Parasite Eve | Burning

Parasite Eve (PS1): Engrossing, but Frustrating (Detailed Review)

One aspect I will never understand of JRPG fandom is the intense hatred towards Square Enix lately. Well I suppose it is a given that there will be something stupid that comes out of any large enough fan base but still. The thought process of the player base of Squaresoft games is that supposedly “Squaresoft had so many great games back then and everything they made after the merger sucks.”

Of course some of these people will claim the Final Fantasy series has been dead long before their current scapegoat existed. The game that was allegedly the sign of the series downfall will generally vary from person to person, but chances are it will usually be Final Fantasy VII, which just so happens to be the game that made the series popular. Although there will usually be at least one other PSOne Squaresoft RPG that demonstrates their true prowess before they suddenly forgot how to make good games. Chances are this game will be either Xenogears, Parasite Eve, or any other Squaresoft game that is not Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy VIII. So if I wanted to be a complete hypocrite and be as close minded as the very people I just criticized, I could brush Parasite Eve off as a hipster’s Final Fantasy VII. However, that would be rather unfair to the game itself now wouldn’t it?

When the progesterone kicks in.

To its credit, Parasite Eve does have a very well told story, a solid combat system, cool looking FMV cutscenes, and a great soundtrack; they just do not mesh together well. The problem with Parasite Eve it has a lot of frustrating moments to it. There are a lot of well crafted aspects to the game and it is not difficult in the slightest to see that Squaresoft had great intentions, but it is these intentions that ultimately bring it down. The game tries too hard to combine its RPG elements with aspects of the survival horror genre, that was then recently popularized by Resident Evil, that the two genres interfere with each other. However, what is interesting is that they do not contrast with each other completely. The game itself still serves as a solid RPG with some rather questionable design choices, but had I not been told beforehand, I would not have even realized that it was supposed to be a survival horror game.

Parasite Eve’s story takes place in a modern day New York City where a rookie cop, Aya Brea, and her date go to see an opera on Christmas Eve. However, less than five minutes after you arrive, the lead actress turns out to be a mutant and the entire audience, aside from Aya, spontaneously combusts and Aya heads after her into the sewers below. After a failure to track down the lead actress Melissa, who suddenly calls herself Eve, the police are informed of this and, unlike just about every other horror story ever written, the police are actually competent and try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

From then on, it is revealed that Eve is actually the result of rogue mitochondria that have evolved to the point where they no longer need to work with the human body, and that the rest of the game’s monsters are caused by the mitochondria taking over. No one other than Aya can even go near Eve due to her ability to use the mitochondria energy to set anyone in close proximity on fire. The reason Aya is immune to this is because her mitochondria are similar to Eve’s, which protects her from Eve’s attacks. The rest of the game slowly unravels the mystery ,and exactly what she is.

Eve is the power house of the game.

There are a lot more details that I did not explain regarding Parasite Eve’s plot simply because figuring them out as you go along helps the experience a lot more. It is rather surprising that Parasite Eve was apparently supposed to be a cinematic RPG, yet it is less cutscene heavy than a lot of RPGs released today. Times have certainly changed have they not?

Parasite Eve is a very linear game though and there are no overworld maps and relatively few areas in the game. In fact, the game itself is quite short by RPG standards. The main game can be beaten in less than ten hours, and if you tackle the post game content, it will still be under twenty hours. This is not exactly a bad thing seeing as how Parasite Eve is paced well enough that you will still feel satisfied by the end, but just do not expect for it to last too long.

What is also great about Parasite Eve are its characters. Aya Brea herself is a character who is strong and competent enough to handle whatever situation is thrown at her yet, at the same time, is not emotionless and stoic and she feels like an actual human being. On the other hand, the fact that her mitochondria have such an adverse effect on her cause her to become concerned about her humanity and for the safety of her comrades, but she never comes across as exaggerated like other Squaresoft protagonists. Daniel, despite not having the abilities that Aya has, is still competent enough on his own to get enough done, and the rest of Aya’s partners are well developed as well.

However, what is really compelling about Parasite Eve’s narrative are the villains. Dr. Klamp is a guy that is very similar to Professor Hojo from Final Fantasy VII in his shady and anti-social nature, as well as his obsession with his experiments. Eve, however, is certainly among one of the better villains I have seen in an RPG. Her own appearance gives off a menacing vibe, her back story and motivations are compelling, and that opera leitmotif of hers gives me the creeps yet somehow fits with any type of song.

