Hi. I thought it might make for a moderately entertaining writing exercise if I were to jot down some quick thoughts on games that have strong seasonal/holiday associations for me over the next couple of weeks. And to do it via an oblique reference to The 12 Days of Christmas. Yes, I know, there’s not a single original idea left in my brain. But I don’t do enough writing for my own amusement these days. So suck it up, or just don’t read ’em.
12. The 3rd Birthday (2010)
When Square Enix announced they would be making a third game in the Parasite Eve series (even if they didn’t use the name “Parasite Eve,” presumably due to rights issues with the original novel), I was pretty stoked. The franchise had been absent the better part of a decade, but I really enjoyed the first entry in the series and was naive enough to believe this might be a return to form. Even more exciting was when I watched the trailer roll at 2008’s DKΣ3713 event and saw the news that The 3rd Birthday would be making the jump from mobile to PlayStation Portable. Finally, I thought. This is it.
So, when the game shipped in Japan in December 2010, I had an import copy rush-delivered to the place where I was staying for the holidays. This was, in hindsight, really quite unnecessary. But how was I to know? I mean, yes, there had been warning signs — the unnerving interviews that went into extensive detail about how heroine Aya Brea’s clothing would disintegrate in the heat of combat. Yeah, OK, voyeurism had always been woven into the fabric of Parasite Eve… but maybe this was taking things about three steps too far.
Still, by 2010 I think we’d all come to accept that a lot of Japanese publishers had decided they needed to double down on the pandering in order to survive. So we sucked it up and hoped the underlying game was still good.
And it was good, actually. Director Hajime Tabata’s love for portable gaming and interesting in Western action games gave The 3rd Birthday a surprising edge that helped make up for the sleazy vibe created by Aya moaning in pain (?) as her clothes shredded themselves to ribbons. That edge was undercut slightly by the game’s refusal to simply abandon the RPG conceit altogether, which caused what could have been a pretty solid twitch shooter to settle in as something more muddled and less accomplished, with automated targeting and tedious, stat-based damage mechanics. But then you had the “jump” mechanics that allowed you to send Aya’s consciousness into other combatants or even into monsters to “overload” them, and that was pretty interesting.
But then you found out at the end that “Aya” was actually her preteen sister Maya, who had switched consciousness into Aya’s body, which made all the voyeurism super-gross.
This is actually a message to scenario writer Motomu Toriyama.
Anyway, I remember this arriving on Christmas Eve, and being really eager to give it a go. I also remember spending the following few days dealing with increasing befuddlement about some of the weird and unwanted directions the game had taken. Not the fondest Christmas gaming memory in my brain-o-dex, but definitely a vivid one.
And, all that being said, I’d love to see Tabata take another crack at the series without anyone else’s creative supervision, if only to retcon the worst parts of The 3rd Birthday out of existence. Something tells me a lot of the game’s less successful elements wouldn’t make the cut.