The 3rd Birthday Review (PSP)

The 3rd Birthday is a third person, tactical-action RPG title developed by HexaDrive and published by Square Enix.  It is the third installment in the Parasite Eve franchise, which were previously released on the PS1 (PE1 was released in 1998, PE2 in 2000).  Eleven years later and fans can rejoice that a new title is finally available for the PSP platform.

 

Story: 4/5

The 3rd Birthday’s storyline starts off with a very impressive opening cinematic showing New York City on Christmas Eve in 2012, being overrun by the “twisted”, life-forms that attack and consume humans.  As the “twisted” are overrunning the streets, plant-like roots are risen from the ground and form the “babel” within the heart of NYC.  The “babel” is essentially the heart of the “twisted’s” life span as it controls them.  Within the time of the attack, a Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI) unit is formed, led by Dr. Hyde Bohr.  Bohr finds Aya Brea, blood-soaked in her wedding dress outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral prior to the “twisted’s” attacks and at a severe loss of memory.  Upon bringing her in, the CTI soon discovered Aya’s ability to dive into other bodies and take control of them.  This was dubbed as “Overdive”.  The CTI created a machine that allowed Aya to utilize her “Overdive” ability into the past to try and rectify the events occurring with the “twisted”.  Throughout the story, Aya will piece together memories little by little until she fully remembers her past while trying to rewrite time.  Fans will remember that Aya Brea was a tough character in prior installments of the franchise, but in this one, she’s very fragile and vulnerable where she’ll whimper more than speak.  By the end though, there’s surprisingly a good explanation for that.  While the story is a bit convoluted and has you questioning “what’s going on exactly” (if you don’t read all the files you unlock as you progress), it does come together pretty well by the end, thus making it worthwhile to reach the finale to see how everything ties up.  There’s quite a few plots twists throughout the course of the story, especially by the end, and fans of the Parasite Eve series will appreciate the continuity that some of the characters return.

Gameplay: 4/5

The first thing to point out is that every installment in the Parasite Eve franchise has played entirely different.  The first Parasite Eve played more like an RPG, while the second entry played more like Resident Evil.  This time around, the game plays like a tactical, over-the-shoulder shooter similar to Resident Evil 4 & 5, Dead Space and Mass Effect.  You’ll be able to also command your squad to link up and do a “crossfire” attack where they’ll all focus their fire on a specific targeted enemy, which is extremely helpful throughout the game.  With Aya’s ability to “Overdive” into soldiers on the battlefield and control them, you now have to utilize your surroundings to take out the enemies.  The “Overdive” system is definitely the main mechanic you will be relying on throughout the whole game.  While holding down the triangle button, you’ll be able to look around for another soldier and quickly jump into their body.  While scanning for someone to jump in to, the game will display the soldier’s health and special weapon they have equipped as you’re looking around.  This becomes essential to master as you progress throughout the game because if you die using a soldier and aren’t quick enough to “dive” into another body, it’s game over.  Aya also has access to her “liberation” ability again in this title but works differently than before.  In this installment, she’ll start glowing and pull out double handguns.  At this point, she’s able to speed dash around the environment and rapidly fire her guns at the locked-on enemies, which also leads to being able to pull off an “Overdive kill” in the process.  While it’s not exactly as effective as her original “liberation” move from the first Parasite Eve, it’s still helpful in tight situations.

The 3rd Birthday is without a doubt, a deep and rich experience for the PSP and that’s partly due to it’s upgrading system.  The upgrade system consists of two different section, the “Over Energy DNA Board” and the “Weapon Bank”.  The “Over Energy DNA Board” is used to upgrade Aya’s abilities on the battlefield.  Whether you’re increasing her stats to heal faster, pull off critical shot more frequently or make crossfires more powerful (just to name a few), it’s essentially your way to equip “perks”.  There are nine slots available to place “DNA” across the 3×3 board.  You’ll earn the DNA by pulling off “Overdive kills” against the “twisted” occasionally, but not every time depending on your “perks” equipped.  When you do have DNA in your inventory and try equipping them on your board, it’s a bit of a puzzle as you’ll have to analyze the best way to lay it out on the board.  The reason you’ll have to play around with it is because when you acquire new DNA, you want to try to make sure your new upgrades match up with what you already have on your filled DNA board.  If you overwrite the previous with new DNA, you’ll lose the perk that was there before, so you’ll have to think carefully what you want equipped.  As you progress, you’ll earn more DNA boards so that you can have multiple layouts to your liking.  When you need to upgrade your weapons, you’ll access your “Weapon Bank”.  In here, you’ll be able to choose your weapon loadout and customize the abilities of your weapons.  You’ll always have your standard pistol equipped on you at all times with infinite ammo so you can’t take that out of your loadout.  However, you’ll still have two extra slots to equip your extra weapons, which range from handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers and special weapons.  There’s a large variety of guns to unlock and choose from, and you’ll do so as you upgrade your weapon rank.  Each weapon category rank increases the more you use those specific weapon types.  The higher your rank, the better the upgraded equipment you can buy for those weapons.  When customizing guns, you’ll be able to upgrade their power, impact, capacity and accuracy.  However, as you’re upgrading, you’ll have to keep an eye on the actual upgrade meters at the top of the screen to see if each category is tailored to what you’re looking for.  Each weapon is based on weapon power, bullet power, bullet impact, handling and range.  As you can see, the upgrade system is complex, yet deep.  The only problem is that it takes some time to really get the feel of it.

