A note to anybody who lives in (or plans on visiting) New York City: If you ever find yourself standing next to Aya Brea while waiting for the subway, then it's time to catch the next ride out of there. When it comes to weird supernatural events taking down the most populous city in the U.S., Aya seems to always be stuck right in the middle.
This rule is in full effect in The 3rd Birthday, the curiously named third installment in the Parasite Eve franchise. Right from the start we see the city under attack by the devastating tentacles of the Twisted. This enemy seemingly comes out of nowhere and isn't afraid to destroy everything that gets in its path. The opening cinema plays like a big budget Hollywood disaster movie, complete with landmarks being destroyed in fantastical ways. Square Enix isn't around with this PSP exclusive.
You play Aya Brea, the troubled protagonist from the first two other entries. She's a member of the CTI unit, a group of fighters who are charged with taking down the Twisted menace. In order to save the present Aya is put in charge of fixing the past by quite literally going back in time. She's told that she'll inhabit the body of another soldier and will have only so much time to change the past, ward off the supernatural invasion and, if all goes well, save lives. In other words, it has the same plotline as the recent movie Source Code.
The 3rd Birthday has a gimmick that would blow even Jake Gyllenhaal's mind. Not only are you jumping back and forth in time, but Aya is actually able to dive from one character to the next at any time. This means that she's able to quickly switch bodies at the touch of a button, a novel gameplay idea you don't see much in modern games. It's an exhilarating trick that, if used correctly, can really change the dynamics of the battle. Are you about to die? Need a different weapon? Looking for a higher perch? Just push the triangle button and dive into another soldier.
When you're not leaping from one person to another, you're playing a fairly straightforward third-person shooter. Square Enix ditches the turn-based combat of the PlayStation games, instead opting for the typical action/RPG hybrid. The game doesn't require aiming precision; instead you can hold the left shoulder button to lock on to the nearest enemy. This set-up feels natural enough, though the handling can be stiff at times.
Even though this is not a turn-based adventure game, The 3rd Birthday does have plenty in common with the past Parasite Eve titles. The game's cinematic tone has been left intact, offering a compelling story told through lengthy cut scenes. When you're not watching cinemas, you're buying, collecting and upgrading a large arsenal of weapons. The game's levels even have you fighting around famous New York City landmarks, a staple of this franchise. Even though it's not perfect, tonally this feels a lot like Parasite Eve.
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