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Parasite Eve

Review By: Siou Choy

Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
# of Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror
ESRB: Mature
Date Posted: 12-6-00

In the world of survival horror gaming, one title dominates both public perception and sales; Capcom's infamous Resident Evil series. With quirky, initially difficult controls, the ongoing story of the Raccoon City Police Department vs. the mutations of Umbrella has made a clean sweep of things, to the point where it is the first and foremost name that comes to mind when "survival horror" is mentioned. Not only is this unfair, but it has caused some truly excellent games (and admittedly, a few crappy ones, too) to be overlooked in the glare of the neon spotlight the Resident Evil series stands continuously beneath. One of the best of these is the original Parasite Eve.

Produced by the legendary Squaresoft (of Final Fantasy fame), Parasite Eve is (one might say "naturally") one of the nicest looking, if not THE nicest looking, survival horror games out there to this day. While its "sequel" caved in to peer pressure, becoming more of a Resident Evil knockoff in look, gameplay, and control, the original stands on its own as a truly original and seamless mesh of the RPG and survival horror genres.

For starters, the control system, while occasionally awkward in fight situations (the frozen in place, clockwise spin-to-aim often costs the player a few hit points more than necessary), is far easier to the uninitiated; and given the difficulty of mastering Resident Evil style controls, Parasite Eve will probably prove a better and more entertaining game to the survival horror amateur. Secondly, the game uses an RPG style hit point/magic point system, which besides being unique to the genre, makes it far easier to strategize; the least example of which being the hit point system, which offers a concrete and more or less exact representation of how long Aya has to live in a fight, therefore allowing the player to react accordingly. Aya's parasite energy accrual system also makes sense in this game (it goes up with levels of experience and with rest time between usages; not, as in PE2, from making money bounties for killing random monsters, which is not only nonsensical but bizarre), and the game actually has (gasp) a STORY, which is both engrossing and, like all the best science fiction, even somewhat plausible; as opposed to PE2's more random "hunt and kill.ugh" caveman approach. And speaking purely in terms of visual appeal, it must be said that while PE2's Aya Brea looks annoyingly American in appearance and design (and correspondingly, somewhat plump in comparison, which should say something), the original Parasite Eve's Aya is a smoother, sexier Asian model (and consequently, much easier on the eyes).

The highly engaging science fiction storyline of the game revolves around the Mitochondria, a formerly independent microorganism which during the course of "evolution" entered into a symbiotic relationship with what would eventually become the human race. Critical for production of energy within living things and containing their own unique genetic code as well as the ability to evolve and multiply, the mitochondria have remained in symbiosis with our species for uncounted millions of years. What the game postulates is the premise that the mitochondria, long dormant and apparently content with this arrangement, have actually awakened to their uniqueness within that symbiosis, and have begun to take over their host bodies in pursuit of a new agenda...

Essentially, your sole nemesis in the game is Melissa, the long-lost sister of Aya (which explains Aya's resistance to the mitochondrial spontaneous combustion that afflicts most of the incidental characters throughout the course of the game), who after mutating spectacularly during the opening cinema, assumes the role of the harbinger, and later, mother of a new, mitochondrially mutated race that plans to do to homo sapiens what the neanderthal did to the cro-magnon (and thereby explaining her self-assumed moniker of "Eve"). You will have any number of brief, life-threatening encounters with "Eve" throughout the game, until at last you are faced with the nearly impossible task of defeating no less than FOUR successive, increasingly powerful mutated versions of her offspring, the creatively named "ultimate being". Naturally, along the way, you will have to face mutated creatures galore, from the silly (the junk-carrying crows) to the downright deadly (the reanimated dinosaurs), so there is no lack of variety to keep you entertained throughout. Additionally, unlike the fixed settings of all but the most recent of the Resident Evil games, you have at least half a dozen different settings throughout the city which you need to visit (only one, the warehouse, being optional; unless you count the EX game's annoying Chrysler Building), offering several much needed change-of-scenes.

I would highly recommend Parasite Eve to the neophyte survival horror gamer, the RPG pro, and those who felt just a bit let down by its far more derivative sequel. Because as nice as their newer offerings may look (see also: the extremely disappointing Final Fantasy VIII), it would seem that Square has never learned that old maxim:

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

HIGHS:

GORGEOUS graphics, both during gameplay AND during cut-time sequences and cinemas. Looks as gorgeous as FFVIII (but without being long, irritating, and boring like FFVIII). Relatively easy controls, with its oft-maligned RPG-based "point" system adding a unique and welcome touch of pinpoint-accurate strategy to the otherwise "alive/almost dead/dead" health system of other survival horror games. Very nice atmospherics, with a pleasantly wintry feel and quite possibly THE greatest video game soundtrack of all time to its credit (often compared to the work of Goblin, though that's a bit of a stretch, this is the ONLY game soundtrack I personally have deemed worthy of actually going out and BUYING). As in Konami's Silent Hill (and unlike that "other" survival horror series, whose combined plot, over 4 releases, you could fit on the inside of a matchbook), there is an actual storyline to the game, which is both tense and engrossing; and you might even learn a little something from it (OK, so it's only some high-school textbook biology, but that's more than you can say for most survival horror games).

LOWS:

The control system, while much easier (particularly for the neophyte) to manipulate than the usual Resident Evil-based system, becomes somewhat stilted during battle, with Aya's fixed clockwise spin both coming across awkward visually and exposing her to more "hits" than would otherwise be necessary. Also, the RPG-based fighting system offers an additional limitation, in that there is often just not enough time to react and choose an attack strategem, as your opponents will not "pause and wait for you" (as is traditional for an RPG), but will attack continuously and more or less randomly (as is traditional for a survival horror game), again making things a bit more difficult than necessary (particularly during the nastier boss encounters).

FINAL VERDICT:

While Resident Evil fans may offer complaints (and have done so, vociferously) about the differences in gameplay between the more mindless zombie hack-and-slash of the former series and the more subdued, somewhat quirky (and ahem, INTENTIONAL) hybridization of survival horror and RPG of Parasite Eve, those gamers who have not yet tried (or mastered) the former series will find this game a far better, more engrossing introduction (and more, a bridge between) the RPG and the survival horror genres; and those who have not already locked their minds into the eternally skipping groove of the zombie chorus ("Resident Evil, Resident Evil, nothing is worthy, but Resident Evil") will be best suited to appreciate this game both on its own merits and for its innovation, not as an "also-ran", but as a top-notch contender among the story-based game (whether one's orientation and inclinations lie more towards the RPG or survival horror) genre. Given the quality of the original, it's truly a shame that Square caved in to pressure, and made PE2 into what the zombie chorus had been calling the original Parasite Eve all along: a second-rate Resident Evil clone.

Overall Score: 9.0

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