Square Enix is changing things up a little in its up coming PSP title The 3rd Birthday. In terms of heritage the game is a sequel to the Parasite Eve titles, a pair of survival horror role-play games that came to the original Playstation, which were in turn based on a Hideaki Sena book of the same name. The 3rd Birthday continues the story of Aya Brea from the previous titles, but rather than retaining the RPG game structure a heavy emphasis has been placed on third person shooter combat. I got hands on with the game at TGS last year, and as the game just recently released in Japan I thought now would be a good time to give my thoughts on it.
Before starting The 3rd Birthday’s demo I was treated to a video of the upcoming game. Though everything being shown in the short presentation looked fantastic that was not what struck me, what stood out to me was that while the cinematic vividly reminded me of Parasite Eve (a game I had all but forgotten), the game itself was notably different. Having attended the demo on a recommendation I had been unsure of what I was in store for, but what was on show stood in stark contrast to any expectation I had entertained with. RPG elements had been seemingly reduced to an absolute minimum, replaced by a shooter with remarkably intuitive controls for a PSP release.
Within moments of taking control of Aya Brea I found myself comfortably navigating the world, dodging out of harms way and manipulating the camera. It was a good thing too because as the opening cinema drew to a close I found myself in combat with a huge tentacled beast. Slowly wearing down monstrosity before me also found own my health slowly stripped away, and with it Aya’s clothes. This system, which is admittedly a good indicator of health, brought with it the most unwelcome of reminders that a Japanese company is developing The 3rd Birthday, as I watched the young lady before me gradually become increasingly naked.
As my own health dropped skimpily low I was exposed to another, and perhaps the most interesting, of The 3rd Birthday’s game systems the ‘Over Drive’. Essentially this move allows Aya to posses other none player characters, or enemies. An icon appears above any prospective targets and, when activated, Aya will jump in to the selected character, destroy an opponent or allowing her to take control of an ally restoring both her health, and clothes. For some reason this mechanic also leaped the physical form of Aya into the newly controlled body, whether this is simply a game concession to help the player orientate themselves or if there is a deeper story element I am yet unsure. But however ridicules the justification I am confident I will be able to forgive it, as long as its use in the game remains as inventive as it was during the short section on show.
Defeating the monster I was able to move on through each of the subsequent kill rooms. Moving down the halls and more open (but contrived) rooms I found that while the environment started to become repetitive the combat didn’t. As I switched weapons to account for range and enemy type I was impressed by how responsive everything was. Jumping into the body of my comrades for strategic advantages, or into enemies to steal their health, I began to see the potential for The 3rd Birthday beyond that of a simple shooter, in spite of its unabashed linearity and repetition of bizarre enemy types.
Maybe it is just how unexpected The 3rd Birthday was, but my time with it excited me. In such an over populated genre the novel game mechanic, and the intuitive controls, gave a great first impression. Though it remains to be seen if it will deliver on it’s promise it is all there for the game to lose. As long as the levels offer sufficient variety, and enemies offer intelligent opposition, I am confident the twists The 3rd Birthday brings will supply a treat for PSP owners when it is released in the West later this year.