When you think of amazing games by SquareSoft (now Square Enix), you think of the Final Fantasy series, Xenogears, and Front Mission just to name a few. But the game you never hear people mention (at least in my experience), is a creative game called Parasite Eve.
Before we even jump into the review I want to mention that this game has two endings, both of which are considered to be non-canonical. The 2nd ending you can not earn until the game has been beaten once. With that being said, I will be reviewing this game based on the first ending. I do this because this would be the experience most players had, since not everyone would know of the second ending.
Parasite Eve has a crazy story. I mean, out there crazy. The game itself starts pretty quickly. You are Aya Brea, a Police Officer from the NYPD. Through the constant nagging of a co-worker or a random guy (it never really specifies) you are currently on a date at Carnegie Hall to see the opera on Christmas Eve. As you sit down and the opera starts, the actress Melissa Pearce begins singing. Suddenly the entire opera house is in flames, people around you are starting to catch fire (spontaneous human combustion) besides you and Melissa. As you push your way to the stage you find Melissa has transformed into some creature that names itself Eve, and she repeats many times that "Soon, your mitochondria will awaken". I won't go any further into the story because the only real con is that it is very linear, saying just a little may be saying too much.
Suffice it to say that it is one of the most original stories you can play on the system.
The visuals for Parasite Eve look deliberate: the fancy, elegant opera house, the broken down streets of Soho, and the truly odd look of Chinatown. Every single thing in this game looks absolutely beautiful and the use of pre-rendered backgrounds allows the environments to look polished, and allow the developers to take all the polygons available and put them straight into the models.
The coolest thing I noticed was, while the camera wont allow you to zoom, if you pay attention to the battles, the guns seems to each have a slightly different and unique model. Attention to detail seemed important to the team.
The cut-scenes however are 50/50. Some of the cut-scenes use tight angles to show the shots in the game, and in those the visuals of the CGI is amazing, and the artifacts from compression are honestly hard to see. However, when shots of larger landscapes (like when a scene with jets is shown) is played, the compression is heavy and easy to see all those little annoying artifacts.
In all, the visuals are truly amazing for the system, and I would excuse the cut-scene compression because of media format limitations at the time.
The music feels limited as it just loops the same battle song over and over. But, the cutscene music, THE CUTSCENE MUSIC! it has this mix of orchestra, metal, and opera, and it just meshes into this one single soundtrack that I loved more than anything since I first played Syphon Filter. It is unique, odd, and so much more different than the standard that even after I have finished it three times, the music is latched onto my brain, like, funny enough, a parasite.
The music makes the game feel that much more creepy, and if you don't grab the game at least grab the soundtrack.
The sound effects are standard, grunts, gunshots, and various menu noises. My main complaint is that the guns lack OOMPH when fired, but it really is such a small nitpick.
The game lacks voice acting, besides Aya going "oomph" or "ugh" when being hit, but I fail to find it a negative considering most if not all Square games lacked voice acting as well. I am going to let that one pass because it just felt like a standard with all RPGs when this was released.
When this first came out I was 5 years old, and besides some obvious difficulty reading the bigger words, the game is insanely easy to comprehend. The battle system is very similar to Chrono Trigger, you let a bar charge (Active Time) and when it fills you choose a physical or magic (EVE) attack. You can also dodge almost every attack because instead of having a fixed position, you can move around the general area.
Much of your time in Parasite Eve will be in the menu. Switching weapons and armor, upgrading them, and using your EVE (in battle or not) is all dictated in the menus. To briefly mention the EXP gaining, you can level all the way to 99, but you really can beat the game at level 33 once you unlock Liberate. Liberate will be your go-to on some of the end bosses since it allows you to do extremely high damage in a pinch.
The refreshing thing about the game is the customization; you will find a bounty of armor and weapons, all with their own abilities. The machine gun allows you to shoot three times instead of the two your pistol can. You can use tools to mix and match weapon skills to create your own personal death dealer. This also applies to armor, where you can find auto heal abilities or even abilities to increase the rate at which Active Time refreshes.
While there are a lot of options. I found once I started upgrading my personal armor and weapon stats, other things I found were not worth picking up anymore. It can be pretty easy to make yourself overpowered.
As stated before, the first time I ever played this I was five. The game is extremely well put together. It makes sure you know what and how to do the things you need to do to see the end credits. With that being said, the game never feels like its holding your hand. It's full of missable items and (as said before) a secret ending on your second play-through if you go off the beaten path. This game never feels (for lack of a better word) "retro hard", which I feel are games that expect you to know everything while being told nothing. This game mixes both in a way that feels challenging and also rewarding when you accomplish things.
Extremely high value here, with the ability to hit level 99, the ability to completely overpower your equipment, and the ability to see a second ending after fighting through the Chrysler Building. Parasite Eve will still have you coming back at least one more time, just to see what you could have missed.
Being the lesser known game out of the SquareSoft library, I came into this game with low expectations. However, with its beautiful visual and sound design, easy to grasp mechanics, and a story that feels unique to the fullest extent of the word, Aya and Melissa's fight to see if the world is ruled by humans or mitochondria will always make me crave another play-through, and probably very soon.