Parasite Eve spans six days, over the course of which the human
race's continued existence shall be called into question. A fateful night at the opera
house triggers in one woman the power to cause all those around her to incinerate as the
mitochondria in their bloodstream generate staggering quantities of energy, and in another
woman an innate resistance to the deadly effects. You assume the role of that woman, the
young New York cop Aya Brea, as she comes to realize that the fate of humanity will depend
upon her actions. As Square Soft's biggest release since Final Fantasy VII, Parasite Eve
offers high production values and an intriguing storyline in what Square Soft has dubbed
"the cinematic RPG." Its gameplay blends action and horror with traditional RPG
elements to create a game that is all too easily described as the marriage of Final
Fantasy VII and Resident Evil. But even as Parasite Eve takes up many of the best aspects
of both these games, so does it bring along many of their shortcomings.
True to its claims, Parasite Eve often looks sleek, inspired, and beautiful - like a good
film. The scenery throughout the game is composed of still 3D-rendered images of mostly
authentic New York locales, and the quality and detail of these various settings is
astounding. Whether you're searching through Central Park in the middle of the night or
rummaging through the slums early in the morning, Parasite Eve looks consistently real.
The background art looks so good that you will often find yourself admiring your
surroundings instead of forging onward in your quest. The various polygonal characters
aren't quite as sharp as the backdrops, but their motions and actions during plot
sequences are expressive and believable. As Aya, you will have to shoot your way past
scores of monsters, all of which are your typical mutated urban animal variety and thence
not particularly imposing. And though some of the boss monsters are both creepy and
fearsome, like a particularly large and ill-tempered three-headed hound, for the most part
your opposition will fail to impress.
Even a discriminating connoisseur of computer-generated cinematics would be
awestruck at several animated cutscenes over the course of Parasite Eve. While the
cinematic sequences are never particularly long, they are frequent and almost always
amazing - all the more so toward the end of the game. Among other things, you'll witness
breathtaking panoramic shots of New York City, grisly deaths or even grislier
metamorphoses, and even some good old-fashioned military intervention. Though there's
hardly enough CG here to make up a feature-length film, there's plenty of the stuff to
keep you going all the way through. It's integrated seamlessly into the game and makes key
plot sequences much more dramatic and the entire game more memorable overall.
Meanwhile, Parasite Eve isn't much to speak highly of where sound is concerned. Much like
Final Fantasy VII before it, there is no speech to be heard anywhere in the game.
Unfortunately, while the text-driven plot felt appropriate in Final Fantasy VII, the
brevity of the story, scarcity of characters, and the real-world setting all dictate that
Parasite Eve would have seriously benefited from full speech. It took Parasite Eve half a
year to reach the audience of the country where the game takes place, but that time was
spent merely translating the short script rather than adding speech, let alone Dual Shock
force-feedback support or anything else. At least the English script reads well enough.
Parasite Eve also would have benefited from a more consistent
soundtrack. Most of the music in the game consists of appropriately moody techno tunes,
and it's all quite good, if forgettable, much like techno tends to be. However, the battle
theme is uncharacteristically mellow, while the opera sequences are thwarted by an awful
warbling opera-sounding keyboard instrument that doesn't sound anything like a real voice.
Furthermore, some gameplay sequences are conspicuously devoid of any background music.
While silence, when implemented skillfully, may lend drama or tension to a scene, it just
feels really awkward most of the time in Parasite Eve. In particular, it's difficult to
believe that a New York City street might ever be silent at any time of day. Meanwhile,
the various sound effects in the game share a common trait of being subdued and muffled.
Aya fights through the game using everything from pistols to rocket launchers, but the
sound never does any of these weapons due justice.
Final Fantasy VII's influence on Parasite Eve's gameplay is obvious. You can easily
move Aya about by means of a control pad, or better yet an analog pad like the Dual Shock.
The camera perspective tends to change from scene to scene, forcing you to reorient
yourself and the way you move the character about. Battles pop up out of nowhere much like
in Final Fantasy VII; the screen suddenly goes colorless, you hear a heartbeat, and one or
more enemies appear and attack. Parasite Eve uses a unique combat system where you must
maneuver Aya about the battlefield as she prepares for her next attack. The end result is
that combat plays out more like an action game than an RPG. Parasite Eve is often totally
unforgiving if you fail to pull some fancy moves in avoiding your enemies' attacks. While
this type of hands-on combat makes fighting enemies less of a chore than it tends to be in
most Japanese RPGs, Aya is a frustratingly slow runner, hit detection is often
inconsistent, and most boss characters can be defeated through almost insultingly basic
patterns. Thankfully, random encounters in Parasite Eve are not as frequent as in most
RPGs - you'll rarely face more than one per screen, to the point where they become
satisfyingly predictable and unobtrusive. You don't get the feeling that combat is just
there to impede your progress.
You gain levels often, and every few levels you learn a new special ability that draws
from your parasite energy, otherwise known as magic points. Parasite energy gradually
recharges during combat, but recharges slower the more often you use it. In what's likely
a not-so-subtle indictment of modern-day New York, Aya will happen across new weapons and
ammo literally all over the place - garbage cans, dressing rooms, cabinets, you name it.
The various guns she'll use differ in appearance, speed, power, and effective range.
Furthermore, some weapons pack special properties, like an acid effect that heavily wounds
the enemy, causing it to take damage continuously until death. More interesting still is
the ability to tune weapons and improve them indefinitely. For example, you can increase
the number of rounds a shotgun can store or soup up the lovely rocket launcher so that it
fires thrice per use instead of just once. You can essentially make your own custom guns
in Parasite Eve, and devising clever and deadly new combinations is one of the most
enjoyable aspects of the game.
A typical film tends to be fairly short, and Parasite Eve, in keeping with its cinematic
inclinations, is no exception. Expect to finish the game all the way through in no more
than 15 hours. If you're good, you may win it in less than ten. It's a concise and linear
plot, with scarce few characters and very little actual role-playing to speak of. Though a
more difficult "EX" mode, complete with a new location and plenty of new items,
is unlocked after you win the game the first time through, it hardly justifies the brevity
of the game proper. And while the story starts out fascinating, in hindsight all its
interesting points are plucked straight from any number of famous science fiction and
horror movies - movies that the potential customer of Parasite Eve has probably seen or
heard of before, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Terminator. And strangely enough, Parasite
Eve's plot and characters correlate rather closely to Final Fantasy VII's, to the point
where you'll sometimes get the feeling you're playing as Cloud in drag all over again. The
enclosed demo disc with a Final Fantasy VIII video and a playable Xenogears demo only
marginally sweetens the deal. While those who can't get enough of Final Fantasy VII's
formula will thoroughly enjoy what few short hours of gameplay Parasite Eve has to offer,
it could have been executed much better in spite of its glossy finish.
By Greg Kasavin
October 05, 1998