There is one unfortunate elephant in the room that needs to be addressed regarding Parasite Eve’s narrative. Parasite Eve’s story is most definitely compelling, thrilling, and interesting, but it is not scary in the least. I cannot stress enough that you will be left greatly disappointed if you go into Parasite Eve expecting a horror game. The only thing about it that comes close to it being scary is that there are a few grotesque and creepy looking images in the FMV cutscenes. Otherwise there were E rated games that I played that I found scarier than Parasite Eve, and none of those games were meant to be scary.

The reason why Parasite Eve is not scary is because the game plays just like every other traditional RPG and there is nothing about it that is actively trying to be scary. Blaming this on the standards of the time is not a good excuse seeing as how not only do a lot of people still think that the original Silent Hill and Resident Evil hold up (the former more so than the latter), but that there were horror games way before those that succeeded at being scary, such as Corpse Party, Clock Tower, and Alone in the Dark. Age is not a justifiable excuse for Parasite Eve, it simply was not meant to be a horror game, and if it did, than it failed miserably.

I cannot stress enough though that there is nothing wrong with Parasite Eve not being scary. As I have stated, I would not have even known that it was supposed to be a survival horror game had I not been told before hand, but that never kept me from enjoying it. Sure there are some questionable design choices that could be remnants of a survival horror attempt, but they could just as easily be interpreted as poor design, and it really does not matter which one.

The in game graphics of Parasite Eve quite obviously look like crap by today’s standards, as do all early 3D games, but for their time they were better than Final Fantasy VII at least. The Parasite Eve graphics engine also served as a tech demo for Final Fantasy VIII’s, which is also another significant part of gaming history. I have also always preferred the pre rendered backgrounds of the PSOne era to the in game designs used in a lot of modern day games. That is not to say I dislike in game backgrounds but I do think that some of the lower budget developers of today such as Compile Heart could benefit from using pre rendered background seeing as how good graphical presentation is the one thing they are incapable of doing to save their lives.

As much as I like the pre-rendered backgrounds in PSOne era RPGs, there are some rather glaring issues that occur as a result of Parasite Eve’s. First of all, the foreground often blocks your view and makes it difficult to tell where to go. Secondly, a majority of the game is made up of dark, brown, and grey colors, which means that it is difficult to locate certain objects that you are able to interact with. If that did not make things difficult enough for you, a lot of things you can interact with blend too well into the environment and make it difficult to tell what you can and cannot interact with.

It is even worse that you oftentimes need to be in just the right position to examine something, which means that spamming the X button next to anything that looks intractable will not even help. Save points in Parasite Eve, unlike in every other game where they are represented by huge points that jut out and make it very hard not to see, are instead phones where you can only recognize them by a small red light. This makes it very easy to walk right past a save point without noticing it.

As for the FMV sequences, I can say they are definitely really cool to look at. I do not even mean by the standards of the time to, there is something about PSOne era FMV sequences that are just cool to look at, especially given the contrast of the poorly rendered character models. There is one problem with the FMV sequences that you will grow to hate; there are a lot of them, and you cannot skip them. This ends up bringing the game to a screeching halt every time you end up with a game over due to the amount of these things you need to watch as nauseam. The rather frustrating design only make this worse, but I will get to that later.

To get something out of the way, there is no voice acting in Parasite Eve, and considering the track record for voice acted games at the time, I say thank god for it. The closest thing that will come to the sound of a human voice is Eve’s opera voice, but it does not sound anymore like a human voice than the voices of Final Fantasy VI’s Dream Oath opera. Regardless, it is nice to not have to put up with any Jill sandwiches or masters of unlocking.

See that tiny red dot? Nope? Well sucks to be you!

The music for Parasite Eve was composed by Yoko Shimomura, who would later become better known for her work in the Kingdom Hearts series. However, the soundtrack is notably different from her usual style. Instead of the symphonic nature of most of her compositions, there is a much more ambient and atmospheric vibe to Parasite Eve’s score. The music’s quality seems to match the current mood, meaning that the more notable songs only really occur in the more tense moments of the game, usually in specific cutscenes and in boss battles.

Really I find it rather difficult to describe the music of Parasite Eve other than ambient, yet it still manages to provide the tense feelings that are necessary when needed. I have already mentioned Eve’s opera motif, but it is remarkable with how it was combined with aspects of techno when used for a lot of the games boss battles. The final boss theme is especially notable for how it is used in game. I will just say that hearing it on its own does not do it justice and that it needs to be experienced in game.

