The 3rd Birthday Review

By Marissa Meli - Posted Mar 25, 2011

The threequel to the Parasite Eve series (not seen since the original Playstation) once again stars Aya Brea, this time as an amnesiac agent with the power to psychically "dive" into other bodies. Though it'll certainly have feminist gamers up in arms, credit is due to The 3rd Birthday for its ambitious storyline, exciting gameplay, and Lovecraftian boss battles.

The Pros
  • Extremely customizable
  • Insane boss battles
  • Exciting Overdive ability
The Cons
  • Hypersexualization of yet another female lead character
  • Poor camera
  • Story difficult to follow without copious between-mission research

The 3rd Birthday Review:

The threequel to the Parasite Eve series (not seen since the original Playstation) once again stars Aya Brea, this time as an amnesiac agent with the power to psychically “dive” into other bodies. Though it’ll certainly have feminist gamers up in arms, credit is due to The 3rd Birthday for its ambitious storyline, exciting gameplay, and Lovecraftian boss battles.
 



Tentacle Scorn

On Christmas Eve in New York City, tentacles or roots erupt from the ground, wrapping around subways, toppling skyscrapers, and taking over the Statue of Liberty. Lovecraftian creatures called the Twisted are roaming the streets, feeding on human beings. The Counter Twisted Unit, or CTI, is relying on gifted amnesiac Aya Brea and her Overdive ability to cleanse the earth of these monsters.

Lithe, blonde heroine Aya Brea is appealing as an enigmatic protagonist who doesn’t take the worn path of amnesiac JRPG stars with burned villages and bright destinies. She raises questions as soon as the tutorial unfolds: where did she get the power to inhabit other bodies? Why does she seem to be in pain when does it?

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As the game progresses, however, Aya shows herself to be simpering milquetoast despite possessing obvious tactical superiority over everyone and everything around her. While there are secrets within the game I am not at liberty to reveal to you, suffice it to say that there will never be any official imagery of Nathan Drake in a Chippendales-issued bikini briefs ‘n bowtie combo. The fact that when she takes damage her jeans and top are strategically battered a la Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels to reveal maximum skin but no blood or other visible damage is not lost on me, nor should it be on you. Producer and designer Tetsuya Nomura has told the press that this was designed to produce internal conflict in the player: to keep Aya safe clothed, or to allow her to take damage and show the goods? Where are our Sigourney Weavers, our Linda Hamiltons?

Though the weakening of yet another female character (to be fair, Aya has been skanked out previously in the series) no doubt marred this game experience for me (consider this my official plea for the sanctity of Jade in Beyond Good and Evil 2), The 3rd Birthday is compelling and successful on other fronts.
 



Put It Into Overdive


Aya’s Overdive ability allows her to psychically transfer between bodies, giving us the opportunity to strategically teleport around the environment in order to flee the Twisted, inhabit soldiers with new and powerful weapons, and gain better vantage points when firing on an enemy. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself racing to Overdive into a new body before the Twisted that just grabbed you drains your health in a split second. These moments are among the most exciting in the game. Along with the Overdive power comes the ability to, once you’ve dealt them significant damage, teleport inside the bodies of the Twisted and explode them from the inside-out. As you can imagine, this never gets old.  Neither do the Twisted themselves, whose bio-horror designs (especially the final boss) make this game worth playing alone.

This being a third-person shooter (with light RPG elements), Aya heavily relies on her tactical loadout. There are plenty of weapons available in the game, each with upgrades that come with their own stat boosts. The sheer amount of possible combinations is impressive for a handheld game. You will find yourself coming back for multiple playthroughs in order to boost your weapon levels high enough to collect and use them all.

Aya herself is quite customizable, thanks to a layout called Over Energy that helps you manipulate her DNA and, consequently, her abilities. As you progress through the game, you’ll collect chips that will change Aya’s abilities depending on how you lay the chips on a three-by-three grid. It’s an enjoyable concept to play around with.
 



Should've Been on Consoles?


The same goes for the story, which wants to be epic. It certainly is, but when spread over six handheld missions, it begins to be a bit much to take in. Though periphery characters and their stories add to the game’s sci-fi/horror drama, you’ll need to read through your case files to keep track of exactly what happened and who everyone is. Perhaps the story is a bit ambitious for the exposition allowed by so few cut-scenes?

The 3rd Birthday could also benefit from a better camera. Since you walk with the PSP’s single analog stick and operate the camera with the d-pad, both on the left side of the handheld, it’s practically impossible to do both at once. Though this is fine when using weapons that lock on, it is nightmare when aiming on the fly with heavy weapons or trying to run away from rampaging monsters you are unable to damage.

Despite my strong distaste for the way female sexuality is portrayed and inextricably linked to violence in The 3rd Birthday, I can’t deny the innovative Overdive gameplay and the game’s overall fun factor.  Giving this game a low score would effectively equate it with mediocre (or worse) titles, which it isn’t. It is a great title with a bad problem. My recommendation, given solely on the qualities of the game itself, therefore comes with a strong caveat.