The 3rd Birthday is a sequel to the PS1 Parasite Eve series, but for copyright reasons(or so we believe) it couldn’t use the ‘Parasite Eve’ name. It has gone from being an RPG with shooter elements to a shooter with RPG elements, which is more of a change than it sounds. For the most part, the game plays a lot like any other Third Person Shooter, with a few exceptions I’ll get into a bit later, with some RPG elements. The controls play very well and do the best with the limitations of the PSP(Shooters aren’t easy to do with one analog stick afterall), and make good use of what the PSP. There were maybe 2 or 3 points in the entire game where I felt like I was fighting the controls.
You play as Aya Brea, the protagonist of the first 2 Parasite Eve games, who has lost most of her Mitochondrial abilities along with her memory and has in stead discovered that she has the ability to transfer part of her consciousness into that of others, primarily into the past, and take control of them temporarily. This is called OverDive, and it is the driving force behind the story and the gameplay.
I wanted to open this with a brief rant directed at other reviewers. To ANYONE who says ‘but they made Aya a weak, ineffectual woman with no drive or ambition’… I challenge you to finish the game, watch the ending, and still say that. I won’t spoil it, but there is a VERY good reason for the amnesia, for the personality change, for the entire character shift of who ‘Aya Brea’ is. And, on a related note, the ending of this game(the end boss battles, the end cinematics, and the story) is now on my list of ‘best endings in video games of all time’. The end of this game is phenominal. Absolutely phenominal.
Stepping back a pace – Story
I suppose the story section should come before talking about the ending, but sometimes you gotta shake things up, right? If you just play through the game, the story will be somewhat hard to follow. A lot of the information that helps to make this game make sense is found in a database you can access between chapters. The database is incredibly thorough, and you can see information from each chapter about events and main characters, the ability to see the various histories for each character adds a lot to the story and really gives a sense of depth that isn’t seen often enough.
The story itself has a few rather unexpected twists, and some that are more predictable. The story finishes before it starts to get tiresome, which is great. None of the chapters are too long, although if you’re playing it on the go, they might be a bit more than bite-sized which could be a problem, but the size does feel about right for sitting around playing it on a lazy day.
Just a shooter……. or is it?
The 3rd Birthday, at first glance, appears to be just your everyday shooter. But once you get into it, there’s really so much more to it than that. The tactical options awarded by the Overdive system(OverDive is the ability for Aya to take control of any soldier on the battlefield, immediately shifting to their location) add a huge layer of depth all on their own; but they aren’t the only unique aspects in this game. The game also has two attack mechanics called ‘Overdive Kills’ and ‘Crossfire’ respectively. Overdive Kills happen when you weaken an enemy with certain types of weapons or hit a weak spot – and they allow you to briefly Overdive into an enemy and implode him from the inside dealing a great deal of damage and sometimes getting extra OE chips(explained shortly). Crossfire allows you to coordinate with all squad members who have cover and have all of them attack one target at the same time with a number of advantages.
These two mechanics work closely with the OverEnergy system, a system that allows you to customize a 9 x 9 grid of bonuses that are huge gamechangers. These chips drop when you use overdive in any way, and can be combined to raise levels or change the bonuses to different types of effects. The OverEnergy is what allows you to really customize your character, giving you the ability to make yourself more resilient, or better at crossfires, or able to able to unleash powerful energy shots with certain weapons, etc.
The last major game mechanic is the weapon customization system. Aya gets 3 weapons that ‘follow’ her and a fourth that is unique to each soldier she controls, and every weapon can be customized significantly. Weapons can be customized to make them do more damage, or increase the frequency of ‘Overdive Kills’ or other factors.
The one downside to mention is that most of the game seems to take place in a series of rather repetetive corridors with small enemies in predictable locations leading to large rooms where major battles either full of enemies or with a big boss. It does get a bit overdone, but the story and gameplay made this not feel like too much of a problem; and the gameplay is broken up by various sequences where you get to control helicopters, tanks, or other vehicles for various sequences.
Between all of these major mechanics, the game definitely has a lot to offer, even for people who aren’t fond of traditional third person shooters.
But Sean… how does it look?
I think this may be the prettiest psp game I’ve ever played. Square-Enix has absolutely outdone themselves on the graphics front with this game, both in cinematics and in gameplay. It looks absolutely stunning. The game runs nearly uniformly smoothly, with very few, if any, hiccups or glitches. The graphics are very cleanly made, and there are only a few places where I noticed any damaged landscapes of false fronts, which is better than most games I’ve played, especially on a handheld. The cinematics are positively gorgeous, nearly as good as some games I’ve seen on the ps3 and 360.
The game not only looks good though, it also sounds fantastic. The music is fitting and thematic, the voice actors are well chosen and Aya sounds fantastic, the sound effects all fit… just all in all it adds up to a very satisfying sounding game – and a treat for all long-time PE fans, the pre-menu cinematic(the one that most people skip that plays when you first turn on the game) has a remix of the original, iconic PE music we all know and love – and it sounds just stellar.
I played this game first on Hard difficulty, and it was incredibly difficult. If you are looking for a challenge, I strongly recommend playing this game on the harder difficulty settings; it is a refreshing change from a lot of games where even hard is easy if you just learn a basic gimmick. This is a game that really tries you almost to the point of frustration, but on the lower difficulties it seems to be a significant drop in difficulty allowing for players less interested in challenge to still get the story which is something I don’t see often enough.
I’m supremely satisfied with the 3rd birthday. With incredible graphics, great sound and voice work, tried and true gameplay enhanced by very unique elements, a huge degree of variety and variability, and even some aspects of replayability through various unlockables; the 3rd Birthday is probably my pick for the best game on the PSP right now. The difficulty kept me coming back, the story was incredible, the ending was among the best ever; and I truly hope that people give this game the chance it deserves to shine, because it is a fantastic PSP game.
Now here’s just hoping that we get a PS3 Parasite Eve style game someday, eh? ;)
- Engaging gameplay using the PSP’s limited controls to the fullest.
- Very good story that resolves itself nicelyat the end.
- One of the best endings in any video game.
- Some of the best graphics and audio the PSP has ever seen – including some incredible voice work.
- Very deep database feature.
- Some akward camera angles.
- Some difficulty managing controls due to psp having only one analog.
- Repetetive corridors and rooms.
- Aya has too few lines.
- Story can be a bit difficult to follow if you don’t read the database.
Review written by: Sean