Oh, the things I learned about mitochondria… Like how to use it as hair gel.
Parasite Eve and I have history. Good history, in fact (minus my first attempt at the final boss but we won’t go down THAT memory lane). I like this game enough to bestow upon it an honored slot on my video game top ten list! Recently, I decided to fix slcantwell’s egregious oversight of never playing this Squaresoft gem. So, we plodded away at this 10-ish hour game for a couple of weeks and finally ended Eve’s spawn last night.
There will be no mention of the Chrysler Tower or collecting hundreds of pieces of junk in this review. 99.9% of the time we hang out we have two little people running around. Ain’t no mommies got time for crazy optional stuff. I did the Chrysler Tower years ago and leveled Aya to 99, but never ever will I farm junk for Wayne. Unless the reward was a picture of his junk or something.
My point is, this was a quick run-through so she could experience this overlooked classic. She wanted to know what all of my fuss with PE was about, anyway. And I wanted to test my memory with a few things. Turns out, the overly-critical academic actually liked the game and my memory was, well, what I expect it to be nowadays.
For those of you who haven’t played this game (go download it from PSN and play it now, fools!) it’s a very unique experience; even stacked against gaming offerings released in the two generations following the Playstation. When I first played Parasite Eve, I was 16 and my love of RPGs was newfound. I’d played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and probably some other ones, and Chrono Cross. Squaresoft could do no wrong in my eyes (Oh, how times have changed). When I saw this game with female lead characters made by Squaresoft, toting a unique action system with a sci-fi vibe, I ponied up the cash immediately. It’s rated M (17+) and thankfully Gamestop didn’t care about age-appropriate suggestions at the time. PE was released after FFVII. They even use that as a selling-point on the packaging. You know, “Coming from the makers of Final Fantasy VII,” or something like that. It might’ve been a little misleading, since you can’t really compare the two. Yes, they are both RPGs made by the same company, but they’re of different breeds. Obviously, Final Fantasy games are fantasies, set in whole new worlds which take hours to establish and explore. As I mentioned, Parasite Eve is a science fiction tale. It’s based on a Japanese novel, which also has a movie adaptation with the same name. I’ve played/read/watched them all. The video game adaptation is almost like a sequel to the novel, taking place in New York City.
And gaming gods help me, even stating the plot premise is going to sound ridiculous. The game is about saving humankind from their own mitochondria.
There, I said it.
The story is as chuckle-inducing B-movie cheesy as it sounds. And then some. Especially with the delivery, which is done through completely over embellished dialogue. “…” and “…!?” and “WHAT THE…!” are beaten to bloody pulps, they’re used so much. All these years later, I’m still not sure how someone would speak and/or express “…!?” Someone please link or send a video of this expression being performed. In between the “…” pauses, the characters will most likely be talking about evolution and mitochondria. The idea is that “Mitochondria Eve,” (the title given to the first female ‘discovered’ when the human genome was traced back to its origins somewhere in Africa) has finally manifested and decided to take control from the humans, their ‘vehicle’ used to ‘create the perfect environment for them.’ I’ve gotta ask how modern-day New York City was their envisioned utopia. To be fair, the silly premise is backed up by scientific facts and if you pay attention you might learn a few things. Like, did you know that if all the mitochondria in a human’s body worked together at the same time they could produce 200,000 volts of electricity? This fact is used to justify humans erupting into flames at the drop of a hat all over the place. If they aren’t getting barbequed by their own mitochondria they’re melting into blobs of mitochondrial ichor to become the uterus for the Ultimate Being; AKA- final boss fight. And what a final boss it is! We’re talking multiple forms, along with a one-hit-kill-one-wrong-turn-will-cost-you-chase-sequence- at the end. This definitely ranks high on my RPG final boss fight list.
So what hope could humanity possibly have against their own mitochondria which can fry them to crispy bits if they so (apparently) desired? The main character, of course! Aya Brea, a rookie cop in New York City, becomes the hero. Thanks to dumb luck, really. Without giving away too much about her ties to the main baddie, her mitochondria underwent a different mutation, becoming a natural enemy to the “master race” mitochondria. In terms of game play, this manifests itself in the form of “Parasite Energy.” Think of it as magic spells. Parasite Energy offers itself in both offensive and defensive ways. You can heal, remove status effects, cast Preraise, and transform into your own version of a mitochondria angel of death. The spell is Liberate. And it changes everything. Be absolutely sure you don’t leave the final zone, the museum, without it. Using Parasite Energy is much like casting magic in other RPGS; you open up your menu and select whichever spell you wish to cast from a list. It is a consumable resource (Can’t make things too easy now), but instead of having items to replenish your PE stock, you must wait for the PE bar below your health to fill on its own. This method means you are cramming less items into your already limited inventory, and it also adds another layer of strategy. After casting a few spells, you’ll notice the bar filling up slower and slower, until you’ve come to the point when you’ve used all the medicines you brought along and your PE still hasn’t replenished to the point when you can cast Full Cure. One way to bypass this is to change your armor. For whatever reason, this resets your PE charge rate. But it means you have to gamble utilizing a turn to change into inferior armor, risk taking more damage instead of inflicting damage or healing.
