I really wasn’t that into Mindjack. It felt stunted and only half-finished, with a story that went nowhere and AI dumber than a back of rocks. Parasite Eve, on the other hand, was one of my favorite PlayStation releases, and as the years passed its memory only solidified itself in my heart. But as time marched on, my hope for seeing a worthy successor diminished. Fast forward to 2011, and Square Enix’s The 3rd Birthday is released, managing to combine all the unpleasantness, terrible voice acting, and mindless plot of Mindjack with the elements of Parasite Eve I knew and loved, making one shapeless, aimless mass of disappointment. I’m unsure how they did it, but I actually began to hate the time I spent playing as childhood favorite Aya Brea.
At least The 3rd Birthday, like we were expecting, begins with Christmas, a common theme for the series. As complacent holiday shoppers hustle about downtown ready to empty their pockets and spread holiday cheer, enormous tentacle-like towers erupt from the ground. As they are laughingly pronounced “Babel” by one of the many horridly voiced characters, they’re a threat to humanity (quite obviously), as their mere existence call forth demonic creatures known only as Twisted, which are now wreaking havoc on the helpless civilians of the Earth. It’s not spontaneous combustion or mitochondrial mutations, but I suppose it’s an engaging enough premise…if you like being utterly confused out of your mind.
The CTI (Counter Twisted Investigation) is formed to combat the Horrible Creatures (TM), featuring one Aya Brea, former mitochondrial fighter turned amnesiac found bleeding out in a wedding dress – a convenient enough yarn to keep this from being more of a “canon” installment in the series. She’s placed at the head of the unit (in the future, the year 2013, to be exact) in order to perform “overdives,” otherwise known as jumps into the bodies of other living beings. These jumps are made in an attempt to prevent the disastrous appearance of the Babel so that the present in which Aya and the rest of the team live in can be free of the bizarre threat.
As Aya traipses along in jeans that somehow get damaged enough in battle to form some sort of denim thong, you quickly realize how little this game has to do with the series, its lore, or even the previous characters. Kyle Madigan, little Eve, and other familiar faces make an appearance and their actions even tie in somewhat with the main narrative, but all you’ll find here is terrible sci-fi schlock attempting to weave in bits and pieces of the familiar to reel in the old fans and bring in the new. And I’m just not buying it.
Aside from the piecemeal narrative that barely gets off the ground, The 3rd Birthday’s tactical third-person shooter style leaves much to be desired. Diving into the bodies of others quickly feels more like a chore than a boon to survival or staying safe when it comes to fighting the Twisted, much like it was just a last-resort measure in Mindjack, nothing I wanted to do deliberately in order to emerge victorious from battle. In this, repetition is key as Aya must jump from soldier to lackey to NPC and back again, all the while dodging, shooting, and Overdiving to beat the band. As you can imagine, it’s a far cry from the frenetic RPG-infused action of PE2 or even the slower, more deliberate battles of Parasite Eve.
Figuring out which enemy holds the key to defeating a certain boss to complete each “room” (battles are normally waged in semi-roped off areas) can be painful and frustrating, as well as Aya’s Crossfire ability, which draws all ally fire onto one certain target. Overdive Kills are used as well; concentrated attacks that usually culminate in a boss-killing, battle-ending finale, but are devoid of all the splendor you might be expecting. In all honesty the most fun I ever squeezed out of these convoluted and oft-confusing firefights was exploiting the Liberation meter, a limit break of sorts akin to Liberation seen in Parasite Eve’s debut, which is a gnarly move that ups Aya’s speed, senses, and damage, making her a much deadlier adversary, even when her denim thong starts to chafe. Mowing through the Twisted is less like a chore and more of what I had been dying to experience from this newest addition to the Parasite Eve family.
But this entry doesn’t feel like family. It feels like the “uncle” you never really see…you know, the one who’s always asking for money and promising you big, big things in return? The customizable and repairable armor system in conjunction with the OE (Over Energy) chip system – think a Final Fantasy-esque ability acquisition system) serve to augment the severely broken experience, but only slightly. The 3rd Birthday had the potential to bring so much to the table, yet it is squandered on a flimsy battle system and a scraped-together plot that barely makes sense even on completion.
That isn’t to say there isn’t fun to be had, however, despite the glaring deviation from form and niggling references to the previous games – The 3rd Birthday feels like it’s desperately trying to stay relevant to form to please old fans while shoehorning in modern tricks to keep FPS-hounds busy. And in the heat of some truly gripping firefights (there are a few), gorgeous CG and character models, and some occasional cool moments, there’s an “okay” adventure here that I’d recommend if you’re not currently devouring anything else. As a worthy successor to the Parasite Eve legacy it utterly fails, falling victim to modern trappings of marketing and futile attempts to stay “cool and hip.” To that I say, keep your pseudo-FPS battles and give me back my tank controls – at least then I could say I honestly enjoyed playing the games.
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