Monday, October 21, 2019

Ben's Top Horror - #10: The 3rd Birthday

The 3rd Birthday is the third entry in the Parasite Eve series that many never even realized existed. It's the black sheep of the series, but it's also one that is very special to me.


When the original Parasite Eve came out I was terrified by it. A video of it came with the demo disc on my PS1, but it was just too much for the (roughly) 7 year old me to handle. As soon as I put that disc in and the preview video started playing, I hurried up and scrolled down as fast as I could so I didn't see anymore than I had to. The music, the CGI art style, it all freaked me out, and I wanted nothing to do with it... Never once did I think it would become one of my favorite horror series of all time.

Many (many) years later, things changed. One day after college I was browsing through some upcoming game lists online, and I came across a game called The 3rd Birthday. I didn't known what this "Parasite Eve" series was at the time, but the game was by Square-Enix, and that was enough for me. I had just recently got into their games (putting aside Kingdom Hearts), and I was itching for more. So I did what anyone else would do, and went over to YouTube to see what it was all about. That's when I realized something... "I know this." That opening video to PE1 was the very same video that haunted me as a kid.

Of course as an adult it no longer bothered me. In fact I sat there and watched an entire playthrough (something I almost NEVER do) of the game, and then tracked down some videos for PE2. Later on I would go on to buy them myself, but as a poor college kid I was limited a lot more by what I could get and when I could get it -- so YouTube was my only real option at the time. And needless to say, I liked what I saw. Everything about the game drew me in. It's gameplay was unique, it's story was interesting, and I really liked the characters! Then Parasite Eve 2 came along with it's Resident Evil style gameplay (which was a series I had yet to play), and introduced a few more characters who would become key to the story. After everything was said and done, I couldn't wait for The 3rd Birthday. Then one day many months later, it came out.

I still remember that night. My parents and I were going to the local Walmart to get food for the week, and we stopped by the newly built GameStop on the way back. I walked up to the counter, showed the guy my drivers license, then walked out of there with my brand new PSP game. I had brought my PSP along with me so I was able to play it on the way home (something I can't recall doing since that day), and I was sitting in the back seat so the brightness of the screen didn't bother anyone. The moment I turned that game on though, I was lost in that world and I never wanted it to end.


Although I have to admit that The 3rd Birthday isn't the best game in the world, it's still one I really REALLY enjoy. It was a 3rd person shooter on the PSP, so obviously there had to be some compromises with the camera and lock on system for it to work, but it honestly wasn't a problem. The game had a unique story where Aya could send her mind back in time to alter history, and to do so she took control of people who were there at the time. So rather than playing through the levels in your own body, you jumped between different people on the battlefield. Of course you still "looked" like Aya from your own point of view, but you technically were playing as different characters all the time.

This allowed for some interesting gameplay, that no other game (besides maybe that failed Mindjack game) has replicated. By sending your mind between different characters, you were able to avoid damage, and flank whatever enemies it was you were trying to fight. For example, if a large energy blast was heading towards you and you didn't have time to dodge, you could simply abandon your body and jump to someone else across the area. Sure that means the guy you were originally playing as would die (leaving one less character to play as in the process), but at least it saved you for the time being. Other times you could use this same ability to jump to higher vantage points, or even access secret areas within the level. The ability could also be used on weakened enemies to deal massive damage, but it was more for boss fights than your average run of the mill mobs. Still it was cool pulling it off, as Aya's mind raced at the enemy at high speeds and basically exploded inside of them.

As for the game's story and structure, it was quite a bit different. The director was none other than Hajime Tabata (now known as the Final Fantasy XV guy by many), and back then his games tended to have a specific chapter based style. Each game's chapter would open up with a cutscene letting you know what is going on, then you'd be free to explore a small hub area with NPCs to talk to, and then you'd finally be sent off on your mission. In Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Zack would explore some key areas of Midgar while talking to his fellow SOLDIERS to learn about the world, in the later released Type-0 the character you decided to play as would walk around the school before finally being sent out to war, and in 3rd Birthday's case you get to walk around your "police" HQ before being sent back in time. A lot of the story telling actually comes from these slower moments, and if you've played any of the other games at all, you'll instantly notice the pattern -- and you'll also know what to expect from the game's second half. It might not be the same as Parasite Eve 1 and 2, but the style works, and it changes things up before it gets stale.


Now you might be asking, where is the horror? Well The 3rd Birthday isn't quite as tense as the first two games (with one focusing on people and animals mutating into monsters and bursting into flames), or with 2's monster filled city setting, but it does still have it's moments. The main enemies of the games are horrifying alien like monsters, that have formed giant tentacles that wrap around the city. While they might not be scary to look at, the things you see them do can be pretty disturbing. One early scene in particular has them attacking a group of people at a rock concert. After the first few are grabbed, they explode into a gory mess with blood falling constantly like rain. Another man rolls across the ground covered in the stuff, and soon explodes right before Aya's eyes. It's times like these that are some of the most graphic moments you'll ever see in a PSP in general, and the main reason the game received it's M rating. Outside of this though, the game is pretty mild, and what you'd expect out of any alien shooter game. There are no jump scares, or creepy atmospheres to speak of, it's just the end of the world story and graphic content that pushes the boundary between horror and not. Still, that's not a bad thing. Not all "horror" games need to be a terrifying nightmare. Sometimes they are just fine when sitting on the edge.

That's why The 3rd Birthday is number 10 on this list, and why it'll always be one of my favorite PSP games. 

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