Karen, The Gaming Goddess

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Monday 12 January 2009

Parasite Eve, Part Three: CSI:NY (megalomaniac cellular organelles division)

PEHeader

The last thing I ever want to do with these recaps is produce passages that read like "I picked up the Zoo key. I opened the chest and got a shotgun. Then I went through the second door on the left and fought two monkeys and a zebra." So I hope you can forgive me for being a tad light on gameplay details in most of these recaps.

Besides, I assume you're all accomplished enough gamers that you know ALL ABOUT rummaging through other people's stuff in search of keys and consumables of mysterious origin.

Trust the NYPD, Or the Terrorists Win

PE19 It's the 'actually' that just makes it.

Day 2, Resonance, starts off with the NYPD trying to figure out just what the hell went down at Carnegie Hall last night, and Parasite Eve briefly becomes a police procedural. Normally I come down hard on games with long non-playable sequences, and the first half of Day Two is almost all cutscenes, but unlike a lot of games, this stuff was legitimately interesting the first time.

A particularly interesting sequence is the press conference, where Police Chief Baker cautions Aya not to give the press anything without going through him first, and Aya infuriates him by telling the truth at the event. To this day, I'm not sure who's right here: The gut reaction is Aya, because she is Telling the Truth, however, can you imagine how that news bite would go?

''Attention citizens of NYC: This just in, superpowers are real, there is a deranged mutant opera singer on the loose who can kill hundreds of people with a thought, and the police can't approach her for fear of officers bursting into flame. The only one who MIGHT be able to stop her is a 25-year-old rookie cop who looks like she weighs about 90 pounds soaking wet, capable of casting only the spells 'Heal', 'Scan' and 'Heal 2'. Residents are advised to stay in the house, run if they hear anything that sounds like Puccini, and try not to spontaneously combust. And now back to "Dancing With the Stars.''

PE21 Aya's suspicious survival does not go unnoticed by the press. Nice touch.

Baker is right when he says that the truth, if anyone even believes it, will only cause hysteria. However, the reporters' questions make it seem as though they already have a pretty good idea just what happened at Carnegie Hall and are digging for details, in which case lying outright will accomplish nothing except making people distrust the authorities on top of everything else.

The cover story that Baker is trying to put over is that the event was a terrorist attack engineered with flammable chemicals (and you know that you might have a serious problem there when a sophisticated terrorist attack using chemical weapons has become the lie that you tell to calm people down.) In 1998, terrorism was still pretty far off the average person's radar (at least in the US), and senseless attacks on non-military targets especially, so it seemed at the time like Baker was trying to pull anything he could think of out of his ass rather than tell the truth. Let's just say that time has been kind to Baker and his cover story.

There's a subtle thing going on here with Aya, Daniel and Baker, that before this incident Aya was the untried rookie whom everybody liked but didn't quite trust or respect, and her sudden unavoidable promotion to the most prominent field agent has turned the whole chain of command on it's head. People can give Aya any kind of orders they want, but she's the only one with any real power in this situation, literally and figuratively. She's afraid of Eve's cold, survival-of-the-fittest mentality, but in some respects she exemplifies it. The subtitle of PE is "The worst foe lies within the self." To its credit, usually it does interesting things with this idea without hitting you over the head with it. Usually.

I Can't Trust You With a Gun, But Here You Go Anyway

PE20

Another fascinating thing- what can I say, Day Two is just fascinating- involves Aya going to the weapons department and getting a rifle from gun-hating cop Torres, who gets his own tiny little subplot about firearms. I wonder: how many games have addressed guns?

Now I know, guns are to video games like snowflakes are to winter and sugar is to Fruit Loops, but when was the last time you played a game that actually had anything to say, whatsoever, about guns? Usually, you collect tons of weapons and use them all with abandon, and maybe if the game considers itself progressive, there will be some kind of vague anti-war message in there somewhere, and then you go right back to shooting. That's not as hypocritical as I'm making it sound: I can go to the Arms and Armor section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and marvel at the beauty of the elaborate swords and crossbows and lances, and completely ignore the fact that those items were designed to help commit acts of violence.

So I don't expect every game that includes guns, which is a lot of them, to address the morals or the politics. In fact, I can understand why they wouldn't want to touch any of that stuff with a ten-foot pole. Nevertheless, Parasite Eve is the only game I've ever played that actually came out and took a stance on the role of guns in personal defense, and I think that's remarkable. I'll have more to say about it when the subplot culminates in Day Three.

By the way, if I was Queen of the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be the final dungeon in PE3. Actually, if I was Queen of the world, the Met would be the final dungeon everywhere.

