Parasite Eve (PS1): A Reliquary Review
Mythology. Fables. Tall tales.
It is not unusual for ancient items to have incredible stories surrounding them, how they came to be, how they became renown, why they are held in contempt, and sometimes why they must be avoided. More often than not these stories exist because of the deeds they were used in. Sometimes, however, these stories exist before the item, and actually bring the item itself into existence. It’s existence compounding the story and allowing it to grow more and more as a result.
Such events can be rare… But I’m also a hunter of such items, and when I find them they wind up here in my Reliquary.
Today’s topic of discussion is a title that holds a special place of reverence even here in my Reliquary, and if you are familiar with ancient mythology then you might understand what I mean when I say this is my Sisyphean challenge. That boulder that I attempt to push up a hill every so often.
It is a title of remarkable quality and pedigree. But the story of its origins are rather confusing, as it served as a test bed for techniques and technologies that would be implemented in other titles later. Allegedly it was not meant to be released in the West at all, but it somehow still made its way here.
This is the story of Parasite Eve.
The tale about how I chanced across such a wonderful thing is not a very interesting one I assure you. Call it fate, destiny, karma, or simple dumb luck. A friend loaned it to me before the sequel released and while I was familiar with RPGs before this, the only one I had really devoted any time to before was Super Mario RPG. But I was a Resident Evil fan and it looked like Resident Evil, and that was all I needed. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now let us begin.
Legends say that shortly after the renown title Final Fantasy VII was forged by the master weapon smiths of the Holy Church of SquareSoft, some of the smiths discovered there was enough material left over from the meteorite they had melted down to make a whole other weapon. Thus the forging of another final fantasy would begin shortly. However the science and engineering of game smithing had improved since the forging of the famous title, so some of the material was reforged into a lesser known legendary blade. This is the story of that blade.
It was molded in the likeness described in a story by a local author, something he saw in a dream. And thus it was given form. Imitators and companion blades would come attempting to achieve what it did, but none would ever come close.
As you can obviously tell, I am very fond of this game. While this is not the very first JRPG I ever played, it is the very first one I ever let myself get swallowed up by, and invested heavily in to. Funny enough I’ve never actually completed it even though its a short game, compared to JRPGs of the time which averaged 30 hours, Parasite Eve can be wrapped up in ten to twelve hours.
I probably connected so well with it initially because it’s so much like Resident Evil. I was a massive nerd about that game in the days of my youth. But I think there is something more going on, because as far as I know, anyone who plays it ends up liking it. Much like Armored Core, there may be people who don’t like it, but I’ve yet to hear of them.
Parasite Eve manages to magically blend the lines between Sci‐fi action, survival horror, and JRPG in a single tasty package that you can’t help but come back to. The weapon and armor customization system is pretty interesting if you sit down to learn it too, and we’ll go over that in a bit.
Prepare for massive spoilers. Stop reading here and play the game first before continuing if you care about over 20‐year‐old spoilers. Through the power of time travel, I’ll be here no matter when you come back to continue the conversation.
Upon booting up you may notice the original SquareSoft logo. It’s like a breath of fresh air. This game is from a time when that logo meant something; it was usually a stamp of quality. The second thing you’ll likely notice is the orchestral rock soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura. And yes, it is indeed sexy. (include yt link to opening Primal Eyes by Yoko Shimomura)
Booting up the game will greet you with a cut scene indicating you are in New York City, circa 1997. It looks kind of like what Final Fantasy 8 would eventually become. Yes, this is a JRPG that takes place in modern (for the time) NYC, and as your strong female protagonist character steps out of the limo in her evening best, you begin to understand that you are in for a wild ride.
You find yourself out on a date with a wormy rich guy, the kind that never worked a day in his life, but will make sure to remind you that his dad totally owns a BMW dealership. Don’t walk away just yet, I promise you things get better.
Our heroine, and your controllable protagonist, for the story is 25‐year‐old Police Detective Aya Brea, who is about as thrilled to be here as you are, which is not very. They are here for a night of opera at Carnegie Hall. Apparently they have the best seats in the house in the mid row.
Things go fine and it seems to be a middling production of a witch burning love tragedy. The lead actress begins a vocal solo, a vocal operatic solo that is so good it begins melting faces off of people.
Wait, let’s back up. As she sings, people are dramatically bursting into flames and the lead actress of the opera seems to know what is up, and she is reveling in it.
