Aya Brea is pretty...
Back in 1999 (well, 1998 in Japan), the first Parasite Eve game was released. And it was a doozy; graphically, it was a step ahead for the PSOne, as it mixed in realistic locales with both classic turn-based gameplay reminiscent of Final Fantasy III/VI and some fun gun battles. It wasn't a shooter, but a horror-RPG with guns, and a damn cool one at that. And the main character Aya Brea - before characters like Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 - proved that a female protagonist in the gaming world could be strong and realistic instead of the original Lara Croft, whose back should probably have snapped like a twig from being so top-heavy.
[image1]Aya Brea started her career life as a New York cop (and the only one not to burst into flames while fighting her evil sister), but here she's a part of a group known as CTI: the Counter Twisted Investigation Team. See, the world Aya marches into is filled with the Twisted, which are essentially a race of biological monsters roaming loose in different areas of a nearly-destroyed New York City. What she does to stop them is go back in time using her ability to Overdive, which essentially possesses someone in the time period she needs to inhabit and blows the hell out of 'em with the biggest guns she can collect.
The first thing to notice is obvious: This game is friggin' gorgeous. The cut-scenes are as sharp as the PSP has ever shown (even compared to Crisis Core), and everything in the environments feels as real as the hardware can pull off. The Twisted are vivid and clearly disgusting as they attack with mucous and other projectiles. Aya's clothing, when she takes enough damage, starts to fray and tear apart. For anybody looking for virtual skin, this might just be your thing. If it isn't, it's still a remarkable graphical touch. It doesn't hurt that she's pretty, too.
[image2]If you've played Parasite Eve before, you might not notice anything except Aya and the mere mention of her sister Eve. It's not even an RPG this go around. Sure you can gain levels, but there aren't any personal stats; as a weapon is used, more guns can be unlocked and - with accumulated points - can be upgraded with increased ammo capacity and better aim. It's actually a straight-forward and easy process to grasp, unlike what else is unlocked throughout: new DNA strands. There are multiple "boards" that a DNA strain can be pieced together on, which can lead to upgrading and enhancing abilities such as healing, reloading, and how quickly you can build up your Liberation meter (which allows for a short burst of near-invincibility).
Actually playing it is simple enough. As a third-person shooter, Diving between people in your squad leads to some interesting strategic situations. While many tactical shooters might have a player commanding a troop to move and attack in certain spots, T3B has you actually control the characters directly and moving them completely. Sure, they'll do some attacking on their own, but it's your job to position them where it makes the most sense to you. Bouncing between both characters and weaponry is easy with some practice, and after a while anybody can be bouncing between soldiers like a Superball.
[image3]But there is one glaring problem with T3B: the difficulty. It's not that it's too easy or too difficult, but that the difficulty is scattershot all over the game. Some areas are completely logical and fun, where it's easy to nail the baddies on the first attempt, while others are designed to overwhelm and overrun. It's not fun when one area of a mandatory mission feels like the final room in Doom… and not the giant cyber-demons, but the portal to Hell at the very end. It's annoying how some battles can be so difficult in the middle of a mission, then when the boss shows up (on the same difficulty level, mind you) the fight is almost… simple… by comparison.
When the main game is over, the only reason to go back in is to better your scores on the six missions and collect everything that takes time to unlock. New outfits, earning the rest of the guns and gun upgrades, that's all. There aren't new missions or anything, just playing through all of the same. It's not particularly long either, so it's not as if the game can hide too much from a player the first time around. But who doesn't want to play through an occasionally fist-clinching experience in a Chinese dress or a French maid's outfit?
If you can get past the difficulty swings, The 3rd Birthday is a surprisingly fun experience. It's pretty; it's easy to dive into (a pun!); and the story is told in such a way that it's easy to follow… especially for a Square-Enix game! As a continuation of the PE storyline it's all right, but looking at this as its own game, no baggage behind it - it doesn't really tie into the other two games anyway - it's a great shooter on a portable system.
Did I mention Aya's really pretty?