It's been 11 years since we've last seen Aya Brea, the mitochondria-powered protagonist of the horror-RPG Parasite Eve. Square Enix has decided to reintroduce is to the character with The 3rd Birthday, a PSP-exclusive title that drops the mutated Ms. Brea back in the middle of a mutant takeover of NYC. Does it measure up to the shocks and scares of its predecessors? Find out after the break.
Aya's new foe are the Twisted, a horde of Lovecraftian monstrosities that overtake the Big Apple in a big way before spreading themselves across the globe, decimating mankind in their wake. The only hope (naturally) is the amnesiac Aya Brea, who now has the ability to astral-project herself back in time into the unwilling bodies of military personnel who were on the scene as the Twisted erupted into New York City in 2012. Unfortunately, Aya has to wrangle not only with the Twisted, but a conspiracy and her own haunting memories.
The 3rd Birthday wasn't called Parasite Eve 3, and with good reason. The original duo's survival horror/RPG mashup aspect has been replaced by a game that owes more to Gears of War than Final Fantasy or Resident Evil. Players now control Aya from the customary over-the-shoulder view, seeking cover and locking on to enemies, and "diving" between bodies to seek better vantage points for the furious gunplay. There are still RPG elements present in Aya's character leveling, as well as the ability to upgrade your weapons and other character traits, but the game is really more action-horror than anything else.
Which is fine, considering just how well the action and horror work together to make The 3rd Birthday a satisfying romp. Controls are tight and responsive, and there are enough tactical wrinkles to the core experience to make the game feel unique. Aya can direct fire from fellow soldiers onto a targeted enemy, "dive" into injured enemies to implode them from within, and bounce between hosts on a whim, saving her from death. As much as these aspects make you feel unstoppable, there's still a palpable sense of dread over the proceedings, as Aya navigates the decimated ruins of Manhattan fighting enemies that are grotesque and illogical. It seems like a cheap shock factor in a post-9/11 world, but the sight of buildings toppling and the Statue of Liberty being dismembered by pulsing tentacles chills you to the bone.
The game's not perfect, however. The game's pedigree as a portable title, and one that was originally planned for cell phones in Japan, shines through in its minimal scope. Players can drop in and out of The 3rd Birthday without much thought, which feels strange after the epic scope of the previous two titles. However, this does make the game much more appealing for its platform. The other sticking point is the absolutely agonizing dialogue and dubbing that plagues the game. Even celebrity voicework from Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) and Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) doesn't help elevate the dubious dubbing.
But these are really minor quibbles when, in the grand scheme of things, The 3rd Birthday is successful at what it attempts to be: a light, fast shooter for portable consumption. Taken at face value, I'd say I'm pretty happy with this Birthday.