Aya then pulls a gun from nowhere (because there is no place she could have hidden that thing in her dress) and declares the NYPD are going handle this. She knocks the wormy shit man away and he runs like a bitch to escape danger at the command of our strong female lead. Wormy guy is never seen again, thankfully.
Now the game truly begins.
The First Hour
The first thing you’ll do once you have finally started the game proper is start the first boss fight. No I did not stutter. Pretty much everything you need to know about combat going forward is taught to you in this first fight. You rush the stage and pull your gun on the actress who is admiring her handy work. She declares herself to be Eve, and that humanity is going down and she is the harbinger of its destruction and the liberator, but this is getting so boring let’s fight!
The boss doesn’t go first, and while I can’t confirm this, I believe the battle is set up so the boss has a slower ATB (Active Time Battle) regen than you do, meaning you get 1.5 – 2 turns between attacks here compared to usual. So basically this is your tutorial to the action of Parasite Eve.
From here you learn that in battle you can move around freely within the combat area. You can fire your gun when it’s your turn and a translucent green cage shows you the range of your weapon. Your ability to move around gives you the ability to dodge freely to the best of your ability. However upon receiving that first hit (which seems partially scripted, like you are sucked into it) your body undergoes a radical change, and now you can cast magic.
A separate meter is added to your HUD and you gain the ability to heal yourself. Eventually you shoot the actress enough times that she will laugh at you for sucking so badly and run away. You chase her back stage and find out she tore open a hole into the basement through a metal door and escaped right as your backup arrives.
You may now choose between proceeding into the basement to Charlie’s Angel the fuck out of things, or going to check in with your back up. Naturally you go check in with backup because you are a good cop and they might have some goodies for you.
At the entrance you will find a friendly medic, some NPC window dressing, and a guy who will give you 50 free rounds if you talk to him enough times. Upon returning to the basement you are greeted by a mysterious ghost girl that proliferates Japanese horror stories and various other works of Japanese fiction before you officially begin Random Encounters™.
This then presents what the bulk of the game will be: exploration, random encounters, leveling up, managing ammo and items (which gets stupidly easy past the second chapter, you will never not have enough ammo), finding keys, checking literally every thing that looks like you might be able to interact with, and fight bosses to a memorable techno‐orchestral soundtrack that sticks with you. Then at the back of the basement you fight the first boss again, but this time she starts mutating and the game gets a bit more Resident Evil-esque than at first glance.
After fighting your way through the basement, and then the sewers as the evil Boss Lady thing makes its escape, you fight a giant mutant alligator with thunder and fire powers. And finally Best Dad Daniel, your partner on the police force, drives you home and makes fun of your wormy date who booked it when shit got squirrelly.
That’s Chapter One, and it presents a great slice of what playing the rest of game will entail, minus weapon and armor customization that get introduced in just a bit.
The story of Parasite Eve is kind of insane, but in that classic sexy Las Vegas kind of way. The mid-90’s was a period of ‘out there’ High Concept Sci‐fi, and this game reflects that.
After the events of the first chapter things only get worse as a series of biological horrors begin appearing and swarming the city, and cryptic messages from the Police detective on camera reveal that the culprit responsible is someone calling herself Eve, and that this is all because “The Mitochondria are revolting.”
For those of you who haven’t been in Biology class for a while, the Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, and are absurdly important to growth, aging, and death. Horrifying monsters begin to appear as Eve reeks havoc and kills thousands by harnessing them, reducing some people to a mass of indistinguishable sludge.
The police are unable to fight this threat, but our plucky and attractive Super Heroine Aya Brea is able to fight them off, and somehow her cells are producing a type of energy called Parasite Energy that allows her to seemingly cast magic spells. With the help of her Partner Daniel (the Best Dad) and a mysterious Japanese scientist who comes to you when he learns the news, our under equipped crew will wage war on the street, in the sewers, and demolish buildings while fighting against biological terrors spawned by this horrifying Mitochondrial rebellion.
Eve has come to New York City to give birth to the Ultimate Life Form, a being that will crush and rule over all life on Earth. But what’s more, all of this has happened once before in Japan. Because as it turns out the great and mighty twist of the story is that Parasite Eve is actually a canonical sequel to a book/Film of the same name (that it outshines). Only Aya seems to have the power to stop Eve and her monstrosities.
