Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Square Enix games share a lot of features: fantastic graphics, strange hairstyles and highly dramatic cutscenes, to name a few. But they also frequently get spin-offs, strange games that have little to do with the core series and explore otherwise unrelated or alternate situations in ways only vaguely connected to them. The 3rd Birthday, a tactical over-the-shoulder shooter with RPG elements, is one of these spin-offs. While technically considered part of the Parasite Eve series, 3rd Birthday is definitely not Parasite Eve 3.
While 3rd Birthday takes place chronologically after the events of Parasite Eve 2 and features returning characters, the story itself bears no relation to the series at all. Players control returning main character Aya Brea, who is nothing like the Aya last seen in PE2. She’s lost her memory and acts nothing like herself. Taking place in 2013 and spanning several years back and forth, 3rd Birthday takes place in Manhattan. Christmas Eve 2012: mutated tentacle-like vines burst from the ground throughout the island, killing many, destroying buildings and bringing with them monstrous creatures called the Twisted. Humanity has developed a machine called the Overdrive to combat the creatures, which involves going back in time and possessing the bodies of people in that time to change the past. Aya’s unique powers make her the only candidate to use the Overdive, despite her amnesia. It’s left to her to go back and change the past to save the present and future.
Third Birthday is a tactical shooter with RPG elements, set in a mission-based story progression. While in Overdive, Aya is able to switch bodies at will, adding an interesting strategic element to flipping around the battlefield to flank enemies. Special abilities include Overdive kills, in which she dives into an enemy’s body and causes damage from the inside, and an ability to briefly unleash Aya’s full powers, giving her exceptionally fast and powerful attacks and letting her teleport around the field. Between missions, Aya’s arsenal of weapons can be customized, and she can be equipped with OE chips, which enhance her natural abilities. Aya levels up through defeating enemies, increasing her health and basic stats.
I’m not a big fan of shooters, but one such as 3rd Birthday that mixes in RPG elements can be very appealing. Gameplay is fairly deep and strategic, with many options available to equip Aya. Unfortunately, on any difficulty setting, Aya is hesitant, uncertain and fragile in battle. Fans of the Parasite Eve series can find this frustrating and disappointing in comparison to the Aya they’ve come to know.
I wish I could say more good about 3rd Birthday, but the game is disappointingly short, with ridiculously long missions. The first mission alone lasts more than four long hours, with three powerful bosses and no way to save without quitting and having to start the mission again. I would’ve been happier if the missions had been cut into many shorter sections. On top of that, many of the optional unlockable bonuses require you to beat the game a ridiculous number of times.
Third Birthday is good. But unfortunately, it just isn’t great. It could be a disappointment to returning fans, and it’s not likely to bring new fans to the series. The story is needlessly convoluted and confusing, only making any sort of vague sense at the very end. The gameplay is fun and could keep people playing, but the frustrating mission length is just as likely to drive people away.