Review by honestgamer
"What Square taught me about saving the world."
Three times now, I've been forced to save the world from impending doom. Each time, it began when I went to a movie theatre with a bland date. I recently discussed the matter with a few other people I met in my line of work, and they all agreed that each time devastation approached this wretched planet, it was after a trip to a theatre of one sort or another (and always in the company of someone not particularly desirable). For this reason, I would have thought Aya, the heroine from Parasite Eve, would have known better. But she didn't, and the world was plunged into turmoil again, and so goes life.
Perhaps we can blame it on the fact that she is a New York City police officer. In that line of work, I imagine you take a lot of blows to the head, what with drug raids and the like. This probably accounts for her frame of mind when she let Mr. Forgettable talk her into a night out on the town. But as the the game's opening cinema reveals to stunning effect, Aya screwed up. Partway through one of her songs, the lady on stage sings so loud that bodies start to combust and flames engulf the area. It's a scene of general chaos, and the only one not affected is the police officer. As people run scream and do their best to evacuate the building (if they haven't become smoldering chunks of flesh), Aya decides the matter calls for some investigation. Either that, or she figures an adventure is preferable to her date.
And so, the player's role in the whole messy affair begins. Up until now, the whole thing has been smashing good fun, so I found myself quite anxious to witness the events sure to follow. When I first played the game, I was in some college dorms with only a few moments to spare. Anxiously, I guided Aya around the theatre, back out to the streets in front of the theatre (nothing much to see there, really), then back to the stage, and everywhere in between. I even made it to the back room, but things just weren't coming together like they should have.
And right there, I've described the first of the game's flaws. For whatever reason, finding the path through a given area can sometimes be harder than finding justification for spending $50.00 on a stick of gum. Often, it's the way the visuals come together. A pathway might look like part of the game's numerous decorative areas when really it isn't. Or what looks like an obstacle may not be at all. It's really hard to describe, but I suppose a good comparison would be the static backgrounds made so popular in titles like Resident Evil 2 (an obvious source of inspiration for Parasite Eve's design). The result is that you're never wanting for an atmospheric setting to plod through, but you'll almost always wish Aya had thought to bring a map.
This problem is worsened by the fact that the game sometimes resorts to the oh-so-trite fetch quests to which gamers are often subjected. Finding a key has never been so frustrating. Working without a guide, for example, I found myself compelled to locate a key from some buildings that skirted Central Park. As I admired the visuals, I wandered from one area to the next, until I found a few rooms that seemed likely enough spots to find the item that would allow me to proceed. The problem was that I had started with a farm, narrowed my search to one haystack, but was still looking for a needle. So I searched the numerous drawers in each room several times, pressing the appropriate button a few times in front of each but accomplishing nothing. Back and forth I wandered, growing increasingly frustrated with each moment that passed. Then, purely by luck, I checked one of the dressers for the fifth or sixth time and was rewarded with the key. I kid you not. You would think a policewoman would be better at performing searches.
Sound frustrating, yet? Well, prepare for things to get even worse. The whole time Aya scours a given area, she'll need to be on her guard because... well, scratch that. Even if she's on her guard, she'll still discover the joy of random encounters. Now, don't get me wrong. I like unexpected opportunities to shoot down creatures of the night as much as the next guy (or blast them with my special attacks), but here the whole process just feels odd. Battles occur as frequently as they might in your favorite role-playing game, meaning the whole 'fight or flight' concept so popular in survival horror titles is tossed out the window.
Though of course, it's not gone entirely; Aya can still show her cowardly side and do her darndest to keep out of her enemy's range. This is thanks to the somewhat active battle system. Basically, anyone involved in a fight has circles at his or her feet that indicate the range of movement. When two circles overlap, combat is possible between those involved. Otherwise, not so much. Gauges determine who gets to cast the first stone, so a battle might frequently start with Aya skipping about until her meter fills, then moving in for the attack. Meanwhile, the ever-so-clever enemy will be following approximately the same strategy. Monsters and Aya might never fight but for the often cramped spaces, which means most any conflict is bound to conclude with demon or sexy police officer down for the count.
Speaking of Aya, she's really the main reason to play. Guys will want to keep going just to see another cinema (hoping, no doubt, that a breast will appear instead of a severed limb or other unpleasant images). While the CGI scenes don't happen so often as I might like, they supplement hours of exploration with enough frequency that I really can't complain with conviction. They're also quite beautifully rendered, so that even watching a rat's hide slide away to reveal writhing intestines is a beautiful sight.
Visuals extend past the cinemas, too. Despite being static, backgrounds lend a terrific sense of atmosphere to the whole somber business. Pale lamplight filters through finger-like shadows in Central Park, and even the slums are rendered with the loving care one can expect only from an artist who knows his subject matter. I can attest to the accuracy of the game's locales because I've watched so many episodes of Law & Order.
Character models aren't half bad, either. While they certainly don't match the excellence in some of today's games, they set the standard of excellence for their time. Remember, this game shipped with a preview of Final Fantasy VIII (a fact prominently featured on its cover as a devious marketing ploy), and the visuals here aren't so far behind the ones in that other title. They also happen to represent a startling improvement over the blocky characters from Final Fantasy VII, proving that a few years can make a difference when it comes to Square's artists. Trivial matters aside, it's hard not to notice that Aya looks downright sexy as she dances around the shuddering forms of enemies that look like they were ripped fresh out of some ogre's womb, then spattered with clumps of hair. The fiendish beasts are just one more way art contributes to a cohesive, disturbing whole.
Another contributing factor is the story itself. Its subject matter is dark and depressing, close kin to the type of stuff Capcom brought us with Resident Evil. At the beginning of the game, Aya is a special person on the verge of one harrowing experience after another, and more than a few plot twists. Gamers will watch events transpire with malicious glee and no small measure of awe. Well, so long as they're not expecting another story in the Final Fantasy. But if they were and the opera scene didn't set them straight, such gamers deserve the disappointment that will follow.
That just leaves the rest of us, those who have been waiting anxiously for something a little different. To such people, I can easily recommend Parasite Eve as a rental, or a budget purchase (it is, after all, part of the 'greatest hits' collection of games). You're missing out on something worth playing if you've not given this one a try. It may not be art. It may not even be one of Square's premier offering for the system. But it's certainly a unique blend of genres that, when at its best, entertains thoroughly. And when it's at its worst? Well, at least it's better than that wretched opera singer.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 01/20/04
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