I can’t help but find it strange sometimes that certain franchises excel in their genre and others fall by the wayside. One of my favourite cases in question is Resident Evil and the survival horror genre. Capcom’s first instalment of the great franchise we know and love was everything that a good horror game should be. It was gory, tense and full of moments to make your heart jump into your throat. Albeit the first title hasn’t aged very well graphically (although it has received an incredible remake since it’s initial release), but it still stands as a benchmark of it’s genre.
Capcom weren’t the only ones in this fear-based arena, the other big gun was Konami. Their horror IP, Silent Hill, took a different tact entirely. Silent Hill was all about getting under the skin of the player and causing genuine fear. Using a perfect combination of macabre setting and a soundtrack that consisted of atmospheric noise as opposed to music, it maintained a sense of permanent tension. However Silent Hill, since arguably ‘The Room’, has been in a swift decline (much like Resi – by the viewpoints of the majority) which has allowed franchises like Dead Space to come to the forefront.
But (all this being said) there is a series that failed in this case, another survival horror series that fell down at the first hurdles. This franchise was called Parasite Eve and was created by Squaresoft (now Square-Enix). Released in 1998, the first Parasite Eve title was the first (and only to my knowledge) survival horror RPG. The elements of the typical action horror title (such as fixed camera angles like the early Resident Evil titles) were mixed with RPG elements like levelling up, magic, and random encounters.
Regrettably, the first Parasite Eve game never saw the light in Europe, but the sequel Parasite Eve 2 did and that’s the one I will talk about. Released in Europe in 2000 the story follows that of Aya Brea, an agent with the FBI’s Mitochondrial Investigation and Suppression Team (MIST), who has been sent to a building called Akropolis Tower in LA to investigate a sudden infestation of paranormal creatures that have invaded the building. The same creatures that she apparently came across in the previous game, with several references made by Aya throughout the game.
The enemies themselves, called Neo-Mitochondrial Creatures (NMCs) are where the main horror element comes in. Mutated creatures (that are often as darkly-coloured as their surroundings) that seem to kill everything and often appear out of nowhere with the intention of making the player jump. Another similarity to the Resident Evils when it comes to the NMCs is that you don’t have to fight all of them, you do have the option to run away, giving the element of survival back to the title. There are varying levels of the creatures and thus they all require different means of handling them. Some, for instance, require sniping from a distance with magic, whereas others you can simply just unload your firearm into.
The RPG elements in the game are the most alien concept and should really feel like they are shoehorned in (especially after playing Resident Evil or Silent Hill), but instead perfectly flow with the standard combat. When an enemy is engaged, the action pauses briefly and then you proceed to attack as you see fit, using magic spells or firearms to defeat your opponent in a turn-based format. The entire thing feels very organic, with each individual element meshing together, leaving a very coherent title (despite the number of genres at play). Of course there are other elements such as HP and MP, but they somehow don’t seem as strange when sat next to a partially turn-based combat system.
One of the only things that lets the title down is the controls from a modern standpoint, seeing as it has a similar control system to the classic Resi style. They are a little clunky, a little wooden, and Aya just isn’t as manoeuvrable as modern-day video game characters. But, this isn’t much of a minus point if you are used to that style. So, once again, if you enjoy the original Resident Evil games, you should love this title (if only for the huge similarities in style between the two).
Another thing that lets the title down a little, unless you aren’t foolish enough to let it bother you, are the graphics. I said earlier that the original Resident Evil hadn’t stood the test of time from an aesthetic standpoint, but Parasite Eve has arguably aged worse. It doesn’t make it unplayable, but there are polygons aplenty on the screen, making this title impossible to recommend to those who are snobs in regards to graphics (usually Xbox/PS3 users). However, those who aren’t obsessed with the pretty colours can find a title under that rough exterior that is a genuine joy to play.
Parasite Eve 2 is a great, and very underrated title, that many of those who enjoy the survival horror genre need to pick up. In fact, the title is available right now to download from the PlayStation Network on PS3. If this sounds like your kind of title, give it a try. I think it is only around the £5 mark on the UK shop, so it can’t be too much elsewhere, what have you got to lose?