It Came From Japan #8 – Parasite Eve
An RPG with lush cinematics and quirky random battles, Squaresoft’s modern day tale of transformation and deceit ticks a lot of boxes when compared to similar games that surfaced in the late 90s; games such as Final Fantasy VII and previous ICFJ entries Vagrant Story and Xenogears, for example.
Parasite Eve stood out from the crowd, however, thanks mainly to its modern setting and maturer themes than the aforementioned more traditional RPGs.
In general it was received quite well; the numerous aggregate sites each churning out about an 80% score, and went on to sell nearly two million copies worldwide.
It will be remembered as a game, however, not for its sales figures, but for a charismatic main character, stellar presentation, and one of the weirdest – and completely insane – villains to ever grace the gaming medium.
Legend told of a warrior from the east
The first Parasite Eve game (there is a sequel, see below) is actually a sequel itself to Hideaki Sena’s popular novel of the same name. Released in Japan in 1995 and eventually in North America in 2005, the novel focuses on the titular Eve of the piece, a woman transformed due to some weird going-ons with her mitochondria; the part of cells responsible for the production of energy. Eve is special, however, and thanks to some mutating at the atomic level, she transcends into a being of prodigious power; power equalled only by her twisted psyche.
As you can see from the above, George Lucas is obviously a fan of the series, and went off to wreak havoc on his own franchise with similar plot devices.
The game opens with our main hero Aya Brea, a rookie NYC cop who, for reasons lost to the annals of time, attends an opera. All is going swimmingly until, for reasons that quickly become known, the entire audience spontaneously combusts. Aya, her date and one of the actresses, Melissa, are the only people spared, the latter promptly transforming into a strange creature named Eve (the same Eve from the above novel) who then promptly escapes to the sewers.
As Aya, you spend the rest of the game unlocking the secrets of Eve and her bizarre transformation while venturing to such locations as the aforementioned sewers and Central Park before an ultimate confrontation in the shadow of a destroyed Statue of Liberty.
With a modern setting and a strong female lead, the game was extolled for its mature content without descending into the typical cheap realm of Japanese panty fetishism or, worse still, adult themes that are overtly sexual or graphic in nature just for the sake of cheap titillation. It’s still somewhat risqué though. For instance, at one point sperm is stolen in order to impregnate Eve so she can give birth to an “ultimate being.” Cute sprite characters running around chasing chocobos this ain’t.
Your technique is magnificent
In typical RPG tradition, players traverse through 3D environments, picking up items and getting into battles. The game uses the dynamic of “hot-spots”; areas that, upon crossing, present the player with random encounters. There is no dizzying or spiraling transition to a tailored battlefield, instead the current location becoming trammelled by impenetrable barriers that can only be surmounted upon defeating the creatures at hand. Kind of like God of War with mutant rats in New York.
Visually, the game was a real treat for its time. Cut-scenes were rendered wonderfully, showing off Squaresoft’s panache for the spectacular when given the opportunity to take a game out of the usual fantastical setting and ground a story in a universe we’re so familiar with – the real world. From a gameplay perspective, it had its annoyances. The ATB (Active Time Bar) system – basically offering players a segment of time to perform numerous different actions – was a little clunky at times, and some of the random battles – like all Square RPGs – were inserted literally to extend the title beyond what was obviously not the longest of games. (About 15 hours, in fact, easily one of Square’s shortest of adventures.)
But it had a certain charm, with Aya herself standing out as both a memorable and multifaceted character. She was also insanely hot. Not in that “I’m so hot, you’re going to drop your gun when I simply smirk at you” kind of way, but through possessing a natural feminine grace that made putting her in harm’s way all the more difficult.
You must choose the sword, or the ball … I can not make this choice for you …
Parasite Eve was followed by an inevitable sequel, a game that – ironically – was developed in Japan (Osaka in fact) and is hence, technically, more Japanese than its predecessor. Spin-off “The 3rd Birthday” is due for a release on the PSP sometime this year, and though it stars main protagonist Aya Brea once again, probably because of the platform its being released on, it is not officially recognised as a bone fide Parasite Eve sequel.
Strangely – and despite numerous requests – Parasite Eve has never seen a PSN release. Not even in Japan. It would be a welcome, and if we were to put on our prediction hats, especially considering its already Western setting and tone, successful endeavour if it ever did grace the digital distribution channels outside of Japan.
With Final Fantasy VII and VIII having now finally reached our backward shores via the PSN, there’s a good chance Parasite Eve will be the next Squaresoft RPG to cross over.
As for a PS3 outing, it’s not unreasonable to consider The 3rd Birthday as Square Enix’s way of testing the waters for further Aya adventures on the PSP’s bigger brother. As a series, the game has a certain degree of pedigree, and it’s not like setting what is essentially a Final Fantasy game in a world we’re more familiar with would be anything less of a challenge. And we know the guys at Square Enix do enjoy stretching their wings at every opportunity. It could happen. When on the other hand – your guess is as good as ours. If the PSP game is successful – and there’s every sign that it will be – Eve and Aya could be coming to your PS3 sooner than you think.
It Came From Japan is a weekly column discussing past titles originating from Japan that have enjoyed a release in the west on the PS1, PS2, PSN or PSP but have yet to see a PS3 outing. We discuss the title from three separate perspectives: its pedigree and how it performed upon its original release, the game in general with a view towards game-play and plot, and, finally, the probability of the game finally making a PS3 appearance outside of Japan. The column covers all genres, with games of varying quality and popularity given equal standing.