But how does this all tie into her past? Because it’s a JRPG and everything always ties into a character’s past.
The story is one part Sci‐fi action thriller, and one part biology lesson. I actually got an A on my Biology exam in High School thanks to Parasite Eve and all the interesting biology information that peppers the story as interesting flavor text. The majority of those factoids check out, which seems like a feat for the time the game was made.
As you can tell from the onset, Parasite Eve bears great resemblance to Resident Evil, a game that came out two years earlier, while still pushing forward visual styles explored in Final Fantasy 7. This is most evident in the use of scaling to allow 3D models to walk over pre‐rendered images to pretend they are in a 3D space. And just like Resident Evil, this game features fixed 3rd person camera angles, and what the community commonly refers to as “Tank Controls.”
The graphics are about on par with Final Fantasy 8, which I think Parasite Eve also worked as a pseudo‐tech demo for in terms of working with more realistic human proportioned characters. Many of the video effects, SFX, and more are borrowed from Final Fantasy as well with some of Aya’s Parasite Energy powers (spells) being dead ringers for some classic Final Fantasy spells (Haste and Barrier, for an example).
Controls are basic “Tank Control” layout pioneered in‐game like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, however the camera angles are more akin to those of Final Fantasy 7, with high pulled back angles as well as low angles that are much more familiar. The interface and menu are very simple and the item management is easier than Resident Evil since you gain more storage space in your inventory as you progress.
So If you are comfortable in Resident Evil, or games like Galerians, you’ll be right at home. For those of you not familiar with the term “Tank Controls,” they are as follows: Up on the D‐pad (and later, analog stick) moves your character forward in whatever direction they are facing, left and right rotate you so you face a new direction, down moves you back super slowly in a way that makes it impractical to ever use but we can’t have a nothing button there. Tank Controls were how designers worked around faux 3D environments when the camera was fixed and before Analog control became the standard. Mostly this was due to fixed camera angles in 3D spaces.
You also have the ability to customize your character and make improvements to various parts of your stats such as your ATB recharge, PE recharge, item capacity, or dump those upgrade points into your weapon as apart of the weapons upgrade system, which is the most “AMERICA!” gun management system I have ever seen.
The weapon customization looks absurdly complex and confusing at first since they don’t explain it very well in‐game or in the instructions. But basically you take a wrench and duct tape and upgrade your gun by sticking other guns on to it. If your gun isn’t strong enough then you just need to attach more guns to make it better. ‘MURICA!
But all joking aside, you essentially need to fusion dance your weapons together, as relying entirely on the very frequent equipment drops will leave you ill‐equipped to tackle parts of the game. You can quickly find yourself in a situation where you are trapped in a story event that you can only leave when you complete the boss fight, but you lack the DPS to get past the challenge, a fate that has befallen me during one of my farthest runs of the game because I didn’t understand what was actually a stupidly simple system.
Each gun has three stats: damage, range, and how much ammo each holds before it must be reloaded. You will never have to worry about reloading really because your character will automatically reload as a free action but it takes a few seconds depending on the weapon. You can add to these stats using Bonus points (BP) that you earn each level up, which you also use for your character stats. Or you can rip stats off other guns and dump it on the gun you actually want. The best part is, they just stack forever (up to a maximum of 999 per stat).
Each gun also has special abilities, such as elemental damage, status effects, shoot two or even five times per attack, or even attack multiple actions per turn which you can split between attacks and spell casting. Armor is customized in a similar way. And although not recommended, you can even stack all the effects onto a single weapon if you wanted to, with the fact that the stats just stack forever, you can do anything with enough time. And the truth is you have to. More on that at the end.
Using guns in RPGs is always kind of a hassle to set up. Especially if you are using real guns, knowledge of how they actually work versus balancing them out for game play always seems to be a battle, and guns either wind up under powered, or operating in a way that makes no sense for a gun to work within balanced game play. Parasite Eve’s battle system manages to strike a good balance between customizability, utilization of gun mechanics and real‐time RPG battle systems. It’s still a bit rough, if the system could be polished a bit more or refined a bit more, it could be something pretty wonderful. But it does better than other games, especially in the customizability department.
Is it worth playing now?
