The 3rd Birthday is a special title, and while not a sequel to the venerable Parasite Eve franchise, it does mark the next tale in protagonist Aya Brea’s story. Released exclusively on the PSP, does The 3rd Birthday make for a game worth celebrating or does it make the list of bad birthdays?
On December 24, 2012 a race of beings known as the Twisted attack Manhattan and kill of a portion of the citizens. Face forward a year later and the entire world faces extinction. The US government sets up the Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI) to help combat the growing threat. A mentally unstable Aya Brea is recruited thanks to her ability to Overdive into the past. With this ability the government hopes to change the past to give humanity a fighting chance in the future.
The 3rd Birthday makes for some intriguing material. The Twisted are interesting beings who have links to the protagonist Aya Brea. A lot of the revelations throughout the game are original and will provide much needed excitement to the tale, and plenty of the revelations revealed in the latter half of the game will both surprise and shock players.
Sadly the rest of the story doesn’t hold up that well thanks to weak characters and a poorly written script. None of the characters are consistent with their entrances and exits. One character may show up at the beginning but disappear for long stretches only to reappear near the end to a chorus of, “what the…” This becomes particularly bad with the games confusing switch-up halfway through which sees a giant change in characters. Some characters from the original Parasite Eve franchises make a return so it’s best to know your Parasite Eve lore.
Probably the most offensive character is Aya Brea herself. While a strong female protagonist in the Parasite Eve franchise, she is replaced by a weaker version of herself. Mentally broken, this Aya Brea continuously shows how weak she is emotionally and is continuously on the verge of tears. She relies completely on other male characters for support. This is in stark contrast to the character represented in Parasite Eve.
Lastly, this is one of the most cringe-worthy scripts to ever come out of Square Enix. Every word coming out of a characters mouth is over bloated and nonsensical. It’s almost amazing at how bad the script is. Creepy and melodramatic lines punctuate the whole game making playing it feel awkward at times.
The 3rd Birthday struggles with its story. A weak cast of characters and horrible writing brings down an interesting premise and overall great story.
The 3rd Birthday is a hybrid of a third person shooter and an RPG. Despite this the games design choices fall more in line with that of a third person shooter. In fact, the game follows most shooter conventions.
Of course the game is linear, so much so that at points it’s almost too linear for its own good. The 3rd Birthday offers little in the way of variation. You’ll always be running down some form of pathway, whether it is a hallway, a street, or an alley. The only times you may deviate from the path are little rooms that will either hide a secret report or some extra ammo. On the outside world in-between missions lies virtually nothing. A small room with two computers is available, one for looking at your stats and the other for revealing information on characters, the world, etc. Interactions with NPCs are also kept to a bare minimum.
Not all is bad though, and the game lasts a pretty decent length. A total of six chapters, which vary in length, punctuate the whole game. There’s a lot to mess around with in the game as you can customize special stats that Aya may receive, purchase and customize a large selection of guns to play with, uncover secrets about the games plot, and collect a large assortment of special costumes for Aya.
On the bad side however once you beat the game there isn’t much to do afterwards. And after playing the game for a several hours or so then you may as well put the game down and never look back. Cheat codes, extra costumes, and Intel just don’t provide enough incentive to play through again unless you happen to really like the story.
The 3rd Birthday does many things right with its design. It piles on content and keeps the game moving at a strong pace. If only there was more to do post-credits.
Despite also being labelled as an RPG, the game steers as far away from RPG conventions as possible and mainly focuses on third-person elements with a twist. The ability to Overdive is the game’s claim to fame and is an ability that only Aya Brea possesses.
While Overdive plays a crucial role in the story it also plays a far more important role in combat. Overdiving is Aya’s key of traveling to the past so that she may change it to alter the future. This allows her to take control of soldier’s bodies and jump freely between them to gain tactical advantages. At certain times Aya may also invade enemies (When a glowing yellow Triangle appears) and incur large amounts of damage to them. Overdiving also allows Aya to enter “Liberation” mode, which grants her dual pistols, immunity, speed, and extra damage.
