The year is 2013. New York is in ruins after an entity, known only as the Twisted, appeared suddenly on Christmas Eve a year prior. Only Aya Brea, now a member of the Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI) team, has the ability to go back in time and destroy this menace once and for all.
It’s been 14 years since Parasite Eve was released. Can this newest entry into the series take a place next to its cult classic predecessors? Or will The 3rd Birthday fall into the mist of sequels long forgotten?
The 3rd Birthday is an action shooter with RPG elements. It follows Aya Brea as she fights alongside the rest of her CTI squad against the Twisted. The game takes place in the year 2013, one year after the Twisted began to appear in New York. Aya has mysteriously lost her memory and only has her nightmares to provide insight to who she is. As she Overdives into the past to battle the Twisted threat, she’ll come across clues to her past.
Hexadrive has done a phenomenal job in bringing The 3rd Birthday to life. In addition to top notch graphics, they’ve managed to write a story that’s true to the original two games. Not only does it sport a rich storyline that further explores what has happened in Aya’s past between the end of Parasite Eve 2 and now, but expands the canon with the possibility of future installments. Plot twists abound, this is a story that will keep you involved from start to finish. Add a soundtrack that brings elements from the original game into the mix yet stands out on its own, and The 3rd Birthday really shines.
The game play in The 3rd Birthday is exceptional. While there is a bit of a learning curve to the controls, Hexadrive has managed to create a control scheme that actually works for a third person game which are typically problematic as far as control scheme is concerned on the PSP. The most problematic control, the camera, can be locked into a position behind Aya at all times allowing you to concentrate on the game play and not having to stop to look around. During battle, you can lock on to enemies quickly and easily. However, if you’re especially gifted with a second thumb, manual control of the camera position is still available through the D-pad.
One of the key features of The 3rd Birthday is Aya’s Overdive ability. This ability allows Aya to take over the body of any human NPC in the immediate area, similar to the game Mindjack. However, instead of floating about in an incorporeal state hunting for someone to take over, this system simply locks you on to the nearest person allowing you to immediately jump into their body. Or if you so desire, you can select which NPC to Overdive into if one has a more tactical advantage over others. This adds a new dynamic to the game, allowing you to quickly scramble away from a powerful enemy or boss if you find yourself cornered or quickly move to an elevated position to get out of the enemy's reach or hit a hard to find weak point.
Another thing that’s been retooled from the original game’s system is Aya’s powers. Instead of having a Parasite Energy bar that fills over time, The 3rd Birthday has a Liberation Gauge that fills up as you attack and kill enemies. Once this gauge is full, Aya can become “liberated`, turning invincible for a short period of time, and has the ability to use her Energy Shot power on the enemy. Another ability available to Aya is the Overdive Kill which allows Aya to jump into a stunned enemy and kill them from within, or deal massive amounts of damage to boss creatures. Unfortunately, it appears that these two powers are the only ones available to Aya to freely use through the game, unlike the number of powers that you had in PE 1 and 2.
Once a level is complete, you’ll be graded on your progression through that level. Things such as the number of times you’ve died, the number of soldiers killed, the level of difficulty and the time it took to get through the level contribute to this score. This score is applied to your Bonus Points which you use to unlock different weapons, attachments or other goodies.
When you’re not in battle, you can upgrade your weapons, armor, and attributes. Attributes such as Regeneration, Energy Shot and Barrier are upgraded by manipulating Aya’s DNA through the Over Energy console. Over Energy chips are granted to you throughout the game with modifiers for these specific attributes. The OE chips are placed on a board allowing you to link them together or overwrite them completely. There are tons of permutations available, and it’ll be interesting to see who comes up with what kinds of combinations over time.
Likewise, weapons can be upgraded by adding components as they become available to you throughout the game. Armor, in the form of new outfits for Aya, becomes available as time progresses as well. However, over time your armor or outfits become damaged from battles and must be repaired. This damage has a visual effect, as Aya’s outfits become shredded to bits and pieces. While the thought of having a scantily clad Aya running around in her bra and panties doing battle may be rather appealing to some gamers, it does affect how much damage you take when attacked by an enemy. So I recommend you choose wisely. Or don’t. It’s really up to you.
Square Enix and Hexadrive have really returned true to form with The 3rd Birthday. Typically when a game receives very little fanfare you have to wonder if it’s really going to be a good game to pick up. That being said, the Parasite Eve series in general never really received a lot of fanfare, yet each installment has been consistently top-notch.
A good working control scheme, sharp graphics, a phenomenal soundtrack and cut scenes that tell a rich story make this a game worthy of the Parasite Eve label. The only complaint that I have is that a game of this caliber honestly should have been made for the console instead of the handheld. But for the dedicated PSP owner, you should feel lucky that this gem is one that you can hold over your console loving friends’ heads in triumph. For the retail price of $29.99, it’s more than worth the money.