Review: The Third Birthday

In 1998, Squaresoft introduced gamers to the world of Parasite Eve.  Fun fact, it was the first game from Squaresoft to be rated M for Mature, and was actually a sequel to a book by the same name.  The game combined a lot of survival-horror with a dash of RPG elements.  You probably played it and remember it fondly.  If not, you can pick it up on PSN and remember it fondly in the future.

Parasite Eve 2 was where RPG elements took a back seat and survival-horror took centre stage.  The story was just as complex and weird as ever, the graphics were outstanding for its time, it was moody and atmospheric and overall it was just a great game.  We’re still waiting on PE2 to be released on PSN outside of Japan.  It’s been eleven years since Parasite Eve 2 was released, and fans have been clamouring for a return to the series proper.  Eleven years to find out what happened with Aya Brea, Kyle Madigan and Eve.  What did we get?  The Third Birthday – a game so out of sync with the rest of the series that you could be forgiven for not knowing they were connected.  Not only is the game out of sync with the rest of the series, it’s bad on its own.

The 3rd Birthday is a lot of things, but a survival-horror it is not.  The game is gritty and bloody, but lacks many of the other components that make a survival-horror what it is.  We would really like to get our hands on some of the concept art for this game to figure out where it all went south, because The Third Birthday had some amazing potential.

In terms of cinematic quality, it’s beautiful – it’s one of the best titles we’ve ever seen on the system.  Even the in-game graphics are great.  Not the best we’ve ever seen on the system, but definitely in the top-tier.  The music is moody, atmospheric and edgy, really fitting for a survival-horror title.  The game has really high production values, and that’s pretty much sums up redeeming qualities of this game.  We should also mention the controls, because we’ve played more than one game where things fell flat int he controls department (here’s looking at you, Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker).  The controls are comfortable and easy to adapt to.  The level design also works well for the portable system.

The gameplay consists of your run of the mill third-person shooter fare, but there’s a twist.  Aya Brea (the lead character) has the ability to warp her conscience into another body.  Most of the gameplay centres around this idea – if you’re in trouble, you just warp into the body of someone else who isn’t about to die.

This is where the game takes out almost all of the elements of survival-horror in one fell swoop, not to mention a lot of the difficulty.   The central gameplay mechanic requires that there are always other NPCs around, ripe for mind-hijacking (called Overdrive, in case you were wondering…)  You can even warp during the death animation, so unless there’s not anyone else around (which there almost always is) you potentially have unlimited lives.  With the Overdrive ability, you carry most of your weapons, but also pick up the ammo and weapons from whoever you Overdrived into, plus whatever health they have.  There are also some magic elements that can be brought in, but they’re nothing to write home about – and don’t bring a whole lot to the game.  You can increase stats, allow Aya to heal faster, that sort of thing.  But most of your damage will be done with guns.

 

Aya likes her guns.  A lot.  And other people’s guns, too.

Level design is straightforward, and there’s not a whole lot of exploring to be done.  This is great for PSP games as they’re meant to be played on the go, where you don’t always have the luxury of a half an hour to figure out which key goes where, or trying to find your way out of a gigantic laboratory.  We could have gone with some shorter levels though, as some of them tend to get pretty long with boss battles.  There are bonuses for people who are dedicated enough to play through the game multiple times, and Achievement-like rewards for completing certain tasks in-game.  They would have made for some great Trophies, if the PSP had the capability to sync with a PS3.  Unfortunately the game gets a little repetitive, especially during heavy boss battles, often taking up a lot of time, and using the Overdrive ability a lot.  Doubly so when you’ve played through the game 25 or so times.

The story of the game is where not only fans, but newcomers will also feel rooked.  The story kills whatever chance The Third Birthday might have had not only as a Parasite Eve entry, but as a game in itself.  As was previously mentioned, you could be forgiven for not knowing that this was part of the Parasite Eve trilogy.  You might also have to sit down and play this game as if it were a console release, because you wouldn’t be able to follow along otherwise, as the story is almost to the point of being Kafkaesque.  The story is needlessly complicated with its own share of plot holes and unexplained elements.  The game tries to pay homage to it’s predecessors and ties up some loose ends with some files (available right from the start) that seem to go on for hours.  Your PSP’s battery might run out before you have a chance to read through them all.

As is the case with keeping survival-horror elements in the game, there were ways to tie this to the original plotline, but they weren’t present. They could have explained that the Overdrive ability was just Aya Brea controlling other people’s mitochondria, called the enemies NMCs instead of Twisted, and kept Aya as part of MIST and you would have had a decent-enough connection for most fans.

It’s hard not to rate this game from a fan’s eyes, but the final nail in the coffin for The Third Birthday would have to be Aya Brea herself.  Back in the PSOne days, Aya was a confident NYPD rookie, and then an FBI agent with MIST.  As confident as she was sexy, there was nothing she couldn’t handle.  In The Third Birthday, our protagonist turned into what appeared to be a timid little girl.  Her torn clothes, argued by some to add realism to the game, do nothing but exploit the character.  Her pants are already overly ripped from the start, to the point we’d throw them away, as you might as well be wearing nothing at all.  We understand (err, *I* understand) the concept of having a sexy female lead, but this just seems like it’s needless exploitation.  As if Aya couldn’t be that strong, confident female protagonist anymore because it wasn’t sexy, so they made her timid and made her strip her clothes off during battle.  What seals it are the annoying noises that Aya makes ‘all the time’ – grunting, shouting and sighing that all sound subtly sexual.

Above: Subtlety

 

Final Verdict 5/10

 

You’ll Like

  • Amazing production values  (music, visuals)
  • Extended replay value
  • Comfortable controls

You’ll Dislike

  • Little connection to the previous games
  • Story is overly complex on its own, hard to follow
  • Strays far from its survival-horror roots
  • Exploitation of Aya’s character is annoying…and painful.

 

Conclusion

No game can ever live up to the hype that surrounds it, and The Third Birthday is no exception.  The title had some big shoes to fill as part of the series, but misses the mark as a standalone entry as well.  While we enjoyed the controls and the level design, the story’s complexity and holes kill it.  The game has some of the best visuals we’ve ever seen on the PSP and sound production to match, but as every woman knows, there’s only so far you can go on good looks alone.

 

–jeeves86