During Christmas, sometimes you just want to kill things.
We all have our Christmas traditions: giving gifts, watching holiday films, listening to Christmas music, arguing about Die Hard. One of our sorely missing holiday traditions is the inclusion of Christmas video games, mostly because these are a rare commodity. Maybe you boot up your Kingdom Hearts II save file to play through the Christmas Halloween Town, or play enough of Bayonetta 2 to experience the holiday moments.
One of my yearly traditions is to play through the cult classic Square Enix title, Parasite Eve. Just like Die Hard is inarguably a Christmas movie, Parasite Eve is inarguably a Christmas game.
During Christmas of 1997, a strange virus breaks out in New York City. Unlike a flu pandemic or other viral breakout, this virus makes its hosts spontaneously combust before absorbing their essence and mutating them into ungodly monstrosities. Aya Brea of the NYPD is attending a holiday play with a date when the entire audience bursts into flame, killing by a mutant being that calls herself “Eve” who has taken host in the body of the actress, Melissa. Determined to stop this viral breakout and expose the mystery behind it all, Aya becomes a one-woman army in the six-day rush to stop Mitochondria Eve from destroying New York City and mutating all its denizens in an apocalyptic rampage fueled by the mitochondria’s desire to wipe out the human race.
Parasite Eve is a unique entry in the survival horror genre. While utilizing a few of the typical tropes, Parasite Eve also includes some RPG mechanics that add several layers to the survival gameplay. Gun and armor customization, traditional experience and level ups, “Magic” in the vein of the mutant mitochondria PE powers, and “random” encounters and boss fights make it feel more like a Final Fantasy title than Resident Evil, at times. Featuring a stellar soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura and character designs by Tetsuya Nomura, it certainly feels like the Resident Evil equivalent of Final Fantasy.
The combat system is also quite different from what is typically used in survival horror titles. While Aya gains an absurd arsenal of guns throughout the game, the general combat is more like Vagrant Story lite than Silent Hill. Upon pressing the action button, a pentakis icosidodecahedron dome blooms out of Aya and shows the range at which enemies can be attacked. Body parts can be targeted in a similar fashion to Vagrant Story, though most of the combat is straightforward, even after acquiring more interesting PE spells such as Haste or Liberation. The gameplay is pretty accessible and easy to understand, and the steady development of Aya’s powers are satisfying. Like many Square games of this era, more knowledgeable players can dig into the meat of the gun customization and truly break the power level of the game.
One of the reasons Parasite Eve is a tradition for me is because it’s delightfully short — most of my plays cap out at 8 hours. Playing through Parasite Eve feels like reading a beloved novel or watching one of my favorite Christmas films; it’s a comfort experience, the gaming equivalent of sipping whiskey and eggnog. Starting a file in the second or third week of December and playing for even one hour a day will ensure that you finish the title before Christmas rolls around.
Despite the body horror that is rampant throughout the game, there is something undeniably festive about Parasite Eve. The themes of human perseverance, camaraderie, and survival in the face of an overwhelming menace fits into the holiday feelings of crushing capitalist control and hopelessness. The game enjoys a lively cast of characters, and despite the short run time of the overall experience, there’s plenty of mystery and dialogue throughout the storyline. It’s filled with truly unique creature designs, a haunting soundtrack, and some delightfully disgusting cutscenes.
Parasite Eve is unconventional, even by Square Enix standards. It was the first M-rated title that Square put out, and it’s the direct (unofficial) sequel to a novel of the same name. Instead of taking place in an overwhelmingly fantasy setting, the game happens in a detailed representation of a real-world city. The rampant and apocalyptic destruction caused by Mitochondria Eve is certainly fantastical, but every time I replay it Parasite Eve feels more contained and singular than many Final Fantasy titles. It’s a cult classic for good reason, and a forgotten gem to boot — Parasite Eve represents an era of flagrant creativity that Square has not experienced in decades.
My only critique of Parasite Eve is one that is no fault of the game itself; I wish it were more accessible by modern standards. It was released on the PSN almost 9 years ago, making it playable on the PS Vita (my preferred method) or the PS3. Sure, emulation is always possible, but Parasite Eve could enjoy an entire generational celebration if released with a small facelift on a newer console. It deserves to be enjoyed, especially if you’re a horror fan, and deserves to be on everyone’s list of yearly Christmas traditions.
Truly, it’s the greatest Christmas video game ever made.
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