The first thing that you will notice in Parasite Eve is the incredible FMV, as you are greeted by a slew of clips from the game's cinemas, along with some pulse pounding music. Truly, the FMV in this game is the new standard for gaming, it even surpasses Namco's Tekken series. When the game kicks off, you are introduced to the mainflow graphical engine. It looks nice enough, if not a little choppy at first (just at first, don't worry), with tall and very detailed (more detailed than Resident Evil 2) characters. The backgrounds are prerendered, not much indifferent from those found in Final Fantasy 7, except of course that they are much larger in scale, to properly interact with the tall characters. Overall, the graphics are fairly flawless, with a few small clipping problems that can be found in just about every polygonal game. The game animates very smoothly, although occasionally you will catch on to a laughable animation, usually when an AI controlled character is running.
Of course any pretty game can totally suck with the lack of a good story to keep you coming back after the eye candy gets old. Parasite Eve delivers solidly. The story follows Aya, a Manhattan police rookie who stumbles into a twisted mess of a criminal investigation after witnessing the deaths of hundreds of people who "spontaneously combusted" after an opera performance. As the story goes, a beautiful young singer named Melissa (who strangely calls herself 'Eve') has the power to make people burn at her own will. Somehow, Eve's powers don't affect Aya however, and they seem to share some kind of bond. Parasite Eve is the story of mitochondria, and its relationship to the human body. The plot is rather deep and complicated, but it reveals itself in a very complete and interesting manner. The game is rather short (took me about 9 hours), but from amazing start, to astonishing finish, Parasite Eve is a pure gem. Also, my hat goes off to Square for designing the truly coolest female video game character that I have ever seen. Aya is slick, she is sexy, and her body is not 90% breast and lip.
Many critics bashed PE's lack of dramatic music. In some cases, I can see where the complaint is. Once in a while, when music would immensely add to the suspenseful atmosphere, it simply does not exist. Other times, music will bust out of nowhere, and sounds a little out of place. The complaint is drowned out a little bit however, because of the overall incredible musical score. I especially enjoyed the music during the fights with Eve, as the mixture of classic UFO music (you know, like in Critical Depth), and the sharp pounding drum beats seem to be made for eachother. The sound effects themselves pose no great valor over anything else on the market, but they are not horrible. My major complaint with the sound effects is the overuse of foot steps (they are pretty loud and obnoxious, even more so than the RE games). There is no voice acting, and although at first, I was afraid that this would diminish the game, I realized that the dialogue boxes actually enhance the experience. Having voices through the entire game would be poorly executed, because simply there is way too much dialogue. Square summed it up good, by calling PE a "cinematic RPG", in that it captures the essence of games like Resident Evil, but adds major role playing elements.
PE controls very nicely for the most part, with very responsive buttons and fairly speedy gameplay (at first, you wont think so, but trust me, you will get the hang of it). Also, plug in Sony's Dual Shock, and you can control with the analog stick. Although there is no rumbling, once you play PE with the analog pad, there is no going back. The menus (items and the like) seem somewhat complicated at first, but soon they will become easy as clockwork.
One of the most unique aspects of PE is the battle system. Instead of going for all out action like RE of Tomb Raider, or like turn based traditional RPG's like the Final Fantasy series, PE decided to combine the two. First of all, instead of switching to a separate battle screen, the battle stays right in the field. Aya pulls out her gun, enemies appear, and the battle begins. You can run around freely on the screen, dodging enemy attacks, until your battle (Active Time) gauge is full. When it is full, you can choose to use your weapon, an item, or "parasite energy", among several other options. Fights appear to take place randomly, but after investigating, I discovered that there is a strict pattern in the fighting. There are designated points, where you will get in fights every time you cross the spots for the first time. After this initial encounter, the spot will be fight-free for the next three or four times you cross it, but then if you walk over it again, a fight will occur. So there you have it: the secret behind Parasite Eve's 'random battles'.
So all of this, plus the addition of a very innovative weapon customizing system, mature themes, and addicting gameplay, Parasite Eve is truly a wonder to behold. You may have heard some negative things about PE, but take my word for it: it is worth the price of admission.
Andrew the Game Master