There was a lot of anticipation for Square’s next releases after Final Fantasy VII. Saga Frontier was interesting but like most of Akitoshi Kawazu’s games was impenetrable to the masses. The fall of 1998 would see a quartet of higher quality releases thanks to their partnership with Electronic Arts. Brave Fencer Musashi, Bushido Blade 2, Xenogears, and Parasite Eve showed that FF VII was not a fluke. Parasite Eve in particular is an excellent game that shares much in common with Final Fantasy but has enough unique features to carve its own identity.
It’s Christmas Eve and Officer Aya Brea is attending an opera. The performance takes a sudden turn when everyone in attendance begins bursting into flame. The lone exceptions are Aya and lead actress Melissa, who undergoes a startling transformation. Now calling herself Eve she boasts that the Mitochondria are in revolt and will now take over the world. Parasite Eve is loosely based on a Japanese novel, with the game’s events serving as a sequel. Prior knowledge isn’t necessary as the game does a good job of summarizing the book’s events when necessary.
With its modern say setting Parasite Eve might seem similar to the Megami Tensei series. In reality it borrows liberally from both Final Fantasy and Resident Evil. In terms of structure the game takes place over six days, with each day covering a specific location. While it is limiting the story moves at a brisk pace. Once you reach day five it opens up, with a few optional areas to explore. Exploration is done across pre-rendered backgrounds with some light puzzle solving involved. The RE connection comes into play with your limited inventory. It isn’t as bad as that game though. You can increase your max item limit and store items in the numerous chests lying around. You’ll also be pleased to know the game does not use stupid tank controls.
The game keeps its cast of characters small with its primary protagonists having clearly defined personalities. Daniel is Danny Glover in video game form while Maeda is a nervous nerd to the max. Aya suffers from Square amnesia but still makes for a compelling hero. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie by Aya and Daniel. The game has a much better localization than Final Fantasy VII, probably because it was mostly made in the US. The plot is very heavy on the scientific terminology but remains accessible, even if its premise is impossible. This is a two disc game, mostly due to the extensive amount of gorgeous FMV. Its gratuitous but also absurdly pretty to stare at.
The battle system is a hybrid of real time and turn based combat. The active time battle system has been borrowed with a few twists. You have free movement to dodge and position yourself while the gauge charges. All attacks, including parasite energy (magic) have a range. The grid that pops up shows this with attacks on its edge becoming less effective or missing. This applies to enemies to. Since random battles occur on the exact same screen it makes combat dynamic at all times. This is one of my favorite battle systems in any RPG and the game goes even further with it.
What truly sets Parasite Eve apart is its extensive customization options. Upon levelling up you can raise the speed of the Active Time bar or increase your carrying capacity. It doesn’t end there. All weapons and armor can be tricked out using tools. You can create a gun that fires twice every round with a frost effect. Hell if you choose you can attack seven times per round and twice each turn. Don’t do that, your attack power is reduced for every hit. Armor can be tricked out so that it auto heals you when low or can resist poison. The bonus stats you accrue can be transferred over to new gear although with every tune up the old gear is destroyed. There is a large host of options to play with, and your only limitations are time and resources.
By RPG standards Parasite Eve is a short game. Even for those that grind levels (which is wholly unnecessary) most will see the end credits in ten hours or less. For the main stories goal that is an adequate length although it shepherds you to the next point with little room to explore until Day 5. It also means you won’t get to explore the game’s deep customization options as much as you would like. Tools and Super tools are not in great supply, further limiting you. By the end of the game so many weapons and armor are tossed around you’ll need to store them or chuck it due to lack of space. The customization is possibly the game’s greatest feature so it sucks you can’t explore it much during the story.
But! For those seeking more the Chrysler Building exists. This 77 floor tower becomes available after completing the game and has randomly generated maps. Your engraved weapon and armor carry over and you’ll need it. All of the best weapons and armor exist in the building, with more added effects than you can imagine. There are more than enough tools to play around with and if you search hard enough you can unlock unlimited customization options. The Chrysler Building is a true challenge and if you want to meet the game’s true antagonist you’ll need to brave it. It effectively doubles the length of the game. Normally outside of Chrono Trigger I rarely bother with a game’s bonus content. But I enjoyed the core gameplay of Parasite Eve so much I’m glad I gave this a try, it’s great.
Parasite Eve is a truly remarkable game. It borrows from other popular titles while still managing to be original. A unique story, fresh gameplay ideas, and slick production values combine to create one of the better RPGs for the PlayStation.