If you’ve read my reviews of other games, especially my review of Koudelka (here), you’ll probably know how much I love experimentation when it comes to video game design. I think that is partly what drew me to the Parasite Eve series in the first place. However, I couldn’t get hold of the first game since it was never released in the UK. Therefore, I had to start the series with the sequel; the aptly named Parasite Eve 2.
To this day, I find it a bit odd that the first game in the series was never released over here, but the second one was.
But nevertheless, I decided to buy it and give it a try, falling in love with the series as a whole from the first moment I played Parasite Eve 2. Of course, that was many years ago now. So, let’s take a look at how the game compares to my nostalgia, shall we?
For those of you who have played or know about the story of the first game, Parasite Eve 2 picks up “several years” after the first game’s climactic battle for survival around New York City, and continues the story originally set in motion in the original novel by Hideaki Sena, Ph.D.
Aya Brea, the main character of the series, has joined a task force in the FBI known as the Mitochondrial Investigation and Suppression Team. This task force hunts down and kills “NMCs” (Neo-Mitochondrial Creatures). Now living in Central Los Angeles, the game starts when Aya is called to the Akropolis Tower to investigate a slaughtered SWAT team and an infestation of NMCs. From here, the player is introduced to the horror aspects of the game, as the tower is full of mutilated bodies.
From here, the game expands its horizons considerably. Rather than stick to just one area, like the first game, Parasite Eve 2 takes you out to a handful of different locations. On top of this, the characters are memorable, each with their own personality and goals. No single character feels like they were just thrown in for no reason. In fact, even the antagonists are intriguing, which is generally not the case for games that are based on the Survival Horror genre.
But then, I guess that comes from the fact that Parasite Eve 2 was developed by Square, who are well known for their awesome storyline prowess. Parasite Eve 2 featured a number of twists as well, both in terms of the general story but also for the individual characters. Some of your actions even change what happens to a few of the characters, which directly affect which of the multiple endings you get. Sure, the storyline might not be as emotionally charged as the first game, but it is still a really entertaining and enthralling plot that will keep you wanting more.
The gameplay of Parasite Eve 2 is where the experimentation really comes into play. Despite the game being far more focused on the Survival Horror gameplay tropes made popular by the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, it manages to mix them with RPG gameplay styles as well. For example, you need to aim in order to start attacking, like in a Survival Horror game. However, it will then switch to a “battle mode”, like an action J-RPG. You have health and MP as well, which you use up when activating your psychic abilities.
Exploration is also a really important aspect, as you’ll need to look around and find ammunition, healing items and weaponry. There are also puzzles just like you would expect from a game taking inspiration from Resident Evil. The gameplay is massively inspired by the big name Survival Horror games, but the fact that Square stuck to their guns and implemented the RPG elements as well is great. You can build Aya’s powers up to suit your own gameplay style, from learning defensive skills to healing and, of course, destructive skills as well. My personal favourite has to be the Inferno skill, which shoots out rings of fire, expanding from Aya’s position.
One huge difference that the RPG side of the game brings in is that unlikely traditional Survival Horror games, ammunition won’t run out that easily. Whilst Aya can only carry so much at any one time, there are usually easy to find ammo boxes lying around that contain unlimited ammunition. That means that you are actually pushed by the game to fight, rather than dodge and run away.
This is a massive change from typical Survival Horror game design but is done like this so that you get experience points and can grow Aya’s powers. If you were to constantly run away from enemies, you wouldn’t be able to grow strong enough to finish the game. All in all, the mix between Survival Horror and Action RPG work brilliantly in the game. In fact, I actually hold the unpopular opinion that Parasite Eve 2’s battle system is better than Parasite Eve’s. Hear me out on this though!
The first game is far more in line with RPGs than Survival Horror through its use of an ATB gauge (the same time-based turn system in PSX Final Fantasy games). This slows down the combat and makes it more methodical – that is great for RPGs, but in Survival Horror type games, it stalls the action and suspense.
When you consider the fact that Parasite Eve 2 came in at the turn of the century, as the Japanese release was in December 1999 and the US and European releases were in 2000, the graphics actually hold up rather well. The game uses realistic sized character models as well as pre-rendered backgrounds – a visual style that Square had largely perfected with the three Final Fantasy games on the PlayStation. However, added to this were actual 3D environment set pieces as well, such as the various cars, fountains and motels. This gave the game a much more immersive feel at the time of release and allows it to still look really good today as well.
Each character model is unique and the enemy designs are well put together. You can easily see which type of enemy you are facing, due to each type’s originality in design. In fact, there are even see through enemies which phase in and out of vision. This shift in visibility is handled extremely well, visually.
The FMV cutscenes, whilst few and far between, all look amazing for the PSX. The user interface is also very clean and minimalistic, meaning that it doesn’t distract from any of the action in the game. In terms of animation, everything from running to casting psychic abilities feels smooth. The only downfall is when you unlock the hidden weapon, FFVIII’s Gunblade, as sometimes Aya will hold it and aim it like a rifle, rather than a sword. However, as this is just a secret easter egg weapon that you can’t get in the game’s first playthrough, I don’t think it is that much of a big deal.
Overall, Parasite Eve 2’s graphics have held up very well for a PlayStation game. They are a definite step up from the previous game, which is always a good thing, and also stands out when compared to other Survival Horror games.
And That’s All Folks
Parasite Eve 2 is another great example of video game design experimentation done right. Following on from the legacy of a novel, movie and previous game, all of which gained cult followings, it had a lot to live up to. This is part of the reason that many older reviews of the game score it rather negatively. However, Parasite Eve 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable mix of the Survival Horror and J-RPG genres that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.
Have you played a Parasite Eve game? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments below!