[parasite eve]

   Hype can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, tons of pre-media attention is sure to increase a game's sales. Unfortunately, the more fans are anticipating a release, the more likely they are to be disappointed with it -- just ask Hironobu Sakaguchi or George Lucas. Square's 1998 action RPG Parasite Eve was another victim of too much publicity; while commercially quite successful, it received generally poor reviews, was widely lambasted across the Internet, and resulted in the departure from Square of most of its development team.

   Originally billed as a cross between Final Fantasy and Resident Evil, Parasite Eve disappointed many when they discovered that the game had little in common with either franchise. "Where are the moogles? And why isn't Aya elected president in the ending?" the Final Fantasy fans cried, while the Resident Evil junkies grumbled, "It isn't scary!" And judged as a FF or RE title, PE isn't very good: it has only one party member, no sidequests, and nothing at all terrifying. However, the game is much more successful in establishing its own paradigm that doesn't obey all the standards set by the genre leaders.

 Aya and Eve
Mutant Watch 1997

   A sequel to a Japanese novel -- and later movie -- by Hideaki Sena, Parasite Eve was the first and only collaboration between Square's short-lived American development team and the powerhouses behind Final Fantasy. From these beginning alone, PE was destined to be something different. Set in a real-world location (New York City), the game stars Detective Aya Brea -- who is neither an idealistic young adventurer nor an angsty psychopath -- as its sole playable character. Even more controversially, PE is filled with FMV sequences and, in what was soon to become a oft-questioned move, lasts for only ten hours.

Fire!  Fire!  Heh heh heh

   Certainly, Parasite Eve is one of the shortest RPGs out there; if RPGs were dating prospects, this one would be a one-night stand. But the game's length is the appropriate one for its story; there simply isn't more than ten hours of content to be had in this concept. The plot progresses through six days of events, beginning on Christmas Eve. Much of the game is spent tracking villain Eve through various locations, most actual landmarks (e.g. Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge). Visting and recognizing real places in a game provides a thrill of familiarity akin to picking out all the series references in Final Fantasy IX.

 *ominous chord*
The nightmare before Christmas

   But despite its unconventional setting, Parasite Eve is still an RPG at heart. There are still save points (telephones), healing potions (medicine), and even different elemental properties (heat, cold, and acid instead of the usual fire, ice, and lightning). Magic is replaced with Aya's Parasite Energy powers, which include the usual healing, attack, and status condition abilities. A city map allows Aya to travel from location to location in Manhattan, even returning to old ones to build up experience or hunt for missing treasures. And while no money is used in the game, Aya does upgrade her equipment (guns and body armor) by claiming new items from chests and fallen enemies. Weapons and armor frequently have special powers, such as elemental damage, poisoning or paralyzing foes, and even stealing items. Through the use of Tool items, these effects can be moved from weapon to weapon or from armor to armor, though the original item is consumed. Customizing Aya's equipment provides for a fair amount of strategy without intefering too heavily with the action; upgrading a weapon usually involves a quick transfer of powers when you acquire a new item.

   Battles occur on the same screen in which you travel, adding to the slick, fast pace of the game. As in Vagrant Story, Aya must dodge attacks until her ATB bar fills; the action then freezes and a command menu appears. While most of the non-boss encounters are a piece of cake, some of the major battles may take a few tries. All the bosses are equipped with a variety of attacks, and while most can be avoided through simple pattern memorization, they still make the battles a lot more interesting than they would be as standard menu-only affairs. In another welcome nod to playability, enemies only appear at fixed points on the screen and not at random -- a feature that comes in particularly handy when trying to find the correct "hot spot" to interact with an object.

   One particularly challening area is the game's bonus dungeon, the Chrysler Building. Consisting of over 70 randomly-generated floors, the building introduces plenty of new items, monsters, and abilities not seen in the regular quest -- and even a slightly different ending for gamers who manage to slog through the entire labyrinth. Truth be told, however, the Chrysler Building is probably the least interesting part of Parasite Eve. While it does provide a chance to do some old-fashioned character fine-tuning and strategy refinement not available in the rest of the game, the repetitive tan halls and recycled enemies quickly grow old.

Damn you!  Damn you all to hell!
You maniacs!

   Outside of the Chrysler Building, however, Parasite Eve moves at a extremely quick pace. Major events occur one after another, and each is usually a fitting blend of battles, a maze, and some exciting rendered FMV sequences. While the game was often criticized for its frequent use of FMV, it's hard to imagine how the grotesque mutations or wide-scale destruction could be portrayed except as detailed CG. The infamous final sequence is more than a bit questionable, though: After defeating the last boss, Aya must flee the area through a large maze while being pursued by the boss. Not only is the "escape at the end" concept done to death, the shifting camera angles and unforgiving dead ends make it nearly impossible to complete the escape on the first try. (Worst of all, the last boss fight must be repeated every time one fails the escape.)

   Complimenting the action throughout is an outstanding soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura (Super Mario RPG, Legend of Mana) that established her as one of gaming's finest composers, and certainly the most underrated. The unconventional combination of ominous piano notes, dramatic opera vocals, and techno beats fit the game's mood -- fast-paced but still mysterious -- perfectly.

 If mutant armies are outlawed, then only Eve will have mutant armies
Guns are bad, mmmkay?

   The story holding all these parts together is an extremely thin one at best. Tremendous leaps of logic are made throughout, and anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of biology can shoot a few large holes through the premise. (Hint: Mitochondria are part of the cells, not indepedent "parasites.") But Parasite Eve is wise to leave these holes unexplained; trying to rationalize every event would simply slow the narrative down. Instead, it unrepentantly leaves common sense behind and plunges gleefully on through nonsensical event after nonsensical event: cops punching out reporters and no one caring, Manhattan being evacuated without any regard as to where the evacuees will go, random NYPD beat cops speaking fluent Japanese, and even the detonation of a magical nuclear weapon that somehow manages to affect only its target and none of the surrounding city.

Sheeva not Shiva
Who let the mutant three-headed fire-breathing dogs out?

   For gamers with a sense of humor, such follies are a large part of Parasite Eve's appeal. The B-movie storyline is the modern successor to the heart-warming plots of 8- and 16-bit classics like Bad Dudes and Zero Wing. Indeed, viewed in the right light, the game is almost an unintentional satire of RPG logic: Few would normally question the plausibility of finding perfectly-preserved healing herbs in ancient ruins, but when Aya obtains high-powered grenade launchers from crates randomly strewn about the floor of the emergency room, it's hard not to giggle.

   Parasite Eve opened the way for a slew of new designs in its genre by proving that one could make a quality RPG without an lengthy quest, epic story, or even a love interest. Of course, it didn't render such conventions obsolete; as later releases have shown, it's still more than possible to make a great RPG that doesn't use PE's formula. Indeed, criminally few RPGs since have picked up on the possibilites offered by PE -- even its own sequel degenerated into a pretentious Resident Evil clone lacking all of the original's charms.

   But even though its attempt at inspiring innovation failed, PE still provided gamers with an immensely enjoyable and entertaining way to spend ten hours. The action-packed battle system and lightweight story make Parasite Eve easy to pick up and play; unlike many other RPGs, it doesn't require a big time commitment. Above all, Parasite Eve is just a fun, exciting game. And isn't that what's really important?

Retrospective by Fritz Fraundorf, GIA.
[parasite eve]
Developer Square LA
Publisher Square EA
Genre Action RPG
Medium CD (2)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date

Parasite Eve drinking game
369 screenshots / 18 movies
Nomura artwork / Character and monster renders
Japanese and North American packaging