Dear sweet God, yes. Parasite Eve is easily one of my favorite games, considering how many times I have made attempts to play it to completion and enjoy the experience every time. This is probably helped by the fact there isn’t really much of a grind to speak of if you don’t want there to be. Utilizing weapon and armor customization, enemies will very rarely prove to be so ungodly difficult that you dread the random encounters, even just playing through without grinding out levels, and they are very generous with levels and new spells.
There is no usual grind to speak of, that caveat is unless you want to assemble one of the secret weapons which requires getting several hundred instances of a specific item that only drops from 1 – 3 monsters encountered in three locations throughout the game. Naturally the rewards are worth it if you pursue such a grind, but they are wholly unnecessary for a normal play‐through.
Parasite Eve carries a very loyal fan base and there are many who even appreciate the sequel, even if it isn’t as good. Very few tolerate the 3rd Birthday because it’s just awful. However this first title is most certainly worth picking up in any shape or form, and I have bought this game four different occasions via digital and physical purchases.
You really can’t go wrong with it, unless you absolutely hate RPGs.
What can we learn from it?
We can actually learn quite a bit from Parasite Eve, which stories allege was nothing more than a Tech Demo for Final Fantasy 8 that got polished and released somehow. And despite that, it somehow rose up to greatness through the variety of things it has going for it with its various systems and unique RPG presentation.
-Graphics and Visuals‐
By today’s standard the graphics aren’t particularly great. However for their time they were on par with Final Fantasy and Resident Evil. The use of pre‐rendered graphics to make up for limited memory space in games was a common practice, and it’s not a bad idea. If your images are pretty solid‐looking, layered properly and your collision set up, you can make some pretty nice visuals. Once again graphics aren’t everything, design and presentation are. The camera angles employed, which often give you distance from the characters and creature 3D models let them look better than they would up close. Some of the scenes are also framed and kind of flow like a movie scene. graphics are good, but presentation is king.
-Story and Plot‐
Parasite Eve is extremely loosely based on a horror thriller novel of the same name in Japan. A novel that it outshines by far.It even had a movie based on it and the game even manages to outshine it, which should tell you something about how it was handled. This is more than likely why it is described on Japanese and NA box art as “The Cinematic RPG.” Parasite Eve takes a license, and rather than mold a story that has already been told into a shape that its fans (if any) recognize simply to make a game play story, they chose to make it canonical and the game a sequel. this allows them to take all the parts they like from the book or film, and literally do anything they want with it and treat it as a separate instance.
Too many games, movies, TV adaptations, etc make the mistake of bringing a property to a new medium and deciding that the best approach to bring in fans is to tell a story they have already seen before but badly, just look at Ghost in the Shell which had other problems, but that’s not important. Instead of telling a badly adapted version of a story we’ve already seen to bring in the existing fan base, they never consider simply telling an original adventure with the characters people like. This would allow you to do pretty much anything you wanted so long as you don’t violate canon, and would make it so you don’t need every character, and can do just enough background to let the new audience know what’s going on. While this approach isn’t always possible, it is an option that should be more often considered.
If you are adapting media to a new medium. If you connect it to the source material as opposed to adapting it or basing it off of it, you will have a much easier time getting fans to flock to it, and not be forced to work within existing materials. This can create a circular relationship where the book sends fans to your project, and your project sends fans to the book and both benefit and grow. This isn’t always the case however and should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Some stories are very confusing and intricate and require the extra details in their original stories.
-Game Play and Controls‐
Tank Controls are wrongly despised I believe, but they are tried and true, and proven effective for a time before analog controls. Don’t be afraid of tank controls, however if you have fixed camera positions with tank controls you must always make sure the player is aware of where they are and do not lose awareness of their position when changing cameras locations. The reason is that during several moments of the game, notably in Central Park it is really easy to lose track of where you are relative to everything else and get lost in what is basically an open air enclosure at the Central Park Zoo. Thankfully because the random battles take place on the screen you are on (like Chrono Trigger), they do not add to the problem by causing disorientation. In some cases the random battles show items hidden in the background in areas that are not lit as well as they could be.
The weapon customization looks more complex than it actually is and that can be a bit intimidating. It is also not explained very well in my experience, and you are nervous about experimentation because when you use parts of one gun to improve another the gun you stripped is destroyed. Explaining this better, or a tutorial where they walk you through it and make it plain and clear what is happening, what the rules are, and how to get results, would work a lot better and would facilitate a simplistic stat approach as seen in Parasite Eve or even more complicated stats in other games.
