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"Parasite Eve" is part RPG, part interactive movie
By Craig Hansen, Reader Reviewer
My first exposure to computer role-playing games (CRPGs) cameshortly after I bought my Commodore 64 in 1984 or 1985. Aftersnatching up a word processor, the second piece of softwareI bought was ZORK, a text adventure/RPG. Without any graphicsand a limited "recognized" vocabulary, it was maddening, butultimately rewarding, just to navigate from a first-floor kitchento a third-floor bedroom and back again.
Computer and console gaming has come a long way since then,and Squaresoft's "Parasite Eve" for Playstation seems like the nextstep in the evolution of the genre. It is not so much a game as it isan interactive movie, and therefore needs to be considered bydifferent criteria than, say..."Final Fantasy Tactics." "ParasiteEve" is definitely not a game for the traditional RPG junkie, butit does provide an enjoyable experience for those looking fora hybrid form of digital entertainment.
First, expect a lot of in-game graphic cutscenes that advancethe story, a nice amount of FMV sequences. Early on, you'llfight the urge to think, "Enough already! I want to get onwith the game!" And in that reaction comes the dividing linebetween which people will love "Parasite Eve" and which oneswill hate it. Because in PE, the story is more important than the battles.
Some will argue that an immersive story has been the goal of CRPGsall along. But an immersive story is a CRPG innovation only sincethe early-to-mid-90s. In the days of "Might and Magic" or "The Bard'sTale" on the C64, CRPGs were about bare bones elements: winning battles,accumulating hit points, rising in levels and upgrading equipmentand magic in order to win bigger and bigger battles.
While not a big break from the story-immersiveness of "FinalFantasy VII," "Parasite Eve" does move the genre away fromtradition in its own ways. Gone are too-frequent randombattles that overpopulate too many modern CRPGs. Althoughthere are some random encounters, in PE they seem less frequentare less jarring to the flow of the story.
"Parasite Eve" unfortunately breaks no new ground in going againstgenre cliche. And many of its supporting cast are little more thancardboard stereotypes, some of which would draw fire for being"negative racial cliches" were they found in a movie, rather thana videogame. Daniel and Dr. Klamp are the worst examples.
While the "PE" plot is mildly engaging, it seems obvious that Squarechose this novel as its first "cinematic RPG" for reasons of lowlicensing fees, rather than for its inherent brilliance or popularity.Ultimately, one can only imagine what would be possible were theyto give the same treatment to a John Grisham legal/action thrilleror a Stephen King scare-fest like "Salem's Lot."
And while the story-moving segments of "Parasite Eve" establish relationshipsand unfold events in an involving way, there is a surprising lack ofsuspense, and even less genuine shock, to be found in the game. Theappearance of the T-Rex in the first Tomb Raider game is still far moreeffective than any moment found in "Parasite Eve."
But "Parasite Eve" offers far more story detail than anything offeredin a Lara Croft shoot-em-up. The biggest question a gamer ever asksabout Lara is, "Will we ever see her topless?" While Aya Brea IS anattractive hero in the classical Greek Lit. tradition, there's toomany questions raised about her identity to spend too much timeobsessing over nonexistent "nude" codes.
The main flaw in "Parasite Eve" is that, while reaching for a cinematiclevel of story detail, there are times it still falls short. For example,when amajor character dies, the game only deals with loss and grief in themost carefree of manners. There are times it doesn't even use such adeath to maximum dramatic advantage.
Take Day 2 for example. We only find out AFTER Day 2 is overthat Daniel's wife was at the concert in the park and perishedalong with the rest of the crowd. Her death, therefore, has littleimpact because it is related to the gamer only second-hand andafter the fact. We should have seen Daniel's wife early in the game,come to care about her, watched her going to the concert, singledher out in the crowd as Eve attacks, rooted for Aya to arrive in timeto save her, and experienced the anguish when Aya fails and Daniel'swife dies along with the others. Plot details like this would have raisedthe immersiveness of the story tenfold.
As a first step toward a more cinematic direction for RPGs, "Parasite Eve"is an attractive first-strike. But I cannot recommend buying it. Much like"I Know What You Did Last Summer" or "Scream", PE is enjoyable one timethrough...and that's about it. It's a short game. So rent your way throughit and save your bucks for a lengthier game like "Xenogears." The EX-mode,which offers a more traditional "dungeon crawl" through a 70-plus levelChrysler Building, seems tacked on only to satisfy the traditional RPGplayer...the kind of player who isn't likely to appreciate PE for what it is, anyway.
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