Does The 3rd Birthday Deserve the Crisis Core Remastered Treatment?
Parasite Eve, first released in 1998, is a survival-horror tinged RPG that follows NYPD officer Aya Brea over the course of Christmas Week in New York City. The game successfully combines sharp combat, sharper cinematics, and a moody, alien soundtrack that was met with acclaim when released. Its sequel, Parasite Eve II, removed Aya from the dynamic urban setting and disposed of the Active Turn Battle inspired combat, and leaned into its survival-horror mechanics. Inspired in its own right, Parasite Eve II seemed to be the conclusion of Aya Brea's tale.
A decade later, The 3rd Birthday would appear for the PlayStation Portable. This quasi-sequel and quasi-soft reboot of the series abandons most RPG elements. Aya's equipment is exchanged for outfits which are mostly cosmetic; there are no magic spells of any kind; and most customization is left to weapons and OE Chips, allowing for marginal adjustment perks and effects in battle.
While Parasite Eve II was set in the Las Vegas desert, The 3rd Birthday returns the series to Manhattan, once again on the cusp of the holiday. It's been fifteen years since Aya's fateful visit to the Opera; unfortunately, the city and the world are in for shock with the appearance of the Twisted, faceless creatures emerging endlessly from the Babels, living towers appearing from the ground all across the instantly devastated city.
A year later, Aya is one of a handful of members of the CTI, an organization devoted to stopping the invasion. Aya herself is the only member with the Overdive ability - allowing Aya to transfer her consciousness into the body of another person, taking it over. The CTI intends to use the Overdive ability to send Aya into the past in order to alter the course of history during the course of the game’s episodic missions. This mechanic is thrilling and uniquely engaging, especially when a near-death and out-of-ammo Aya can literally dive into another soldier, taking their health and ammo over as her own.
The 3rd Birthday shares a common heritage with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, chiefly through the shared director, Hajime Tabata. Both titles are structured around the platform, featuring episodic or mission-based storytelling. Likewise, both games boast stellar combat mechanics, incredible music, and stunning cinematics. The trappings for a great game are here, but just like Crisis Core, the narrative is disjointed and outlandish. Arguably there are some great concepts here: the Babels are monstrous and imposing, and the Twisted enemies are frightening, albeit less inventive than enemies from prior games. The execution is where it falls apart.
Admittedly, the story makes more sense during subsequent playthroughs (or reading a plot synopsis), but the initial experience is disorienting, especially for series fans. Returning characters are few and far between, but their treatment here is perplexing. Maeda practically drools over Aya, whose characterization is also disappointing. Sure, there’s a plot reason for it, but it’s disheartening to see the steely warrior of the first two games replaced by a giant, moaning punching bag.
Story qualms aside, the 3rd Birthday deserves a second lease on life. I’m not talking about a dizzyingly upscaled Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Remaster job, either. Rather, Aya Brea deserves the Crisis Core Reunion treatment: graphical overhaul, redesigned user interface, and other slight improvements which would render the game presentable on modern consoles. The control scheme would certainly benefit from the second set of shoulder buttons – just like Crisis Core. One of my larger issues with the title is managing the camera during combat, especially during tense escape encounters with the incredibly dangerous Reaper enemies.
Assuming no changes to the story would be made, small modifications this time around could address some other complaints around the title. I’d prefer the developers include toggles for some mechanics, chiefly the one where the conditions of Aya’s outfit matches her health. Quite literally, too: portions of her top and jeans will disintegrate as she is struck by enemies. The same can be said for the excessive moaning done by Aya during combat. This is the first in the series to feature voice acting, and Aya spends most of the game squealing. These mechanics are tacky and exploitative; doubly so when considering the plot implications regarding Aya’s character for all but the final few minutes of the game.
Crisis Core: Reunion improves on the original in nearly every way, but for the plot. However, the improvements to the user interface, graphics, and especially the combat system redefine the title and make it a worthy modern entry into the Final Fantasy VII canon, rather than relegated to a legacy console. If given this same treatment, The 3rd Birthday could arguably redefine it’s own standing within the larger framework of the Parasite Eve universe. The developers could course correct on the more divisive aspects while refreshing the aspects that clearly worked the first time about.
Aya Brea fans are hungry (and let’s admit it, thirsty) for more action with their favorite action-horror femme. The 3rd Birthday is by no means a perfect game, but the tense combat and unique gameplay mechanics– bolstered by an incredible presentation – carries the day. Improving on this solid foundation, while also addressing the game’s deep narrative flaws, could elevate it to a modern classic. Doesn’t Aya deserve another chance?