Parasite Eve spans six days, over the course of which the human race's continued existence shall be called into question. A fateful night at the opera house triggers in one woman the power to cause all those around her to incinerate as the mitochondria in their bloodstream generate staggering quantities of energy, and in another woman an innate resistance to the deadly effects. You assume the role of that woman, the young New York cop Aya Brea, as she comes to realize that the fate of humanity will depend upon her actions. As Square Soft's biggest release since Final Fantasy VII, Parasite Eve offers high production values and an intriguing storyline in what Square Soft has dubbed "the cinematic RPG." Its gameplay blends action and horror with traditional RPG elements to create a game that is all too easily described as the marriage of Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil. But even as Parasite Eve takes up many of the best aspects of both these games, so does it bring along many of their shortcomings.
True to its claims, Parasite Eve often looks sleek, inspired, and beautiful - like a good film. The scenery throughout the game is composed of still 3D-rendered images of mostly authentic New York locales, and the quality and detail of these various settings is astounding. Whether you're searching through Central Park in the middle of the night or rummaging through the slums early in the morning, Parasite Eve looks consistently real. The background art looks so good that you will often find yourself admiring your surroundings instead of forging onward in your quest. The various polygonal characters aren't quite as sharp as the backdrops, but their motions and actions during plot sequences are expressive and believable. As Aya, you will have to shoot your way past scores of monsters, all of which are your typical mutated urban animal variety and thence not particularly imposing. And though some of the boss monsters are both creepy and fearsome, like a particularly large and ill-tempered three-headed hound, for the most part your opposition will fail to impress. Even a discriminating connoisseur of computer-generated cinematics would be awestruck at several animated cutscenes over the course of Parasite Eve. While the cinematic sequences are never particularly long, they are frequent and almost always amazing - all the more so toward the end of the game. Among other things, you'll witness breathtaking panoramic shots of New York City, grisly deaths or even grislier metamorphoses, and even some good old-fashioned military intervention. Though there's hardly enough CG here to make up a feature-length film, there's plenty of the stuff to keep you going all the way through. It's integrated seamlessly into the game and makes key plot sequences much more dramatic and the entire game more memorable overall.
Meanwhile, Parasite Eve isn't much to speak highly of where sound is concerned. Much like Final Fantasy VII before it, there is no speech to be heard anywhere in the game. Unfortunately, while the text-driven plot felt appropriate in Final Fantasy VII, the brevity of the story, scarcity of characters, and the real-world setting all dictate that Parasite Eve would have seriously benefited from full speech. It took Parasite Eve half a year to reach the audience of the country where the game takes place, but that time was spent merely translating the short script rather than adding speech, let alone Dual Shock force-feedback support or anything else. At least the English script reads well enough.
Parasite Eve also would have benefited from a more consistent soundtrack. Most of the music in the game consists of appropriately moody techno tunes, and it's all quite good, if forgettable, much like techno tends to be. However, the battle theme is uncharacteristically mellow, while the opera sequences are thwarted by an awful warbling opera-sounding keyboard instrument that doesn't sound anything like a real voice. Furthermore, some gameplay sequences are conspicuously devoid of any background music. While silence, when implemented skillfully, may lend drama or tension to a scene, it just feels really awkward most of the time in Parasite Eve. In particular, it's difficult to believe that a New York City street might ever be silent at any time of day. Meanwhile, the various sound effects in the game share a common trait of being subdued and muffled. Aya fights through the game using everything from pistols to rocket launchers, but the sound never does any of these weapons due justice. Final Fantasy VII's influence on Parasite Eve's gameplay is obvious. You can easily move Aya about by means of a control pad, or better yet an analog pad like the Dual Shock. The camera perspective tends to change from scene to scene, forcing you to reorient yourself and the way you move the character about. Battles pop up out of nowhere much like in Final Fantasy VII; the screen suddenly goes colorless, you hear a heartbeat, and one or more enemies appear and attack. Parasite Eve uses a unique combat system where you must maneuver Aya about the battlefield as she prepares for her next attack. The end result is that combat plays out more like an action game than an RPG. Parasite Eve is often totally unforgiving if you fail to pull some fancy moves in avoiding your enemies' attacks. While this type of hands-on combat makes fighting enemies less of a chore than it tends to be in most Japanese RPGs, Aya is a frustratingly slow runner, hit detection is often inconsistent, and most boss characters can be defeated through almost insultingly basic patterns. Thankfully, random encounters in Parasite Eve are not as frequent as in most RPGs - you'll rarely face more than one per screen, to the point where they become satisfyingly predictable and unobtrusive. You don't get the feeling that combat is just there to impede your progress.
You gain levels often, and every few levels you learn a new special ability that draws from your parasite energy, otherwise known as magic points. Parasite energy gradually recharges during combat, but recharges slower the more often you use it. In what's likely a not-so-subtle indictment of modern-day New York, Aya will happen across new weapons and ammo literally all over the place - garbage cans, dressing rooms, cabinets, you name it. The various guns she'll use differ in appearance, speed, power, and effective range. Furthermore, some weapons pack special properties, like an acid effect that heavily wounds the enemy, causing it to take damage continuously until death. More interesting still is the ability to tune weapons and improve them indefinitely. For example, you can increase the number of rounds a shotgun can store or soup up the lovely rocket launcher so that it fires thrice per use instead of just once. You can essentially make your own custom guns in Parasite Eve, and devising clever and deadly new combinations is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
A typical film tends to be fairly short, and Parasite Eve, in keeping with its cinematic inclinations, is no exception. Expect to finish the game all the way through in no more than 15 hours. If you're good, you may win it in less than ten. It's a concise and linear plot, with scarce few characters and very little actual role-playing to speak of. Though a more difficult "EX" mode, complete with a new location and plenty of new items, is unlocked after you win the game the first time through, it hardly justifies the brevity of the game proper. And while the story starts out fascinating, in hindsight all its interesting points are plucked straight from any number of famous science fiction and horror movies - movies that the potential customer of Parasite Eve has probably seen or heard of before, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Terminator. And strangely enough, Parasite Eve's plot and characters correlate rather closely to Final Fantasy VII's, to the point where you'll sometimes get the feeling you're playing as Cloud in drag all over again. The enclosed demo disc with a Final Fantasy VIII video and a playable Xenogears demo only marginally sweetens the deal. While those who can't get enough of Final Fantasy VII's formula will thoroughly enjoy what few short hours of gameplay Parasite Eve has to offer, it could have been executed much better in spite of its glossy finish.