Your customization system can be as complex as you want it to be as long as you are able to convey it clearly enough to players how it works, what it does, what the consequences of using it are. I’ve played several RPGs where the customization or upgrade system is so confusing that I don’t even bother with it either because it isn’t well explained, it isn’t explained at all, or it makes no logical sense and you can’t really figure out what you are doing. As a result I either power through and try to brute force my way through the game as best as I can, and I either win or I stop playing from hitting my head on the wall too many times.
-That Important First Fight‐
The first real fight or battle of your game regardless of genre is an important one, but probably more so in RPGs. The first battle must convey the type of battle system the game uses as it will reflect the game play going forward. It must be easy to understand at first glance, or be well explained in a streamlined tutorials. It’s ok to not introduce all of your game play mechanics at once, however if you are able to set up the bulk of your features without overloading the first battle or dragging it on forever, you likely have a very streamlined experience. Since most people have usually played at least one RPG, most people go in with some knowledge as to how things are supposed to go down, but you always get the occasion of a person making your RPG their first. Keeping things simple but intuitive isn’t easy, but Parasite Eve is a good example of how it can be done well in some areas but not in others.
-Music and Sound‐
The music by Yoko Shimomura completes what is already a memorable package. She creates a theme for the entire game and the soundtrack is littered with stylized and emotional remixes of the main theme and it’s so good. Parasite Eve’s OST is the first game soundtrack I ever bought, and I always keep it in my car. While an expensive, high quality, sound track is not always necessary for a game, having the right kind of soundtrack can definitely make a difference and elevate the presentation of a game.
The music is still composed in‐house at SquareSoft here, so it was still cheaper than licensing music from famous or mainstream artists. Music doesn’t always have to be specifically tailored for the moment they are used in, but if you can pull it off it is almost always to your benefit. Also never ever deny the power of a fantastic and catchy theme. Don’t put it everywhere, but hiding it in other tracks and making that consistent throughout is a way to have it be present without wearing out its welcome. Someone who is an expert on music theory would know more and be able to comment more thoroughly on this. [Editor’s Note: 8‐Bit Music Theory on YouTube is a great place to start on video game music theory]
The soundtrack also benefits from the fact that each track doubles as a decent song on its own and is definitely worth casual listening to.
The sound effects are carryovers from a variety of other SquareSoft titles, as are some of the visual effects And much like in the case of visuals, as long as the presentation is good, it is perfectly fine to reuse assets if you can fit them into your new game world.
I mentioned before that you really have no choice but take advantage of the weapon customization system in the game, and I really mean that. You have to go through the game and be actively trying to make the proverbial Super Armor and Unlimited Gun Works. The reason being is that before the final boss fight, which has 3 – 4 phases, a character offers to engrave your weapon and armor of choice, letting you rename them to anything you want. When the game ends, you start new game plus, but you start it with your renamed weapons.
But here is the kicker. The ending you got is not the true ending, and to get the true ending you must attack the Chrysler Building in New Game+ which is a 77 floor Super Dungeon. Where you will find even more weapons with which to ‘Murica! even harder against one another.
If you don’t have a custom weapon, you will not survive the Chrysler Building. Hell, you need to play through part of the game to get some levels before you can attack the first floor just because the monsters there are that tough. I tried attacking them with a Game Shark modded weapon once when I cheated to unlock it without truly beating the game, and at the earliest possible point you can attack the first floor, with a max mod weapon with all buffs, you still get one shotted if hit because the monsters are such a higher level.
I’ve seen the top of the mountain thanks to Game Shark, but I never beat it the right way, and it’s something I make an earnest attempt at at least once a year, but something always seems to interfere and I never get to finish. One day I hope to not only build myself a Super Gun and Super Suit, but to complete both game modes and get the true ending, the right way. Because even though I saw the ending with Game Shark, there was no satisfaction in it.
Thus the reason I say I have never truly beaten it, and because I never completed the Chrysler Building proper.
This, however, is where we must bring things to a close. Parasite Eve is most certainly a product worthy of your time and attention, and it is available on PS1 and through PSN. If you like RPGs it’s a must play. If you have never played an RPG before, this is actually a good one to start with since it isn’t very complex.
Parasite Eve will now be returned to its place of rest within the Reliquary until the next time I deign to challenge it, which will likely be soon since I’m feeling the itch after this retelling. I thank you for your time, and I hope to see you again soon.
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