First Trip to Museum of Natural History, Also: Crazy Man

WorldMap1 Our first introduction to the World Map: It's not exactly Manhattan, but it's definitely Manhattan-shaped.

After a harried phone call from Maeda, geeky Japanese scientist extraordinaire whom we will meet very soon, the NYPD learns of a scientist named Klamp who's researching mitochondria. Aya and Daniel take off to go talk to Klamp in the first of many trips to his lab in what will become a very memorable part of PE. As the game progresses, we get to watch Aya and Daniel get increasingly pissed and homicidal while Klamp gets increasingly batshit crazy, and the beauty of it is, he started out crazy. Eve is a memorable villain in that she's uniquely designed and the opera vocals that accompany her are a nice touch, but she's really a monster; she's only as interesting as the reactions she gets out of Aya. The most interesting villains are of course the ones whom you can understand and almost sympathize with, and Klamp fills that role. Additionally, there's a nice sense of real-world menace about him that's lacking from the more fantastical aspects of the game.

Klamp works in the Museum of Natural History, which doesn't make a helluva lot of sense considering his vocation, but it's an excuse to have the Museum as the final dungeon. The characters do comment on the strangeness of the location, which Daniel chalks up to Klamp not exactly being known for his people skills. Aya groans, anticipating what a huge pain in the ass dealing with this guy is going to be (Oh sweetheart, you have no idea), leading to a warning from Daniel not to act rashly like she did at the press conference. Now, I would just say 'Uh, Pot, Kettle, Black?', but Aya takes a different approach.

AyaDanielCar This sensible plea for moderation brought to you by Daniel "Punches Reporters in the FACE" Dollis.

AyaDanielCar2 I know that "Oh, SNAP!" is terribly overused by this point, but seriously? Oh, snap.

I'll continue with the amazing first meeting of Aya and Klamp next time, when I cover the latter half of Day Two. Now, you certainly don't want to miss that--

KLAMP

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Parasite Eve, Part Two: Sewer Fun!

PEHeader My new graphic for all PE related entries. I'm rather fond of it.

I wanted to get this chunk of PE finished before moving onto other games, so as promised, here's more PE goodness-- including some new spells (yaay!), and some giant mutated frogs (boo!).

Parasite Eve is split up into 6 days; This entry covers the remainder of Day 1. The Day format is interesting in and of itself because games usually don't tell you how much "in-game time" has passed for the characters in the story. For example, in Final Fantasy X you can finish the game with 10 hours on your timer or 200, but you haven't the faintest idea how long Yuna's pilgrimage was supposed to have taken from a story perspective. A week? A month? Six months? We'll never know. PE takes a very different approach: You can spend 500 hours running around Central Park if you want to (and if for some God- forsaken reason you want to try the "300 pieces of Junk sidequest", you very well might find yourself doing just that), but you'll still be stuck in the second day. You always know precisely where you are in the story.

PE9 In this room Aya reads Melissa's diary and finds a key she needs to progress...or would have, if my inventory hadn't been completely full of crappy items at the time. I had to dump an item and then re-read the whole diary.

This may seem trivial, but typically in RPGs characters mature over some nebulous, but presumably substantial, period of time. In this game we know for a fact that Aya is dealing with a series of nightmarish scenarios that come at her one right after the other without allowing her a pause for breath. An understanding of the timeframe is essential to understanding Aya, who's desperation and anger are the hallmarks of a person under extreme stress rather than unforgivable character flaws. I mentioned last time that Aya doesn't always appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but in all fairness, most people would be rendered comatose halfway through Day 2 if they had to step into Aya's shiny platform shoes. Although considering the high aesthetic value and general desirability of said shoes, I might risk it anyway...okay, I think I'm getting slightly off-topic.

PE10 If you think Eve's mutated form is cool, wait until you see Aya's.

Anyway, without getting too bogged down in detail, the remainder of Day One involves searching the basement of Carnegie Hall for a key that will allow you to catch up with Melissa/Eve, who drops the Melissa persona entirely and mutates into a decidedly non- human form. Another RIDICULOUSLY EASY boss fight ensues with the freshly mutated Eve, which is so easy that even the fact that I was completely distracted by trying to get a good screenshot didn't seem to matter. It's possible that after playing this game on and off for ten years I've lost all objectivity in regard to it's difficulty, but I do have to say that Day One really does seem a tad too easy. It's one of those precious tutorial stages that refuses to level with you and admit that it's a tutorial.

PE11 Oh wow Eve, now you can shoot TWO puny laser beams instead of one! Taking this screenshot was about fifty times harder than the actual battle.