Parasite Eve’s combat system can best be described as a cross between an MMO style turn based combat system, and an action RPG. What I mean is that it has just the right mix of RPG and action based elements that the game does not feel like it is too much like either one. You cannot rely too much on the action elements because of Aya’s slow movement in comparison to the enemies and because she stands still when you attack. The reason for this is that Parasite Eve’s battle system is still menu based despite you being able to move around and dodge enemy attacks. This means that you have to choose carefully when to attack so you do not leave yourself vulnerable to enemy attacks. Yet the game still does have pattern recognition and it requires you to react appropriately to enemy attack patterns.

The way the magic is used also fits both elements of combat as well. Instead of most RPGs, there is no item in the game that can restore magic. Instead it steadily refills on its own which means that you need to wait for it to refill before you use another spell. This means you have to keep an eye on both the ATB bar and the PE (this game’s term for magic) bar while avoiding enemy attacks. It is a solid battle system overall, but there are a few problems with it.

The first issue I have with it is the difficulty curve. Just about every normal enemy, aside from possibly in the post game, requires very little mastery of the game’s battle system to beat. The same thing can be said about pretty much every boss except for the last two, which suddenly require a lot of skill and memorization in order to beat. The enormous spike in difficulty towards the end of the game was both frustrating due to the contrast, yet was refreshing considering how much more strategy was required. That being said, there are way too many aspects of gameplay that lean towards the frustrating side that really put my patience to the limits while I was playing this game.

As I previously mentioned, cutscenes in Parasite Eve are unskippable. This becomes incredibly infuriating due to the sheer amount of them that are placed right before boss fights, and the fact that you will have to sit through the cutscene again every time you die. However, unskippable cutscenes are not the only ways the game actively tries to kill your progress. Save points just so happen to have the most inconvenient placements possible. I have already established that save points are easy to miss, but they also do not even follow basic design choices. Because why place a save point before a boss when you can put it five rooms and fifteen minutes of gameplay before the boss?

Half the time you will not even be restarting because you were killed by the boss. You will instead have been killed because of an active time event where the game wants you to perform a specific action on the overworld within a limited amount of time. For example, after fighting a two phase boss on the rooftop of a tall building, a jet is about to crash into the top and get you caught in the explosion. Now the game tells you that you need to escape, but it does not bother to tell you how.

SpiffyTwitGeeks hilariously demonstrates how dickish this design choice is. Hope you remembered to save!

Do you head back towards the door you came through, or perhaps head towards the gaping hole in the floor the boss just left? Nope, you are instead expected to head towards the south western corner to a lift that you could not have seen and use it to go to the bottom of the building. If that was not bad enough, the game pulls the same crap AFTER THE FINAL BOSS. This time there is a chase sequence that will kill you the first time through due to either getting cornered in a dead end, or not realizing that you needed to interact with a certain console in order to progress.

That however, does not compare to the fact that there are certain save points that can leave you with an unwinnable game. Right before the second to last boss fight of the game, there is a message that prompts telling you that this is the no turning back point and asks if you would like to save before continuing. Normally this would sound like a good idea, but the message prompts AFTER the point of no return has been passed. This means that if you were not properly prepared to fight the following boss, who is incredibly hard by the way, and you had no other save file, you get to start the entire game FROM THE BEGINNING.

Saving at that moment does not even provide any player convenience other than skipping a couple of cutscenes, but that is like going from not flushing the toilet after you use it, to blowing it up with a cannon after you use it. Another example, in that same chase sequence mentioned in the previous paragraph, there is a save point in the first room you enter, but saving will cause you to lose valuable time during the chase and will leave you unable to escape. So you heard it here folks, the game locks you out of seeing the ending, after the final boss.

If you don’t think to interact with this console at a dead end, while you’re being chased by a monster that kills you in one hit, you get to re-fight the final boss.

Let me ask something, who at Squaresoft thought this was a good idea? Is it supposed to add to the immersion? I do not know about you, but I would think that having to sit through entire cutscenes or possibly the entire game from the beginning would be the exact opposite of immersive. In fact, this is the type of design that you would expect out of I Wanna Be the Guy. It is as if the designers were actively conspiring to screw you over in the most frustrating ways possible. This game hates your guts, and it does not even have the courage to express its hatred through actual difficulty.

Why Squaresoft, just why? Up until the ending, I was going to say that Parasite Eve was still a great game despite it really trying my patience, but you can only take advantage of someone so much. I can almost say I felt like I was in an abusive relationship with Parasite Eve. It kept trying to screw me over yet I still kept coming back to it because it was such a great game otherwise. It is hard to not appreciate such a well told and well written story in addition to all of the games other aspects, but Squaresoft tried hard to make me. It is these flaws that keep Parasite Eve from being truly great and is what brings it back down to average. I can still recommend Parasite Eve, but only if you feel like reading a guide the entire time.

This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on January 2nd of 2014, and has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.

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