This all works well on paper but is sloppily executed. The PSP has always had a disability when it came to shooters because of the loss of a dual-analog nub. This was solved in other tiles however by using the face buttons as the second analog nub. The 3rd Birthday however scraps that control system for one that only half works. What does work is the movements with the analog nub, which feel nice and smooth. Dodging is also done nicely and can be executed with a tap of the X button. Most of the aiming is automatic when pressing the L-Button, while the R-Button is used for shooting. A nice strategic option is also available while holding down the L-Button that commands all available allies to fire at a specific target.
Sadly the rest of the control scheme doesn’t hold up. The camera is easily the worst part and seeing as a shooter relies so heavily on easy manoeuvring of the camera; The 3rd Birthday is kind of doomed. Control of the camera is mapped to the Right and Left D-Pad buttons. And seeing as the D-Pad is so close to the analog nub, it makes trying to move it extremely painful. Switching weapons can also be a huge pain in the middle of fights seeing as you have to hold down the Square button and then use the D-Pad to switch between the standard pistol, two equipped weapons, and the soldier’s standard weapon. It works when not in battle but is a hassle while you’re in the middle of one.
Manual controls also present problems thanks to the control limitations of the PSP. You’ll have to stop movement and hold down the L button and slowly manoeuvre the analog nub onto the enemy. It’s slow and cumbersome and creates multiple frustrations thanks to enemies that always target you. Though controlling the vehicles weapons are easier thanks to more health and extra firepower, but they are still quite slow.
There are also problems with control response, and sometimes you’ll have to repeatedly press the Circle button to throw a grenade. The same problem goes for reloading which can take multiple presses. It’s also worth noting that an undeveloped cover system makes an appearance, but you’ll most likely barely use it.
The 3rd Birthday doesn’t have bad gameplay, but it’s not very good either. At points the game does have brilliance. The Overdive system is a really ingenious concept, but the game poorly plays to the systems controls. In the end you can play the game functionally, but you will be frustrated in certain areas.
Square Enix is known for creating beautifully looking games on the PSP, and The 3rd Birthday follows in some respect. Character models and textures look wonderful. The detail on all of the main characters is truly amazing; even Aya Brea’s clothes look great and continuously degrade as damage is taken.
Environment detail is also nicely done, at least in the inside. It’s nice and beautiful and filled with nice details. Though open environments don’t offer as much detail, and are sparsely populated. Finding muddy textures in large environments is also rather common.
Enemy models and textures are also nicely done, and while there isn’t much variety in the enemies at least the few that are there are so beautifully detailed. Animations, textures, and models are top notch for a handheld title. Bosses top the list as they tower over you and contain more detailed animations and textures.
There aren’t many effects in the game, which is sad seeing as this is a Square Enix game. Some explosions punctuate the game and look good and Overdive effects also look good, we only wish there were more.
Cutscenes on the other hand look absolutely fantastic. Sure, they may not be in-game, but they still look expertly done and make watching and listening to the awful performances almost worth it. That’s right, The 3rd Birthday has some of the worst writing and acting in a game from Square, who are so well known for the excellent performances and writing in games.
At least the soundtrack is beautifully made, with the composer from Kingdom Hearts returning once again to deliver positive results.
The 3rd Birthday doesn’t top other Square Enix projects on the PSP, but it still ends up looking good. If only the voice acting wasn’t so bad.
The 3rd Birthday feels like a console game trapped in a portable shell. Its gameplay and design hint at something far bigger then what the final product delivers on. The game still looks good, but it just can’t compete with other Square Enix titles and the company may have just released their first title with truly cringe worthy dialogue throughout the whole game. This isn’t one of Square’s best birthdays.
Final Score: 6.25/10
Overdiving is Unique
Plenty of Customization
A Good Looking Game
Bad Control Scheme
Horrible Writing and Acting
Very Little Replay Incentive