Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
The 3rd Birthday
Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Wow. This is still a thing, huh? I have been hearing talk of The 3rd Birthday for years now and I was starting to get suspicious if it would ever come out. In what was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the Parasite Eve franchise, The 3rd Birthday drops any mention of it's former franchise, but still recounts the events leading up to the cult PSOne classic. By mixing elements of survival horror, action-RPG's, and third person shooting, The 3rd Birthday hopes to breathe new life into an aging, lesser known IP.

So it would seem that The 3rd Birthday finds itself in a bit of an identity crisis, struggling to appeal to the old fans from a franchise that hasn't been touched in well over 10 years, but still inviting enough to new players on a new platform. The end result is a breathtakingly gorgeous handheld experience that has a chance to shine on its own in a barren drought of PSP releases. The 3rd Birthday, without a doubt, looks incredible. Production standards are always set high when Square-Enix is involved and this long gestating experiment definitely has the visual chops to compete with the very best the handheld has to offer. It was a pleasant treat for my weary eyes to see giant, gnarly monsters tear through bumping nightclubs while main character, Aya Brea, flees in the recreated streets of Manhattan. The flash of explosions and slick Menu interface is definitely a clean look for The 3rd Birthday and it goes a long way in making the portable story feel like a grown-up console release.

The voice acting is solid. Aya and company seem to have a decent hold of the situation and convey the proper drama accordingly, but the dialogue and writing can get a bit hairy in spots. Given that the subject matter is about genetic mutations and DNA splicing, it can all get a little heady, and frankly, makes the story hard to follow. If you are able to follow the body-jumping genetic horror story, you are in for a good ride.

As I mentioned earlier, The 3rd Birthday finds itself in a strange sense of identity crisis. On the one hand, The 3rd Birthday is a survival horror game full of great atmosphere and creepy monsters to stalk you around the city. On another hand, it is a suitably deep action-RPG where you upgrade your skills and equipment over time by earning experience from monster slaying. You can also swap out abilities from a custom skill grid (more on that in a minute.) The kicker is that everything is housed inside of a third-person shooter akin to last year's excellent Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

Aya, the heroine of the series, is part of a secret government agency known as the CTI. Her role as an investigator is to solve the mystery of a strange and wild outbreak that began a year earlier. This special investigation is unique though because it is only taking place in a special machine that allows Aya to inhabit the memories and bodies of those who lived through the incident. (Think Matrix meets time travel.) With this knowledge in hand, Aya and her crew will have to get to the bottom of a large, inter-dimensional plot that leads to the full blown outbreak of the other Parasite Eve titles.

All of The 3rd Birthday is broken into small chunks that re-live specific outbreaks and catastrophes from giant creatures known only as "The Twisted." The Twisted serve as the main enemies and bosses throughout your horror adventure, but luckily through the magic of a mystery machine, Aya is able to embody any allies on the scene. Called "Overdive," this unique ability allows battles to be more strategic while Aya finds a more advantageous host to occupy. All of Aya's abilities and equipment transfer with her and the clever ability makes for some interesting gameplay elements and puzzles of choosing the right host to make the best escape.

There is a decent amount of variety packed into a tight handheld adventure. The monotony of running and shooting from monsters can wear a little thin, but a few vehicle sequences help to break up the pace. At times, it feels as though The 3rd Birthday wants to extend itself into more multiplayer-focused realms more akin to something like Monster Hunter with the huge boss fights and variable skill trees, but the limitation of only a single player ultimately hurts the experience because you can see where it would be fun to eliminate some Twisted with a partner or two.

From the outset, The 3rd Birthday is not an easy game. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, I found myself dying more times than I care to admit, but it wasn't from lack of skill. In my experience, the lack of communication of mission objectives or confusing layouts caused my death more times than nasty monsters. Plus, the iffy camera sometimes obscures where your attacker is coming from which makes the necessary guesswork fatal. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was unfair or broken, but it could have used a bit more polish to make a smoother gaming experience.

Game Mechanics:
The main driving mechanic of The 3rd Birthday is undoubtedly the Overdive system. While in battle, Aya can assume control of any nearby allies on the field and use their positions to her advantage. The system works remarkably well in a pinch, but it is often hard to really know who Aya might be jumping into. The constant switching back and forth makes for some compelling chase sequences, but the main use will be to switch hosts when Aya is running low on health.

The other main component of operating Aya in the field of The 3rd Birthday is equipping her with the right genomes. Yes. You can alter Aya's DNA sequence to give her new abilities like health regeneration, better proficiency with firearms, and even her damage threshold. Based on a 3x3 grid, you collect new DNA chains in battle and mix and match the chains together to alter the entire grid's effectiveness. Eventually, you will have a bevy of grids to equip, but the idea of a mini-game to equip better abilities is under-used and works well in The 3rd Birthday.

The biggest issue with The 3rd Birthday anyone will likely have is the amount of reverence they possess for previous Parasite Eve games. While The 3rd Birthday doesn't entirely wipe away the mention of past franchises, it might as well be a new game. For those coming into this universe for the first time, there is enough compelling gameplay and spooky atmosphere to make it worth a look. While it is certainly a good time through and through, The 3rd Birthday mostly suffers from the inability to decide what it wants to do. Whether it wants to be a survival horror, an action-RPG, or a third-person shooter, The 3rd Birthday's influence is admirable, but the disparate parts of the gameplay don't mesh well enough together to create a terribly new or exciting experience.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.