Platform: Playstation 1
Ok. So, I’ll admit that with the holidays approaching, I wanted to take a look back at some fun games from my past that just happen to take place during the Christmas season. With this one being set over a six-day span of time during what would otherwise be a normal Christmas season in 1997’s New York City, I figured it was the perfect jumping off point. This year also happens to be the 20th anniversary of this game’s release.
Parasite Eve was a gorgeous nod to the theme of human evolution and survival of the fittest; and being that it was developed by Square (the predecessor to Square Enix), this title really pulled out all the stops to create an immersive and visually striking action-adventure / RPG experience. Based on a previously-written Japanese novel (authored by Hideaki Sena), all of the action, tension, and intrigue of the story really translated quite well from page to console.
As Square’s first attempt at an M-rated game, and a foray into what would become the “cinematic RPG” genre, Parasite Eve was a great look at what was possible with video game graphics at the time – and going forward, even up to today’s titles. The cut scene graphics always blew me away with how smooth they were, and they still look gorgeous today. Using a smooth blend of anime-style and Western graphics, this game continues to be one of the best-looking games I’ve played on a Playstation console. While the characters still look blocky from the perspective of today’s gamer, I remember being pretty awestruck at how good Parasite Eve looked 20 years ago. Square’s use of bold colors, flowing and purposeful movement, and great shading really dials up the dark, semi-gritty storyline of the game, and makes the deep moments even more impactful.
Speaking of those deep moments, dear readers, I’ve got to talk about the story in this game. As I mentioned above, Parasite Eve is based on the Japanese novel of the same name, and it translates quite well to the more interactive experience of a video game. While the game acts as a sequel to the book, it doesn’t follow the storyline exactly. Still, this seems to afford the developers over at Square some additional wiggle room in taking this story of an NYPD officer (named Aya) who becomes one of only two survivors of a gruesome event at the opera, where everyone else there suddenly burns to a crisp – seemingly from the inside out. With Aya and a new species of creature (dubbed “Eve”) as the only living beings left standing, we get a quick intro into the world of mitochondrial mutation. Thus begins an exceedingly well-written tale of one woman’s cells leading to the possible future of mankind.
As far as gameplay goes, this is a weird one. If you try to look at Parasite Eve as a horror game (as some people initially did), it fails miserably. However, that’s not really the way it was originally intended. The game leans more into the action/adventure style of gameplay, with the mechanics of a JRPG. It’s not out to scare you, so much as make you think.
Additionally, one of the things about the mechanics that always got me, was the hybrid realtime/turn-based combat system. This was one of the first JRPG games to give players the ability to out-maneuver enemies as their attacks happened, and adjust position to launch more accurate attacks back at the foul beasties.
That being said, there was (and still is) some funkiness with some of the mechanics in the game. The main issue, in my opinion, being Parasite Eve’s weapons upgrade system – it really just feels like it was built in too complicated a manner. If it weren’t absolutely necessary to upgrade your gear as you make your way through the game, I would say that the way the upgrade system was engineered is simply more trouble than it’s worth. I just found that I kept having to ask myself a lot of questions just to ensure that I was going about upgrading things so that I would enjoy the game to the fullest extent possible.
– Do I plan on using this weapon/armor for an extensive period of time, or is it just going to be temporary?
– If it’s going to be a long-term item, do its basic stats really matter in the long run?
– If it is temporary, how many tools and/or super-tools am I going to need in order to transfer its stats and attributes to a future one?
– Should I save some transfers until I can get an item with more slots?
Oof…it really just became a bit of a stress-inducer after a while.
Aside from the gameplay and darkly scientific storyline, one of the absolute coolest thing for me about Parasite Eve, was the music. Composer Yoko Shimomura (who also went on to compose music for the Kingdom Hearts series) rocketed to video game music stardom after it became apparent that she really seemed to understand the thematic elements and mature concepts in both book and video game versions of Parasite Eve. Her grasp of these elements really showed through in the ethereal yet modern soundscapes that she created for this game.
Imagine if you will, a perfect blending of opera and electronica, and you have the score to Parasite Eve. Shimomura stated that she wanted to compose “something unique” and “inorganic” for this title, and (at least in my opinion), she succeeded beautifully. It’s still worth listening to today, and an album containing remixed versions of 10 of Shimomura’s compositions for this game can be found in a lot of places online. Take a listen!
Parasite Eve received an 81/100 from Metacritic, and generally favorable reviews across the board. Still, as with most games of the era, there doesn’t seem to be much replay value in this title once you’ve gotten through it. While the story is one that I don’t mind getting into more than once, the surprises in the game lose some of their luster after the first go-around. A lot of that is due to the very linear gameplay in this title, as the game very succinctly directs you to where you need to go, without really any room for exploration or distraction. Still, if you want to replay Parasite Eve (or experience it for the first time), you’ve got a couple of options:
- 1. The game was re-released as part of the Sony Greatest Hits Collection. It’s in the PSN Store, available for PS3 and PS Vita. So, if you’ve got a working version of either of those consoles, this game is worth a buy.
- You could try to hunt down a Japanese version of the recently-released Playstation Classic retro console, which includes Parasite Eve as one of the titles on its roster.
Finally, the game isn’t the longest adventure on the Playstation. Even if you’re a complete noob when it comes to JRPGs and the like, it’s easy to complete Parasite Eve in its entirety in about 14 – 15 hours of gameplay. Still, it’s a hell of a ride for that amount of time.
If you’re a hardcore JRPG fan, you may feel a bit disenchanted with this title, as it’s a departure from what many have come to know as the formula for a JRPG. Still, what Square was able to put together is a real testament to why they are still around after acquiring Enix in 2003. Considering the time at which it was released, Parasite Eve is a gorgeous game. It’s deep, amazing to look at, and gives one a lot to think about in terms of where humanity (as a species) may be headed.
To close out this retrospective, though, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Square Enix just recently filed for another Parasite Eve trademark in Europe last month (on November 22nd). So, while there’s no guarantee that we’ll be getting another Parasite Eve title, it gives those of us who loved the series some hope for another sequel to this amazing franchise, or a series reboot. It’s also a great reminder of why one should be made. Fingers crossed!