Parasite Eve II is a consistently good-looking action-adventure game that adopts its predecessor's cinematic style to an even more impressive effect. In the original Parasite Eve, which is a role-playing game with action-adventure elements, a young New York cop named Aya Brea has to deal with an epidemic that causes people to either die or mutate as the mitochondria in their bloodstreams awaken with chaotic energy. The sequel takes place shortly thereafter and disowns most of the original's role-playing game elements in favor of action-adventure gameplay reminiscent of Capcom's Resident Evil series. And while Parasite Eve II is consequently a better, more suspenseful game, it still suffers from a few problems, including ill-conceived puzzles and a few RPG elements that shouldn't have remained.
As in the first game, Parasite Eve II initially looks just like the Resident Evil games, on account of its polygonal characters that move across static prerendered scenery depicted using unusual camera angles. However, the detail in Parasite Eve II's settings makes the static backgrounds look especially realistic; colored ambient lighting, reflective glossy floors and glass surfaces, skittering bugs and moths, and other such elements all contribute to the game's surprising visual quality. The game uses a great mix of both artistic and claustrophobic camera angles that make the scenery look good without making it difficult to navigate through, and because Aya moves forward whenever you push up on the directional pad, you can always naturally compensate for any abrupt camera-angle transitions. The scenery actually succeeds at delivering the cinematic appearance that its predecessor aimed for, and Parasite Eve II's evocative motion-captured 3D characters not only look good, but they also blend well with the settings. Yet while the characters were state of the art by PlayStation standards when the game was originally released close to one year ago in Japan, Squaresoft has since published several games in the US such as Vagrant Story and Chrono Cross, which feature 3D characters that are even more detailed.
Nevertheless, it's no simple feat to make a mutant hummingbird blend in with a run-down gas station. While Parasite Eve II's Southern California settings are readily recognizable, the various monsters that Aya will have to fight aren't the usual fodder. She'll battle against monstrous yet vaguely recognizable humans and animals whose fleshy, elongated limbs and hollow eyes make them look both creepy and dangerous. You'll have no reservations about filling such bizarre monstrosities full of lead the second you see them, and thanks to Parasite Eve II's totally overhauled combat system, it's easy to shoot first and ask questions later.
The original Parasite Eve adopted a tired role-playing game convention that forces you to defend yourself against near-constant and unavoidable monster encounters that come from out of nowhere. Parasite Eve II abandons most of its predecessor's RPG combat elements and instead makes you do battle completely in real time. You'll usually see your enemies onscreen before they attack, and if you manage to sneak up on them, you can actually initiate combat yourself and surprise them by taking the first shot. Aya is deadly accurate, and she quickly switches aim between nearby enemy targets each time you press the square button. She fires her equipped weapon using the right shoulder buttons, the second of which is used for an optional secondary mode of attack. For instance, a submachine gun can fire in burst- or single-fire modes, while an automatic rifle with a bayonet attachment can also be used as a deadly close-quarters combat weapon. Aya wields a wide assortment of real-world firearms over the course of the game, and most every weapon fires with its own distinctively satisfying, reverberating boom (accompanied by a Dual Shock thud), which makes it feel powerful.
The strongest weapons you'll use also tend to be the heaviest, which decreases their effectiveness by making them slower to draw and reload. Other weapons can be enhanced using attachments that increase ammo clip capacity or add new functionality, like the bayonet. Each time you hit your target, a number representing the damage you inflicted flashes onscreen (and tallies up if you're hitting the opponent in rapid succession), which at least gives you an idea of your weapons' relative effectiveness. Your enemies include a wide assortment of both the fast-and-nimble and the slow-and-powerful variety, and you'll have to dodge and weave or just keep shooting as necessary. Fortunately, most of your foes have exploitable weaknesses that make them easier to kill once you figure them out. For instance, some monsters might take more damage if you shoot them in the back, while others might charge straight into a wall or even careen off a cliff if you dodge their attack at the last moment.
Aya can also sway the course of a battle in her favor by using one of her parasite energy powers, which are the game's equivalent of magic spells. These are divided between three abilities in each of the four classical elements, and they let Aya scorch her enemies with flame, heal her wounds, increase her defenses, and more. Preparing to use parasite energies conveniently pauses the action as you decide which of your powers you want to unleash. However, the ability to willingly halt the combat and use an appropriate special ability lends the game a more deliberate tactical element that actually weakens the pacing of its action sequences. Frantically having to reload your gun as some mutant stumbles toward you helps make the game more exciting, but pausing the action as you decide whether you want to use pyrokinesis or energy shot almost seems like cheating.
Aya doesn't level up by defeating her foes as she did in the first game, although she still gets experience points. The experience points are instead used for unlocking Aya's parasite energy powers and for increasing their effectiveness - up to three times their original proficiency. Most of the powers are useful, and because eight of the 12 are accessible right away, you actually have the option to choose whether to have a variety of powers or a few especially powerful ones.
Aya also has to acquire the bulk of her weapons, armor, and ammunition by purchasing them using the game's "bounty points," which she earns by killing enemies. You're usually limited by your bounty points to buying a small selection of whatever's available; you'll get to buy the good gun or the good armor, but not both. While the ability to purchase whichever weapon you like seems helpful, the RPG-style item shop system should've been replaced just like most of the other RPG elements in the game. The necessity of having to buy new weapons and restock ammunition puts a lot of what should be the game designers' responsibility of creating a tightly paced, suspenseful action-adventure squarely in your hands. If you're low on ammo in Parasite Eve II, it's merely because you didn't buy enough. In addition, a lot of the puzzles in the game are insipid key hunts and brainteasers that just aren't as interesting as the combat and exploration. At least Parasite Eve II features a helpful mapping system that keeps you from getting lost as you run back and forth to unlock new doors.
The original Parasite Eve tried to unite the Final Fantasy-style RPG with the Resident Evil-style action-adventure. Unfortunately, the two genres didn't mix very well, which helps explain both why Parasite Eve II can't be called an RPG, and also why it's a better game than the first. However, the game still has the occasional residual role-playing convention that bogs down the gameplay. Using a healing spell whenever you're hurt and stocking up on ammunition from a shop, just in case you might need it, serve only to diminish whatever tension and suspense that the game might have otherwise evoked. Parasite Eve II does feature multiple endings and additional gameplay modes that become available once you play through it, and it is a great-looking, great-sounding game that's a marked improvement over the original. As such, it's a close contender with all the latest horror-themed action-adventure games for the PlayStation, even though it isn't as engaging or intense as it might have been.