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The Parasite That Stole Christmas
By: Michael Beckett
A truly cinematic game is something Square-Enix has been shooting for nearly all its life. Starting with Final Fantasy IV, nearly all of Square's games were given a fully-fleshed-out plot and characters, but the technology really was nowhere near ready for the pure cinematic flare felt its games deserved Squaresoft. With the success of the PlayStation and Final Fantasy 7, Square felt it ready, and produced Parasite Eve. They called it the first truly cinematic RPG ever produced. Despite its claims, the technology of the just-barely-post-FF7 era really was not sophisticated enough to properly make a cinematic RPG. While Parasite Eve is an above average game with some very good - even by today's standards - FMV, it is still hindered by a poor interface and a lack of proper art direction.
To start with, PE's interface is something of a train wreck. Hit detection is very poor - hit areas are often so small you must float by the target two or three times, jamming the X button before you manage to locate it. Menus are decent, if somewhat lackluster, but the use of the Dual Analog joystick makes menu control somewhat uncertain. A better idea would have been to do what most modern RPGs do - allow use of both joystick and directional pad at the same time. Foot speed is a problem throughout the game - it can take ages to move through a room. In battle, Aya simply does not move fast enough to avoid many basic attacks.
Overall, the Battle system is refreshingly unique. Combat takes place in whatever section of the field the encounter occurs in. Aya has a nearly full range of movement, but must wait for her AT Gauge to fill before she is allowed to attack. Foot speed is a serious problem in combat, and adds an element of stupid difficulty - you'll receive damage often simply because Aya doesn't move fast enough to avoid many enemy attacks. The character customization scheme is fairly unique and very interesting, but doesn't go far enough. The player may increase only AT recharge, inventory space, and the various parameters of guns and armor. The player should be able to use BP to enhance my Offense, Defense, P.Energy and nearly anything else. However, the various special effects available to enhance armor and weapons - Auto Potion, HP +, et cetera - are a nice addition, and allow for still deeper customization.
Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Fire Emblem V) is responsible for the soundtrack of Parasite Eve, and it shows off her flexibility as an artist. However, the techno themes are a bit repetitive, and the opera themes don't sound all that compelling. Credit should be given, however, to Ms. Shimomura's skillful blending of the two. In particular, the theme "Influence of the Deep" shows just how powerful her work can be. On the sound effect side, there is an overabundance of effects, particularly in cutscenes. For instance, footsteps can be heard not just when walking, but also when turning. Had the technology been up to it at this point, voice acting would have added a great deal to Parasite Eve by way of enhancing the game's sense of realism.
Parasite Eve's realism is conveyed partly through its location. Set in New York in 1997, PE's story follows the six-day reign of terror of a woman known as Eve. The story's themes of motherhood and family, shown through Eve's desire to give birth to the ultimate form of life and Aya's visions of her little sister, are both powerful and well-executed. Parasite Eve is very well written, but not well translated. While there are no real errors, a good part of the text comes off as inappropriately funny through the sheer out of place-ness of the comment. PE's very recent modern setting and characters are unique to the point where there still hasn't been anything much like it.
Character design is very simple and very real, which fits the overall tone. However, the in-game models all sport faces one might expect to have seen on Final Fantasy 7, replete with oversized eyes and locked facial expressions. The monster design, however, is freakish to the point where I'll never look at a rat (or a frog, or a fly) the same way again.
Parasite Eve lasts only 6 to 12 hours, but offers both a massive randomly generated dungeon, and a unique brand of New Game +. The EX Game starts the player off with their last equipped weapon and armor, as well as a huge whack of BP. It does not, however, transfer the player's levels.
A bit like Koudelka, going into PE without knowing how the systems work is a recipe for instant dislike, especially during the second disc, when the going becomes significantly tougher. Though Parasite Eve has some significant flaws in interface and art direction, its story and unique brand of combat and character development is more than enough to make PE a worthwhile purchase. While it falls short of Square's dream of a truly cinematic RPG, gamers who are fond of Real-Time combat and survival horror should waste no time in tracking down a copy of Parasite Eve.
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