This time of year, everyone has the same argument with the same people: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Sure, it takes place during Christmastime, and there is quite a lot of references to the holiday, but is that what makes it so? At the end of the day, it’s still an enjoyable, well-made film that everyone should see, regardless of season. Well, Parasite Eve is the same way, both in Christmas theme and enjoyability.
Parasite Eve is a 1998 Playstation game by Square. There’s some history here, but the important part is Takashi Tokita directed, the guy responsible for Chrono Trigger. You play as Aya Brea, a police officer in New York City. She’s classy enough to go on dates at the opera, but only if her date’s dad is paying. When she gets there (late), shit goes down and Aya has to figure out what and why. Anyways, let’s talk about the game.
Seems like everyone calls this game a Survival Horror but that’s mostly untrue. Sure, it may look like one on the surface, with pre-rendered backgrounds and heavy atmosphere, but that doesn’t make the genre. I’d call it a JRPG with a little inspiration from Resident Evil. The most important difference is in exploration: every level is structured more like a dungeon, rather than a labyrinthine house. There’s no map, no puzzles beyond a handful of keys, and especially no inventory hassle. The use of fixed camera angles for pre-rendered backgrounds made each area recognizable, aiding navigation. Only occasionally would I get stuck looking for a room I missed, and the large amount of optional areas made this a non-issue.
The movement controls are also a departure from the tank controls of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The immediate 360° movement should satiate the rabid anti-tank tribe, but the pro-tankers shouldn’t be too worried. Adjusting direction between angle transitions is an issue, but most screens take this into account, usually following the previous room’s direction. My biggest criticism of the movement in Parasite Eve is the movement speed: Aya is just too damn slow. Some games de-emphasize or punish grinding with level scaling, others limit resources, and some just remove the ability to grind altogether. PE accomplishes this by making it too damn annoying to run back and forth in the first place.
Slow movement speed is at least justified in combat, where Aya moves at the same rate. Combat follows the JRPG inspiration, using a fixed field for battle, except that field is still in the game field. The combat itself is the best part of the game, and the best reason to play it. If you’re familiar with Square RPGs since 1991, you probably know how ATB works. Parasite Eve uses ATB as well, but in a way that isn’t shit. When the gauge fills up, you are able to make your move, but while you’re waiting, you don’t have to sit there and take hits, you can run around and avoid attacks. So the game becomes like a shoot-em-up, dodging enemy fire and managing all the things on-screen, before attacking when the ATB fills. Also, your attacks do the most damage when you’re close, encouraging you to risk taking hits. If a gun can fire twice (or more), you can bargain firing twice in one turn, risking being attacked. Each mechanic helps flush out this combat system, making for a seemingly simple game that gets deep fast.
The weapons and armor make up the other half of the combat, influencing your stats and performance more than Aya’s level. Each weapon or armor has various abilities, usually unique to the item’s class. With a “tool”, you can tune two of them to transfer an ability or stat bonuses. The abilities are unique enough to significantly alter the gameplay, so it’s usually worth it. You can easily screw yourself over by destroying a useful item, but the benefits offset the risks.
Parasite Eve may not be a Survival Horror, but the tone of the game is certainly dark and tense. The soundtrack reflects that and more, mixing opera with electronic in ways I didn’t know were possible. I don’t think I’m qualified to critique music by any means, but damn this shit is good. Like the gameplay, it tries new things and succeeds, standing out from all the samey OSTs that don’t try to impress.
The story is pretty good in this game, its premise is interesting and the characters aren’t completely boring. I wouldn’t say the story was as incredible or entertaining as the music and gameplay, but it’s better than most. This is probably due to the game being based off a book, which I guess was good in the first place.
Parasite Eve‘s committment to the story may have doomed it, however. FMVs cannot be skipped, and neither can any dialogue. Mashing X to skip through the unvoiced dialogue still forces the player to wait until the characters finish motioning their hands or whatever. This is all fine on the first playthrough, but dying at a boss forces a restart from the last save point, which is usually behind a few minutes of dialogue. The final boss sequence was the worst offender, though it thankfully didn’t take more than 3 tries for me.
My favorite part of Survival Horror games are the post-game content, and Parasite Eve is no exception. There are a few optional bosses in a big dungeon in the New Game Plus, and there might even be a true ending if I manage to get to it. Only problem with NG+ is I have to walk through all the cutscenes and story events in order to level up back to where I was before. Sure, you get stronger equipment, but that just makes the entire game annoyingly easy. I’m not sure I have the
autism patience to read through the game twice, just to finish an optional dungeon. But maybe you are, and that’s all that counts.
Anyways, the game is pretty damn great, and I definitely recommend. If you don’t like Survival Horror, JRPGs, both, or neither, there’s something here for you. At ~10 hours, it’s certainly short enough to beat in a few sittings, and lacks any frustrating time-wasters like excessive backtracking or grinding.
I don’t care if you think Die Hard is a Christmas movie please stop bringing it up
Also published on Medium.