The 3rd Birthday is a game that is best enjoyed for its gameplay. Ultimately, this is a game that is held back by the limitations of its platform, and its questionable concept.
The plot is a mess. It’s a monument to all of Square Enix’s worst sins and excesses in creating complicated plots. Every time I think that I understand it, my brain thinks up something else that doesn’t make sense, just to question it.
It didn’t need to be a mess. The original Parasite Eve games had epic scales and conflicts, but they did not descend into supernatural time travel mumbo-jumbo.
Several took issue with Aya’s meeker characterization. It is justified in-game with the revelation that it’s actually Eve in Aya’s body (since Aya is currently soul-challenged at the moment, and apparently exists in a limbo state). However, to be blunt, no one played a PE game to play as anyone but Aya Brea.
Some compare Aya’s characterization negatively to Samus’ characterization in Metroid: Other M. Both games were released in 2011.
Probably the best moment in the story is Eve and Aya’s reunion at the end.
More troubling is the game’s sexualization of Eve!Aya. Eve!Aya has Aya’s adult body, but Eve is barely an adolescent. We don’t know that it’s Eve in Aya’s body until much later, but the game still flaunts the fan service assets of Aya’s body with the clothes tearing mechanic (one of Tetsuya Nomura’s few conceptual contributions to the game – er, thanks?), the alternate costumes, and a shower scene. It’s not straight-up lolicon, but it’s weird, especially for a developer as tasteful as Square. Perhaps mixing fan service with the body-switch subplot wasn’t the brightest idea…
Some fans/brave souls still try to link this to the other games in the series. For example, in Parasite Eve II, Aya laments that she looks younger than she did in the first game because her mitochondria want it that way (uh-huh). But why would Eve’s mitochondria keep her looking like a child when she should be at least a teen in the intervening years between PEII and T3B?
Another disappointment in the game is the relative lack of scares. The early games exploited the hell out of the ideas of peoples’ biology fighting against them, and created a lot of pity for the mutants as well. There is a horrific bloodbath that the Twisted cause in Club Sacrifice, but as a whole, the game lacks the visceral transformations and monster design of its predecessors. It doesn’t help that the game is more action than survival horror, and the locations aren’t as iconic and moody as the dark New York streets of the original.
Aya isn’t the only character to fail to escape with her dignity intact. Maeda may have gotten the worst of it. The only character to return from the first game, Maeda went from being a shy and unkempt scientist with an unrequited crush on Aya to a creepy perv. It’s hard to tell where Square wanted to go with him; did he become a creepy shut-in for Aya, or does he just get a little too much… gratification from exploring the science behind Aya’s weird adventures? When you consider Aya’s true identity in this game, it makes the whole situation look even worse.
On the positive sides, the presentation is nice. The graphics are pretty gorgeous, and look great on the PSP’s clear, high-resolution screen. If the game was on the PS3 instead of a handheld, it could have looked as good as Final Fantasy XIII. Sadly, that would have probably added years to its development cycle. >.>
The music is decently moody, and features several arrangements of tunes from the first game. You can listen to the music between missions.
Though the game is held back by the limitations of its platform’s controls (often creating artificial difficulty in a game that really doesn’t need it), I love almost everything about the gameplay. I love how you have to choose your weapons and DNA chips carefully, and how Aya gradually becomes more powerful over the course of the game.
I’m still galled by how the game’s default difficulty is set to Hard. Were they trying to frustrate people as much as possible? I would suggest playing it through on Easy at first, especially if you’re not good at twitch gaming.
One of the developers on the game regretted making it for the PSP instead of the PS3. I can only dream of how the game would have looked and played on that system.
The game was originally conceived as a mobile title for release in 2007. Eesh. I’m not dismissive of mobile games in general, at least the modern games, but in 2007?
It was possible to download Aya’s costume for Lightning in DISSIDIA Duodecim Final Fantasy. Aya’s alternate in-game costumes include:a business suit, maid uniform (I only like maids in my game if the game in question is Fire Emblem), swimwear with denim hotpants over the bottom, a cheongsam, a Santa Claus outfit, and… a suit of armor? Possibly a reference to Ashley’s unlockable knight costume in Resident Evil 4?
You could also unlock cheat codes (yay!), but toggling them on disabled you from completing mission Feats (boo!). There were also codes to make the game more difficult (…yay?).
You can also unlock Lightning’s costume and one of her weapons, the Blaze Edge, which functions like a shotgun.
Should You Buy It?
If you like good action games or the PSP and the game’s status as a questionable successor to the series doesn’t bother you, yes. Sadly, it seems that this is one experiment that ended in failure in terms of continuing and rebooting the series. An evolutionary dead end.
Still, I think that all of the PE games are worth a try, even though they’re all very different. In the end, I think that the first game is still my favorite. It nailed the feel perfectly. I haven’t played it in years, and yet it’s still one of my favorite games of its era.
What do you think is the most questionable sequel or continuation of a game series?