It’s Christmas eve and NYPD officer Aya Brea is on a pity date with some sap from the department. They arrive at an opera performance at Carnegie Hall and while Aya seems regretful, the snow continues to fall and her date is impatient. Reluctantly, she enters the theater where they find their seats, and a tragic aria sung by a beautiful actress begins. The songstress stops the act short, though, and comes center stage to eye her onlookers. The next moment becomes a real, rather than performed tragedy. One person at at time, the entire audience begins to catch fire — their hands to their coats and finally their whole selves. Burned bodies fall to the floor and in every direction is panic, but Aya Brea remains, untouched.
Carnegie Hall empties and Parasite Eve begins its first day of a frightful six. Each consists of Aya, the only one immune to the seen spontaneous combustion, and her attempts to chase down the actress, a woman now turned creature that calls itself Eve. Aya’s police training leaves her with a gun and an active time battle system. In her many confrontations with Eve, the game is to run around screen and dodge lasers and melee swipes as Aya’s turn recharges. Then it’s a pause and input command screen, choosing to pop the target for a couple of bullets or use an item.
Aya quickly discovers Eve to be far more than a fire hazard, however, and the situation becomes a national emergency. New York is completely evacuated. This leaves Brea, her police partner Daniel, and a resourceful Japanese scientist named Maeda, all alone in a Christmas decorated NYC. It commands a unique creepiness: a kind of haunted holiday. The aria from the opera accompanies the villain throughout the game, and melancholy piano melodies everywhere in between. City decorations slowly lose their festive feel and begin to signify the birth of something new and terrible as the team chases Eve throughout Central Park, famous museums, and other well replicated locales in New York City, Christmas trees and all. Every room is empty, aside from item chests and the monsters encountered in between.
Indeed, NYC isn’t totally desolate. Eve has the effect of evolving animal life around her into awful new forms. Rats, birds and dogs all melt and mutate their flesh into horrors, providing Aya with regular combat and boss fights and opportunities to level up her character stats. Bonus points earned alongside experience can be invested into Aya or used to upgrade weapons, all of which can be combined with other firearms for improved power or unique attack effects. It’s a lot to keep track of alongside a limited inventory space, but there’s no crucial need to do so.
That’s because item management and customization are totally overdone. The entire game has a surplus problem. What starts with a handgun and a small ammo box turns into a girl running around with 2 different shotguns, 5 grenade launchers, several kinds of pistols and a couple of rifles to spare, and absolutely no ammo concerns. Aya picks up weapons so frequently that they must be combined on the spot to clear up inventory space to pick up the next, giving a pistol +2 damage here, and a vest +5 critical hit rate there, even if you don’t need or want it. Now there’s enough room for a ton of healing items, but are those, too, even necessary?
Hardly. Because Aya has another advantage: an unexplained relation to Eve, the being who uses vastly evolved mitochondria (the organelle that provides power to the human cell, if you need that Bio 101 refresher) to cause mayhem. This connection between the organic makeup of the protagonist and antagonist is the source of mystery in Parasite Eve’s narrative, and allows Aya to unlock cellular abilities as she levels. These include increasing time gauge recovery, use of beam attacks, and healing abilities. So on top of all the countless items, weapons, and opportunities to upgrade equipment Aya gets, she’s also a genetic powerhouse all herself. Even if enemy attacks aren’t always easy to predict or dodge — some being so hideously rendered it’s hard to measure the hitbox — you can recover from them anyway. And so Parasite Eve remains an easy game because of these surplus resources.
However, it isn’t all so damning given the premise. Aya is some kind of polar opposite to Eve with powers just as terrifying. It’s thematically interesting, and also lets players blow through creatures with ease and enjoyment, becoming a super being themselves by the ending chapters. At that point I had Aya using an MP5 submachine gun thats feature was random targeting. I borrowed a damage-over-time ‘Acid’ effect from the shells of a grenade launcher, and pumped all bonus points into active time recovery. Now I had a character who was like a stationary water sprinkler, spitting bullets rapidly and in random directions every time my turn came round.
This hilarity would become a serious flaw if Parasite Eve was any longer than its intelligent 6 hours of holiday hell. Flaws or thoughts of system abuse don’t stick around long enough to upset. Chapters are so brief and story packed that there’s rarely time to mind. While nothing about the combat or character progression is graceful, it isn’t tiresome, either. The bad scenarios are, instead, ones that delay that progression. Locked doors are an annoying excuse for Aya to fully explore her environments, and a super slow movement speed makes it all the more tedious. There’s a ‘run’ command that should always be held down, but even then it looks like a stilted illusion, as Aya’s legs hamster back and forth as she covers hardly any ground.
It’s a bloated game by any standard and full of unnecessary features. But even fattened by so much waste, it’s made not just tolerable, but intense and enjoyable thanks to the sound decision to keep it short, allowing constant appreciation of its enchanting and evil setting. An eve of family comfort and spiritual birth warped into an eve of shock and survival, it’s an entire RPG packed into a cinematic, simple to play, and very merry thriller.