Aya and Eve continue their cat and mouse game, with Eve leading Aya into the sewers beneath Carnegie Hall. I thought I would have a lot more to say about the sewer area, because it's marvelously creepy and atmospheric, but gameplay-wise it's simple. You pick up a bunch of items (which I wouldn't be so quick to pick up considering they've been sitting IN THE SEWER for God knows how long, but Aya's braver than me), and fight some more mutated rats and mutated frogs. Interestingly, while the rats only mutated to three or four times their original size, the frogs are huge behemoths. You just can't predict those wacky mitochondrial mutations.

PE13 I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that Aya was unable to wear this dress on future occasions. I don't even want to speculate what other kinds of 'items' might be floating around in there besides the pick-ups....

Finally Aya catches up to Eve and the two of them have a fairly civil conversation at gunpoint, because Aya's little handgun is her safety blanket. Eve leaves, but not before uttering a line which I've always been impressed with: "I'm going to give you some time... some time to think and some time to evolve." Eve wants Aya on her side, but she wants Aya to realize herself that she belongs with Eve. She will abandon this idea eventually in favor of a more aggressive approach, but it's telling that she even tries. It's also really nice from a logical perspective that you don't have to spend the entire game wondering why Eve doesn't just kill Aya already if she's just so damned powerful. The "the villian tests the hero in order to recruit them" idea isn't exactly ground-breaking, but I still like it a helluva lot better than the more common "the villian doesn't kill the hero when they have the chance because apparently, they just can't be bothered."

PE14 At this point, Aya has just learned the spell "Scan", which isn't a helluva lot of use in this situation...or ever. I suppose I can't blame her for sticking with her trusty handgun. Better spells coming soon.

Let's see...gritty atmosphere, check. Massive death toll, check. Sewers, check. Hot chick with a gun, check. Now, this would be just like Resident Evil 2 if only there was a bloodthirsty ALLIGATOR in the sewers! How cool would that be? Fortunately, Eve hooks us up. We love her.

PE15 This was an awesome FMV the day I got the game, and it remains awesome today. The screenshot can't do it justice, but this monster is introduced perfectly.

Finally we get to the first real boss fight of the game, which still isn't difficult but you could conceivably lose if you're distracted. Or busy with your tax return. Or not paying any attention whatsoever. Still, the mutated Alligator has powerful attacks, and you need to take advantage of Aya's mobility to keep her out of harm's way (More on the free-movement combat system next time.)

PE16 I took this screen right when Aya's bullet hit the boss, which is why it has that cool glowing effect. I probably couldn't take this again to save my life.

Day One ends with the introduction of Aya's partner, Daniel, a 30-something cop with a more than superficial resemblance to Final Fantasy VII's Barret Wallace. Daniel rescues Aya from a persistent reporter by punching him in the face, which is the type of behavior that I guess Japanese game developers expect from hard-boiled NYC cops. As the two of them speed off in the squad car, Daniel gives Aya a backhanded compliment-- apparently, showing up at the scene of mass murder is a good indicator of latent "cop instinct"-- and we get a feel for their father-daughter dynamic. Later we will learn that Aya is the brains of this operation while Daniel is the hothead, and considering that Aya's approach to problem solving ideally involves a rocket launcher, that should tell you something about the volatility of this outfit. Really, Eve's lucky that these two didn't torch the city in the course of a botched investigation long before she got around to it.

PE17 This screen marks the beginning of the ongoing subplot of Daniel's neglected son, Ben. Unlike a lot of games that force dialogue like this on you in order to create the illusion of character depth, PE actually makes good use of this subplot later.

Next in PE, we begin Day 2 and unfortunately Aya ditches her evening gown for a more practical ensemble. On the plus side, we get a cool new gun and Aya's PE powers evolve to the point where her spells are almost useful.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Parasite Eve: An Odyssey

PED1 As you may have surmised by my last rather, ahem, verbose entry, I have a lot to say about games-- at least the ones that have a special place in my heart, for lack of a better phrase. For a game like Parasite Eve (and frankly, for most games that I care enough about to cover in the first place), a single blog entry would be completely inadequate. What I've decided to do is allow for multiple entries for individual games which will be tagged accordingly, so even though they may be posted months apart, you can find all the coverage of a single game or series easily.

Where to even begin with Parasite Eve? Some things are seminal on a broad cultural, even global level, like Hamlet or the Beatles you can debate their merit or their influence on their successors, and many people devote a frightening amount of time to doing just that, but ultimately it's pointless: They are agreed upon by everyone with a functioning frontal lobe to be both very good and a huge influence on everything.

But some things are deeply influential to a specific individual, and it's not because they're better than Hamlet or the Beatles--quality has nothing to do with it. It's a certain alchemy of personality, timing, and some x-factor that I'll never be able to nail down. Parasite Eve came out when I was sixteen, and it had a huge effect on my personal aesthetics.

