketiquette was playing Parasite Eve. It was a game I beat after its release in 1998 and did not think much about afterwards, other than having a few fond memories about gross animal transformations. Looking back over it as she played though, it was obvious this title from Square deserved another more critical look. It was the company’s first M-rated title after all and made an attempt to meld two of my favorite genres, bringing survival horror into a set of action RPG mechanics. I had my own copy booted up before her next cutscene finished, ready to see if what looked like a perfect setup for me on paper would hold up, or if there was a reason I hadn’t thought about it in so long.
So there was a book by writer Hideaki Sena published in 1991 that was made into a movie, and as both were pretty popular and moderately successful, a game was released as a sequel story with the same name. Parasite Eve released as a game on the PlayStation, accompanied by two manga series that were released to retell the events of the book. This tale follows NYPD Officer Aya Brea—have fun with all the different ways that name can be pronounced—on a six day adventure that starts Christmas Eve 1997 when she decides to take a random date to the opera for reasons even the young woman is not aware of. This event acts as the coming out party for our main villainous and a hell of an intro for the game.
One of the things that new players will notice right away is that the game is dated visually and a bit blocky, but the full video cutscenes are still frankly quite amazing. No really, I found them impressive when I played it and still do, not just for the time. I remember seeing the commercial for this game when it was new and being gripped by the weirdness and action taking place in this city. My only complaint is that they are not skippable after being killed by a boss, an ugly demon baby perhaps, that has multiple phases, causing me to sit through multiple times. The backgrounds are great as well, pre-rendered and dark, bringing Manhattan to a dirty and eerie life as it gets thrashed. They are very similar to the way Resident Evil looks, a game that this title is compared to often. In this the character interacts with her environments in interesting ways, but sometimes the perspectives look odd. This fixed camera method can also obscure some doorways and make finding the way around or hidden items a bit tougher to locate. The overworld map for selecting locations that Aya will explore is memorable and was so cool at the time.
This brings us to Aya and combat. I like it. The character uses an attack meter and when it is full she may take an action, whether that is shooting, smashing something with her police issue club, using an item or perhaps one of the many Parasite Energy powers that are granted over time. Once the attack begins time is stopped until everything is assigned, but during the enemies attack the player has the ability to move into range or perform limited dodging. I say limited because some attacks, especially bosses, can be quite difficult to avoid, and certain combat areas are much smaller, making it almost impossible to come out unscathed. Aya moves a bit awkwardly with the controls and she is quite slow outside of combat. I understand if anyone doesn’t like the mechanics, but this system seemed like the next step forward for the genre at the time and it felt different. For me personally, the combat was satisfying except against bosses, who could sometimes be quite cheap. I beat most of those encounters on my first try, but they do get more challenging towards the end of the game, especially with bullshit confuse powers and the potential to remove the player’s revive ability. This led to some eye twitching and irritation.
Enemies are interesting and designed well, all keeping to a pretty tight theme without feeling generic or too overused. Aya will have no problem with them though as there are many upgradable items to help her out. Armor and weapons have special stats and abilities, while tools can be found that remove these and transfer them to another piece. There is more to it than that, but needless to say that this part of the game had me upgrading like a madman in preparation to stomp the next uppity member of the animal kingdom that got in my way. The player also improves by leveling up in stats, as well as receiving points that can be spent to increase the attack meter time, individual items, or even inventory capacity. I did not put much into this last one though and spent a lot of time juggling junk around, but at least I had tunes to listen to.
The music wasn’t doing much for me in the beginning, except for the intro track, which I love. As I kept playing though I realized that parts of it helped with the eerie tone the game was trying to establish and the action beats, a pseudo-techno mix, didn’t take away from that, while keeping the tension up. In the end I realized the mixture of opera and eerie leading into the other styles did its own type of merging to form a beautiful cacophony for Eve’s siege of Manhattan.
One thing that I seem to disagree on with people who love this game is the story. I’m not going to try to explain it here, but I hope people like reading and don’t try to take a shot every time the word mitochondria comes up. The whole idea is based around the biology of human cells and evolution, borderlining on being just a bit too heavy sci-fi and Japanese for me. Not only did I almost accidentally learn something, I received a crash course in bad and out of place dialogue in a lot of scenes. The characters are good though. Aya comes across as a humble badass with the right amount of hero complex and sex appeal, Daniel is imposing and cares enough to knock people out for her, whereas others fill their roles well without too many extras bogging the narrative down. Eve starts off seeming to be a bit of a directionless nemesis, but changes soon enough as she discusses the plight of man, leaving her as a scary surreal threat for this type of story. She also totally looks like Hexadecimal from Reboot.
After what is a decent ending, there is a nice little twist to hint that not everything is right just yet. Yes, Parasite Eve is one of those games that must be beaten on its EX Game to unlock the full ending. Some items are carried over in this mode—which was cool that players get to re-name them—and it unlocks an extra battleground, a seventy-seven story Chrysler building that is a randomized funhouse of enemies, bosses, and one super secret boss that anyone can see coming from a mile away. I haven’t done all of that yet, but it is on my ‘to finish’ list for sure.
See, I was having a lot of fun revisiting this title. The ending just kind of put a halt on the enjoyment for me with how frustrating and cheap certain things felt, like dying because it isn’t explained where to run and having to redo an entire cutscene and long boss fight, but I think an extended ending might help that as well as give some more hours of play to a shorter game—short for a Square production at least. The title is a bit too linear and poorly paced for some, which I get, but I enjoyed how it tried to branch survival horror and action RPG within a pre-existing world that wasn’t designed with videogames in mind. I’m so glad she played Parasite Eve, so that I’d be inspired to play it again. I have not played the two sequels yet, but I like that they seem to have gone in their own directions with new ideas and may need to review them soon.
You can check out the game HERE from the stream video.