The 3rd Birthday Impressions and Interview
We chat to The 3rd Birthday developers and find out what our gun-toting heroine Aya has been up to in the past decade.
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It's been 10 years since we last saw Aya Brea, the New York City cop whose unique cells made her the star of Square Enix's action role-playing game titles Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve II on the PlayStation. While Aya retains her personal characteristics in The 3rd Birthday, a shift in focus to a third-person shooter on the PSP has helped her look and improved her fighting. We had a chance to see a gameplay demo of The 3rd Birthday in a behind-closed-doors session at Square Enix's E3 2010 booth, as well as speak to director Hajime Tabata and art director Isamu Kamikokuryo.
While the end of Parasite Eve II wasn't exactly left open to a sequel, the Square Enix team felt it was time to reimagine the game on a new system, taking advantage of new technologies in game design and the growing popularity of gaming.
"We wanted to introduce Aya properly to players all around the world, not just in Japan," Tabata said. "We felt that with this franchise, we could really create a mature title that adults could enjoy."
Fans of the Parasite Eve games need not worry--Aya may look better, but she's still the same character, changed only by the events in the game's story (which are yet to be revealed). This passing of time is also the main reason why the development team dropped the "Parasite Eve" prefix from the game's title. The new title's significance is also yet to be revealed but will center around a certain event that will take place during the third game that will reveal what Aya's been doing all this time. Choosing to reveal Aya's past history through the game is something Tabata did to make it easier for newcomers to the franchise while still giving fans something to ponder.
Following the introduction, Tabata showed us a brief gameplay demo in which Aya fought a group of new enemies called the Twisted in a deserted city street. Because the motif of the games has always been Aya holding some sort of gun, Tabata and his team wanted to maintain this focus and give the gun a key function during battles. As mentioned before, the emphasis is now completely directed toward shooting combat. Tabata admitted that Square Enix isn't well known for its shooters, which is why they had to bring in several outside development teams to help nail the gameplay. There is no free aim in the game--players must use a lock-on function mapped to R1 on the PSP. Aya's movements are controlled by the analog stick, while the D pad can be used to change the camera view. The L1 button will call up a player's current weapon inventory, where he or she will be able to choose among four different weapons. The square will be used as the action button (shooting, interacting with objects, and the like), while the circle button will trigger a grenade. The X button will be used to reload weapons, and the triangle button will be used for a new system called Overdive (more on that later). It's important to note that these are the current Japanese controls and may change for the Western version of the title.
After Aya dispersed with the Twisted mutants (and they really are twisted: long limbs, indistinguishable features, squirmy, slimy, and bloody), she met up with her team of law enforcement officers. This is where Tabata showed us what Overdive will actually do: In battles where Aya is fighting alongside her team, she will be able to switch bodies with any member of that team as long as he or she is still alive. To do this, players must press the triangle button on the PSP, which will bring up an infrared screen showing the locations of all Aya's team members. You can then choose which member's body you'd like to switch with, and a small vortex will pop up to transport you to that location. Tabata didn't explain why Aya can do this, but our guess is that her mitochondria condition allows her to do cool stuff like that. Tabata told us the Overdive system is useful when players find themselves in a tight spot where they must overcome certain obstacles. It will also come in handy when Aya is losing life or running out of ammo. According to Tabata, playing the game to its full potential will require players to use the battle environment in such a way that will see them working together with Aya's team, rather than separately, and using the Overdive system effectively.
Like past Parasite Eve games, The 3rd Birthday will also include some RPG elements, albeit minor ones. Players will be able to perform some basic weapon customization using items they buy, although this time around merging two weapons together will not be an option. There is also a leveling-up system for weapons, but no other details on this were given.
While we didn't see any boss battles, Tabata explained that these will take players out of the game's main environments and into fantastical locations. We can only guess what these might look like, but judging by how smooth and detailed the game's normal environments are, it's a safe bet they'll be just as good. Tabata also revealed that his team sought the help of the Final Fantasy XIII development team to work on The 3rd Birthday's visual design.
Finally, Tabata said his team chose the PSP as an exclusive platform for The 3rd Birthday because of its hardware capabilities.
"It was the most balanced platform for the game we wanted to make," he said. "It's also a globally available platform. Our team had high goals for this game. We designed the game as if for the PlayStation 3 console and poured it all into the PSP."