Keep in mind, I'm not encouraging everyone to go out and pick up a copy of the game. PS1 games from that era have aged poorly in the graphics department, and while I think the writing in PE is actually underrated, there's nothing about it that's sufficiently high quality to make it especially worth playing compared to more recent fare. However, as a startlingly ambitious combination of cop show, psychological thriller, Doctor Who-esque Science Fantasy, dungeon crawling, character building, gun collecting, and techno music put together in an RPG that celebrates an empty Manhattan that never was, it's a very unique piece of gaming history.

Oh, and yes, I know that word snobs frown on descriptions like "very unique", because unique originally meant one of a kind and therefore a thing is either unique or it is not, but I think those people should be shot because I am an activist word snob and I want their inflexible, stagnant DNA out of the gene pool. Unique originally meant "one of a kind", but in modern usage it has changed to "giving the impression of being special and important even in comparison to other things that are one of a kind as well." If your dictionary doesn't already agree with me, wait a few years and it probably will.

The protagonist of Parasite Eve is rookie NYC cop Aya Brea, proficient with every firearm under the sun and totally the women I'd fall for if I played on the other team (and err, if she weren't fictional I suppose. I sometimes forget that part.) However, I'm straight, and it does have to be said that Aya can be a little dense-- her dialogue is littered with exclamations like "What? How can that be!?" and "No!" and "What do you mean my mitochondria are evolving at an unusually accelerated rate?" People have knocked the character for that, but to be fair, I kind of like that about her. We can't all be Rhodes Scholars. Aya1 Still the best-dressed gal in video games, even after all these years--okay, except for Classic Yuna. It's a tie.

Note on the Screens: In years past I have always, always kept the default character names in RPGs out of respect for the writers' intentions, but in some of the following screens you will see that Aya's name is Karen for this playthrough. The sacrifices I make for this blog.... PE1

The game starts with Aya on a hilariously awful date, with an escort who says things like "I had my Dad get me the best seats for us tonight!" Y'know, I wonder how much the general gamer likes this opening, because being a woman probably makes it about ten thousand times better. It's like, "I've sooo been there, girl." PE2 They say this about me too.

Fortunately possessed Opera Singer Melissa (known from this point on as Eve) brings a premature end to Aya's date by lighting Carnegie Hall on fire. I used to just pretend that I had cramps.

PE3 Is Eve turning Carnegie Hall into a fiery inferno because her excess mitochondrial energy is being released as heat? Or was it because of that schmuck in the third row who couldn't be bothered to turn off his cell phone?

While the other occupants of the theater are busy burning to death, Aya's all business; she draws her gun and orders her mysteriously-not-burning date out of the theater. If I were some kind of fancy internet guru, I would make an animation of Aya body-checking her date out of the way, because that's exactly what she does here. Minor plot hole: It's repeated many times that Aya is the sole survivor of the Carnegie Hall Incident, only her boyfriend mysteriously escapes the theater and is never mentioned again. I guess some of her special mitochondria must have rubbed off on him when he was helping her with her coat. PE4

Aya approaches Eve in the name of the NYPD, and Eve starts starts demonstrating some of the problems with Japanese-to-English translation that plague this game. The Japanese use the word "body" much more often than English speakers, but a too-literal translation will often keep the word, leading to awkwardness. "I'm burning up!" has a very different connotation then "My body is getting HOT!" Guess which version this game goes with. PE5 The translation-inflicted kinkyness of the Aya and Eve dynamic persists throughout the game. Not as fun as it sounds.

A pathetically easy boss fight ensues, during which Aya's "Parasite Energy" awakens due to her proximity to Eve, meaning she has a green PE bar under her health from now on and will start learning spells to cast as she levels up. Technically I guess they're not "spells", they're more like "benevolent mutations" or "super-evolved mitochondrial abilities", but I'm going to use the word spell from now on because it's shorter. Anyway, Eve babbles something about a connection between her and Aya (Nooo? REALLY?), and Aya has the first of about forty flashbacks to a time she was in the hospital as a small child that she barely remembers. Eve floats offstage, and Aya follows. PE6 Okay, I'll level with you here: I friggin' hate these stupid flashbacks. The story behind them is fine, but there are way too many of them. Yes Aya, you were in the hospital when you were a wee lass! Holy freaking crap! Get over it.

At this point, the story sequences start to dwindle and you begin to experience the actual gameplay of PE, which I will save for another installment. The main event is that Aya starts ransacking the basement of Carnegie Hall while looking for a trace of Eve, and mysteriously finds lots of ammo instead. PE8

Join us next time on Parasite Eve: The Odyssey for Part II: Spelunking in the rat-infested sewers beneath Carnegie Hall is no reason not to look fabulous.