The Third Birthday (PSP) – Roundtable Interview Recap

Woo. That was a frustrating little head-cold. But now I’m back on my feet, and I have a whole notebook full of scrawled notes and shorthand, which is unfortunate because I don’t read shorthand. Oh, wait… yeah, that was just a coffee stain. Fortunately, it didn’t seep through to the beautiful pages I reserved for our sit-down with director Hajime Tabata and artistic director Isamu Kamikokuryo. You might know them as the creative forces behind Square Enix’s The Third Birthday, the long-awaited next chapter in the Parasite Eve saga. If you don’t, you do now. They answered questions!

Our session began with Mr. Tabata demonstrating a build of the game for us, using a PSP rigged up to a television at the end of the table. Parasite Eve itself is, at its core, a very unique experience amongst RPGs; rather than a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a fantasy kingdom, part of the magic of the franchise is its portrayal of New York City, Right About Today. That’s a very powerful tool in the “Horror-Game” genre, and part of what made the first iteration of the series a breakout hit back in ’98.

Admittedly, the first moments of the demonstration looked to be a more-or-less standard squadron-based battle in the streets of NYC, though some evil-looking towery things were in the background and the hostiles seemed not entirely human.  Aya swapped through guns (authentic in this case, though we were informed that more fantastic arms would be appearing as well),  moved about the battlefield, and received support from her comrades in arms. Not exactly what I was expecting from a Parasite Eve title…

… and then she jumped into another guy’s body.

The four dull thuds heard shortly thereafter were the jaws of Jordan, myself, and the gentlemen from IGN and Game Informer hitting the conference-room table. She just… jumped… into a guy. Target guy then took on the distinguishing characteristics of Aya Brea – short blonde hair, slender figure, breasts. We were informed that the change was more a representation of the “will” of Aya moving from one unit to the next in the combat.

She just… jumped into a guy.

This is the “Overdive” system. (No bonus points if you see what they did there.) There is an unsettling parallel between what we, as gamers, are familiar with doing – controlling largescale conflicts by possessing and micromanaging strategic units – and what the Aya character can now do. It’s a level of meta-consciousness that calls into question the very nature of the game-gamer paradigm.

Unsettling on a unique level. Our old friend Parasite Eve returns.

Some rationality remains – inventory remains static between soldiers, and when they die, they stay that way (though Aya can jump out of a fresh corpse if the player is quick enough). The enemies are designed to be tough, to make the player exercise full control of the Overdive system and the associated strategies. The scenery is meant to evoke familiarity with the environment, but at the same time horrify the player by defiling the great bastion of modern culture that is New York City. (See also: Men in Black, Ghostbusters, Sakura Wars: So Long My Love.)

The demonstration ended with the acknowledgment of Mr. Kamikokuryo’s art department, and their extensive experience with HD content (Final Fantasy XIII, in particular). The artistic direction and graphical quality are utmost priorities for The Third Birthday, and the evocative cityscapes and psychedelic Overdive effects attest to their skill.

Mr. Tabata then opened the floor to questions. When asked how newcomers to the Parasite Eve series would take to the title, he expressed the hope that they’d come to appreciate it on its own merits. The backstory, though helpful, won’t be necessary to appreciate The Third Birthday, though callbacks, references, and easter eggs may be apparent to those with an understanding of the games.

The topic of the game’s origins and original destination – cellphones – arose. Mr. Tabata gave a number of reasons for the move to the PSP, citing a desire for a higher-spec, higher-quality product; a more global appeal (as compatible cellphone networks aren’t yet available in many regions), and the platform’s compatability with the project’s intended budget and scope. The development team felt that the PSP would provide the best possible combination of these factors, and hope that this title will re-energize the Parasite Eve franchise. Certainly, the ability to portray Aya more realistically (both in terms of graphics and character) will work to these ends.

The next questions centered on the length of the game experience. While the overall length of the game was still in question, Mr. Tabata indicated that each combat engagement would be a significant tactical affair, likely in excess of 20-30 minutes. While no ad-hoc multiplayer is in store at this time, the developers hinted that a successful PSP release may, in turn, lead to future console iterations where such online elements may arise.

Jordan and I would like to thank Mr. Tabata and Mr. Kamikokuryo, as well as the whole Square Enix E3 staff, for this opportunity. Be sure to check RandomNPC for The Third Birthday news and updates! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Overdive out of this computer chair and into bed.

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