Aside from PE energy, the battle system is a bird of it’s own feather. You have a traditional ATB, like many RPGs. While the ATB is filling, you have control of Aya, and must dodge enemy attacks in the designated battle screen. Enemies can bite, shoot fireballs or poisonous gas at you, or grab you. Speaking of poisonous gas, poison sucks in this game! Sucks as in don’t get hit by it because it inflicts a substantial amount of damage. You can mod your armor to have “anti-poison” which is a joke. The game doesn’t tell you what the percentage resistance is, but seeing as how I wasted a mod permit to add a slot for it and the next fight I got in I was poisoned… it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, when it’s Aya’s turn to perform an action, she attacks with good old-fashioned guns. Something I get sick of seeing in today’s video game market, but back then it was fresh and different. I’d only really played platformers and fantasy games with funky swords and magic until then. There are rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers… all sorts of goodies. I really enjoy the simple yet satisfying method of improving Aya’s arsenal. Weapons and armor (of which you can only equip one of each at a time) come with three parameters. They also may or may not have additional effects; i.e. 2x attack, item capacity increases, elemental damage… stuff like that. Added parameters and effects can be moved with a Tool from one gun or armor to another. You can shift ALL THREE parameters from one gun or armor to another. Alas, unless you have a Super Tool you can only move one added effect at a time. Each gun or armor has a pre-designated number of effect slots. But with a mod permit or trading card you can add more. For guns I recommend 3x attack, burst, and whatever else. We went with poison… it rocked. Enemies fell to poison while Aya’s ATB was charging many times for us. With armor you can add HP+, extra item capacity, status ailment resistances (which aren’t reliable) or PE boosts.
Changes are, you’ll spend the bulk of the game with the same gun and armor, boosting their stats through the roof. A great feature of Parasite Eve is the ability to carry over your weapon and armor of choice into New Game Plus. Give them a snazzy name, and they’ll come with you into subsequent adventures. In New Game Plus, you’ll want to continue boosting their stats to the point where barely anything touches you and then take on the Chrysler Tower. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about that optional 99-floor nightmare, but I just want to make the point that there is additional content worth doing after completing the initial adventure.
Aya also levels relatively traditionally in RPG terms. You gain experience for killing mitochondria mutants, level, and your stats increase. If you’re lucky Aya will learn a new PE spell. You will always gain Bonus Points (BP) which can be applied in a plethora of ways. When selecting the BP section of the menu, you’ll be given the option to increase Aya’s ATB recharge rate, her item capacity, or one parameter on any weapon or armor of choice. Again, very simple, but that’s what I like. Hard to screw up or forget.
The game never leaves New York City, but the scenery doesn’t get stale. You’ll go to Central Park, Soho, and even the Statue of Liberty before all is said and done. The only zone I really don’t like is the sewers. And that’s because sewers in RPGs and I have a tumultuous past. Meaning I hate them. The sewers in PE are terrible because they’re like a grid maze with annoying enemies that blind and treasure that’s so good you won’t want to risk missing it. I like every other area in the game available for exploration; even the large National Museum of Science at the end, though I find it easy to get lost in there, too. But who am I kidding? I’m basically an expert at getting lost in games.
I mentioned the cheesy dialogue delivery and story line, so perhaps I should mention the characters and other bits of presentation. The wonderful irony in this game is that you’d expect there to be all sorts of female stereotypes, given the main character is a young women (blond and skinny, of course, but let’s not get too carried away!). I personally found the more obvious stereotypes directed towards the all-male supporting cast. Daniel, Aya’s partner at the precinct, is an “angry black man” who punches out more than one person before the game is over. Maeda, a scientist from Japan, is your typical Japanese man who can’t manage a coherent sentence around a pretty girl. And Aya, the main character, is a rookie cop hesitant hero type, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on the fact that she has a vagina. In the opening of the game she goes to an opera with a date, who remains nameless and you never hear about him again after she elbows him the hell out of her way when he’s freaking out about dying. By all rights, he should have erupted into flames along with the rest of the audience. I’m okay with this particular plot hole because without it we’d never get to experience him saying, “Oh Jesus… I… I don’t want to die…!” before Aya knocks him over with her shoulder and he is never heard from again.
Yeah, this game has a lot of plot holes like that. They’re mainly silly things, like “I was ahead of him, how did he get to this room before me?” But there are some significant ones, like, “How did that Navy Admiral know Aya is the only one immune to Eve’s powers?” My favorite, however, is the very unlikely evacuation of NYC in ONE night. Hah!
For its release date, PE’s graphics were pretty good. I love the soundtrack and listen to it quite often, minus the recycled bad opera tracks. This is before the time of voice acting, so there’s no worrying about bad VAs. Looking back without my fangirl lenses on, I realize this game has quite a few flaws and comes across as pretty silly 90% of the time. But in terms of gameplay, it is still a unique and fun experience while offering a challenge. One of my main gripes is how difficult leveling is. there are no random fights and enemy spawn rates are quite low until you get to the final zone. And after leveling Aya to 99 once, I have no desire to spend hours leveling there probably ever again (Levels don’t carry over into New Game Plus, in case you were wondering).
If you’re a fan of Squaresoft before the disastrous merge with Enix and haven’t played this game yet, do it already!