The game takes place over the course of six episodes (seven, if you include the tutorial), lasting about roughly 8-10 hours.  Unlike the first Parasite Eve title, The 3rd Birthday is based on a more linear structure as opposed to having to choose a destination on the NYC map.  Gameplay wise, it is truly an intense game, keeping you at the edge of your seat as you’re shooting, dodging and diving your way through the story.  To even change up the pace a bit, there’s a few sections where you’ll man a turret on vehicles or fly a helicopter blowing up every “twisted” in sight.  It’s cool that the developers included these extra mechanics as it adds variety to the overall gameplay.  The biggest highlight for this game are the boss battles, which are epic in every possible way: challenging, massive and very clever.  Each boss battle is fought with a different strategy and as you’re fighting the horrific creatures, you’ll be astounded at what it is you’re doing in the middle of the fight.  Upon completion of the game, you’ll be allowed to start a second playthrough with everything you earned throughout your first time around, a feature that should be in almost every game.  Doing so adds the incentive of wanting to replay the game.  Furthermore, you’ll unlock cheats for completing the game such as faster health regeneration and faster crossfire “linkage” time, which is a nice bonus.  If you look at the cheats menu, you’ll see there is a ton of different cheats that can be unlocked by fulfilling the specified requirements.  You’ll even unlock multiple costumes throughout your playthroughs, which just adds even more incentive to go back and replay the game.  Bottom line, The 3rd Birthday is just oozing with replay value.

The only thing is that while the controls work very well for the PSP, the camera might be a slight pain to adjust in the middle of heavy action scenes, seeing that it’s assigned to the d-pad.  Try running around a massive “twisted” creature with the analog nub and turning the camera with the d-pad at the same time…unnecessary finger cramping.  However, to be fair, this was only during one of the boss fights that I dealt with this, but it’s a very minor issue that otherwise never plagued me throughout the game.  This is not a new occurrence as most PSP titles seem to have the “camera” issue due to the lack of a second analog nub, but it’s worth noting.  The director of the game stated that throughout the production process of the game, they realized they would’ve been better suited in developing the title for a home console.  His statement is exactly what ran through my mind as I played through the game.  Granted they showed their mastery of the PSP with this title, but it definitely would’ve been better suited for a home console.  All things considered though, this is one of the most ambitious titles ever for the PSP.

Graphics: 5/5

Visually, developer HexaDrive knew how to push the PSP beyond it’s limits.  The CG cutscenes are beautiful and the in-game graphics engine is very impressive.  The game runs perfectly, never dropping below 30 FPS, no matter how intense the game gets (which is often).  Animations were top-notch as well, whether it was seeing all of Aya’s movements in action or noticing every “twisted” creature’s creepy motions.  Another great detail is the fact that Aya has a real-time damage system that is very noticeable.  The more damage she takes, the more her clothes rip off (think Mortal Kombat’s damage system).  The game’s draw distance is spectacular (especially given the fact it’s on a handheld device) where you’ll be able to see every little detail through the distance with no “fog” effect.  There was a point where I forgot I was playing a PSP game and thought to myself how this easily could’ve been a console title.  Kudos HexaDrive!

Sound: 4/5

Yoko Shimomura returns again from her previous work on the first Parasite Eve title to help score the soundtrack.  The soundtrack is among one of the best soundtracks for any game this year, from the opening intro, to the intense battle themes, to the remixed songs from “Parasite Eve” (which was very cool to hear for nostalgia purposes), this is one soundtrack to plug your headphones into and crank up your volume to the max.  The sound effects are great and weapons sound effective to the point where you know they’re doing damage.  However, the only thing preventing the sound from being perfect is the voice acting.  Yvonne Strahovski, known for her role as Sarah in the TV show “Chuck” and Miranda in “Mass Effect 2”, voices Aya Brea and does a pretty good job playing the role…that is when she’s not constantly whimpering since a chunk of her script is literally doing that.  Jensen Ackles, known for his role as Dean Winchester in the TV show “Supernatural”, also provides voice over work that’s well done.  The other characters that are voice acted however are a mixed bag as they range from “decent” to “poor”.

 

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5/10

The 3rd Birthday is an excellent example that demonstrates how a developer can push the PSP past it’s limits.  The visuals are remarkable, the soundtrack is an experience in itself and the gameplay is intensely fast-paced.  The story could’ve used a bit more work but it’s more than serviceable.  It may have taken 11 years, but the latest entry in the Parasite Eve saga has finally arrived and while it’s not officially “Parasite Eve 3”, here’s hoping this is the start to getting that released in the near future.

 

PROs:

+Breathtaking Visuals

+Outstanding Soundtrack

+Intense, Fast-Paced Gameplay

+Lots of replay value

 

CONs:

-Story is a bit convoluted without reading all the in-between mission files

-Camera control can be slightly jarring in mid-battle

-“Over Energy” DNA Upgrade system is a bit confusing to grasp