Let's take a trip back to the late 90's. Yes I know it's an ugly time, Kangol hats reign supreme, the Spice Girls are still a thing, and the worst thing a president could do was stick cigars in different holes. Let's take it down to something more personal. It's Christmas Eve, family and friends have gone home for the night, my appetite for Hawaiian Rolls has been satiated, and Albert Finney has sung the praises of the holiday season. It's still too early to go to sleep for this one, so I supply myself with the surprisingly effective combo of hot chocolate and saltines, head to my bedroom, and turn on the old Playstation for what would serve as something of a holiday tradition for my annual playthrough of Parasite Eve.
In 1998, Squaresoft (long before they purchased Enix) was on a roll. Coming of the massive success of Final Fantasy VII, the company struck further deals with Sony and eventually Electronic Arts to publish classics like Final Fantasy Tactics, Einhander, Xenogears, and Brave Fencer Musashi. Nestled among this wave of greatness was the very experimental Parasite Eve, a title that sought to combine the then young survival horror genre with classic RPG gameplay.
For most companies the accomplishment of successfully blending two genres for the first time would have been enough of a success, but that wasn't the case here. Parasite Eve also served as a sequel/spin-off to a popular novel and provided one hell of a unique setting. Consider that most of the big games that year had outlandish or fantastical settings be they the fantasy settings of Ocarina of Time or Panzer Dragoon Saga, even the militaristic buffoonery of Metal Gear Solid was pretty far removed from reality. So imagine how odd it was to play this hybrid RPG set in modern day New York City over the Christmas holiday.
You better believe that environment set my heart aflutter. For a kid who loved RPG's, Monsters, and holidays, this thing was like a warm blanket. I mean where else could you find a game that begins with a Christmas Eve concert at Carnegie Hall? For that same concert to be overtaken by spontaneous human combustion was just gravy. Throughout the game was the constant presence of snow, lights, trees, and most of all the birth of a supernatural life form. Can't get much more Chistmasy than that.
Parasite Eve cast the player as a young, blonde, lady cop named Aya Brea, Our somewhat dour heroine is forced to spend her holidays tracking down a monstrous woman named Eve who is using mitochondrial powers to transform life into something new. Aya must also discover why she's the one person in all of NYC who can resist Eve's powers. Naturally there are twists, turns, mutant babies, and even dinosaurs!
For multiple years in a row I made an effort to play the game one day at a time in accordance with the calendar. Blasting through the first section was usually no big deal. Depending on what Santa brought me on Christmas morning however, finishing the game could be put into question. Truthfully I never finished that goal of playing it day by day. I believe the closest I ever came was wrapping it up just after New Year's.
Another issue that routinely held me back was that unlike most games I cherish, I sucked at PE. Completely, utterly sucked at it. I never once finished the game without finding some way to cheat. It's important that you know this because this isn't some title I mastered over countless nights of obsessive play. Despite the number of hours spent playing, I couldn't get much further than the halfway mark legitimately. I'd like to think it would be a different situation these days as I'm someone who take on Ikaruga and win but lord knows I'd probably face off against that damn police dog again and just crumble.
If you've never experienced the game, don't let my nostalgia make you think for a moment that the game was without faults. Slow character movement, a daffy reloading mechanism, and cramped environments all contributed to cheap hits and frustration. Likewise the story, while fun isn't some timeless classic. Largely the game gets by on novelty from both its' setting and unique gameplay.
The series would go on to spawn two sequels, the first went full survival horror and frankly stunk up the joint. The third I've yet to play but when you consider it's so radically different as to not even use the franchise name, there's probably not much of a proper connection. It's a shame as the first game is still totally unique all these years later. If more effort had been made to further develop the series in that original direction we could be playing the fifth or sixth entry today. Lasting legacy isn't what's important though. For a few years this game was as much a part of my holiday as putting up the tree. Not too shabby for something where you shoot flamespewing mutant rats.
And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas! Currently I'm watching the snow come down to the tunes of Nat King Cole. There are movies to watch, Hawaiian Rolls to devour, and even a little work to do. No matter how you end up celebrating this or another holiday, I hope the season gives you the charge to go out and tackle the coming year head on. Thanks to all of you who check into the site throughout the year. While we don't have the most talkative readership, those consistent page views keep this site moving along. Happy Holidays! Now go try that saltine and hot coco combo.