Square Enix has in recent years focused on the spectacle, size, and detail of their game worlds, perhaps to the detriment of the rest of elements that make up their experiences. Final Fantasy XIII could be seen by many as a linear experience with almost no exploration, and while the scenarios are mind-blowing and the scale of the adventure is boggling, the gameplay is nothing more than "shifting paradigms". The 3rd Birthday suffers from similar issues — sometimes it is hard to believe the PSP can generate such amazing visuals, but where the level of polish is extraordinary, perhaps more time should have been spent checking whether the story itself made any sense, or the game is satisfying to play.
The 3rd Birthday features the characters Aya Brea, her sister Eve, love interest Kyle Madigan, and scientist ally Kunihiko Maeda, characters featured in the cult RPG smash series Parasite Eve. While this game is perceived to be a sequel or entry in the Parasite Eve series, it cannot be said the game features anything of what made the first two games so special. Where are the puzzles? What about the combat stripped straight out of Vagrant Story? All the glorious elements that make Parasite Eve and its sequel so amazing are replaced by linear corridor third-person shooting.
And the story itself could be considered separate. No characters or scenarios from the first two games appear (besides the aforementioned Brea sisters, Maeda, and Kyle). There are some recurring tropes, like the falling snow, Christmas setting, and a disaster befalling New York, but these feel shoehorned in. It's almost as though The 3rd Birthday was a completely different project that had the Parasite Eve license applied to it. To be fair though, the game isn't called Parasite Eve 3, so I can't really say "it's not truthful to the original games" because it was never intended to be.
This project started life as a series of episodic games for mobile phones, but development was shifted to the PSP because the level of realism the team sought just plain wasn't possible on mobile phones at the time. Because of the ten year gap between this and Parasite Eve II, it was chosen from the outset that the game would be not a reboot but a reimagining of Parasite Eve, a pseudo-sequel that could be played without knowledge of the previous games. So to respect this, let's ignore the source material for a moment and consider The 3rd Birthday as its own game. Does it stand up? Well.
On the most festive of nights, Christmas Eve, a race of evil aliens named "The Babel" appears in New York. They lay drones named "Twisted" which waste the city in a matter of minutes, converting other humans into plagued alien slaves. An organization named the CTI is formed to fight this threat, and one member is the previously mentioned Aya Brea. She has amnesia and remembers nothing of her now hardly relevant past but possesses a strange skilled named "Overdive" which allows her to transfer her soul into other bodies. Using this skill, Aya can teleport herself into the bodies of people in the past and potentially stop this threat from ever happening, saving the planet from The Babel.
The story weaves around like a drunken kung fu master, grasping strands of narrative for very short moments before lunging wildly off on what seems like a tangent. This plot is told in the form of an American TV show, in the sense of its episodic structure and tendency to leap around between the past, present and future to confuse the heck out of its viewers.
The ending revealed that throughout the whole game you've not been playing as Aya at all, and was a brilliant plot twist. But all the other revelations the game makes are confusing and raise more questions. If the CTI was formed in 2012, why would all the members of the CTI be at Aya's wedding in 2010? How does the Mitochondria play into this, or does it? Is The Twisted (and The Babel) the result of Eve diving into Aya's body? If so, how does the ending of the game make any difference in the grand scheme of things, surely The Babel invasion still happens?
I am woman, hear me take cover and shoot aliens.
I thoroughly enjoyed the combat. It's a generic affair filled with bullets and killing, however the Overdive mechanism adds a unique take to the genre. Each character you possess carries their own weapon, teaching you to treat NPCs like pickups. You'll happily Overdive into other bodies, knowing that you just doomed another NPC to death or used up all their ammo. It's a strategic military shooter with an attractive woman as the main character. Like Project Minerva Professional but less shit.
It's a repetitive game, but not long. Waves and waves of enemies flood into every room, like a prototype Horde Mode. Adding more enemies and making them sponge more bullets is not the correct way to increase difficulty. I have no idea why developers continue to do this. Clunky controls (a result of the platform, let's be fair it'd be worse on mobile) and slow movement speed make this feel more like Gears of War than Uncharted, but you're asking "which hugely successful shooter does this better resemble". A generic game, it is undoubtedly so. But fun, it can be.
The game is littered with FMV cutscenes, where I'd have much preferred animated character models in real-time. However, this also allows for greater visual effects, and is beautifully implemented into a gameplay scenario right near the end. It comes as no surprise that although the game was intended for PSP from the get-go, the team intentionally developed the game for PS3 then scaled it down. Knowing this just makes my heart wrench over the PS3 version that never was, because it could only have been better with a second analogue stick instead of cramping your right hand over the D-Pad to control the camera AND the action buttons to do stuff like switching weapons.
I honestly can't fault The 3rd Birthday for being unlike the Parasite Eve games because it was never the team's intention for it to connect. I cannot fault the combat because it is generally quite enjoyable. The soundtrack is well polished, the visuals are fantastic and there's little to hate about the main experience. However, the insane story and seemingly nonsense plot twists are difficult to take seriously, and the lack of a multiplayer deathmatch or horde mode is baffling considered the portable nature of the PSP.
I recommend cautiously, given you can find this game at a fair price. The main thing to take away from my review is this: "Don't go in expecting Parasite Eve." Actually, don't go in expecting anything, and then you may be pleasantly surprised.