by Josh Butler
reviewed on PSP
Also disappointingly implemented are the RPG elements of this RPG cover-shooter. Weapons can be bought and upgraded but the statistical differences between them are minimal. The distinction between them is then further undermined as you buy parts that can completely alter their original strengths. There is greater depth in the Over Energy upgrades you apply to Aya's DNA, but as you experiment with the chains of 2 or 3 pieces on the 3-by-3 grid it quickly becomes clear that without prior knowledge of the results that will be garnered from each gene mutation, it's really pot-luck whether you will end up with the improvements you desire.
The 3rd Birthday is at its best during the simple blast-and-run sequences which make up the majority of the early 'episodes'. Here the auto-aim facilitates easy blasting and the phantom thumb syndrome of the missing analogue stick does not cause difficulties in such linear level design. Of course, not content with such a vanilla experience, Square-Enix inject plenty of set-pieces. Every one of which helpfully highlights the game's many flaws, often demanding a dexterity of controls and camera work not possible in the game they've designed. Success in these sections often relies on fast escapes or perfectly targeted attacks, and so failure can't be solved by any difficulty downgrade. The final completion of these sequences will most likely reward the player with sheer exasperation rather than any sense of achievement.
During battles you are encouraged to use your overdive abilities to leap in to more strategically positioned allies, or dive in to your foes themselves and burst them from the inside. On their introduction these promise to be innovative twists on the tactical shooter format, but they soon fall in to the same malaise of poorly implemented controls. You will often find frustration as you dive into an ally during a critical moment in which you actually wanted to possess your enemy. Your overdrive can also be built up so Aya can use a limit break in which she moves, fires and overdives faster; but timing these to best a particularly challenging foe can backfire as you waste your overdrive meter on an enemy immune to all but a specific attack.
The looping music is standard action game fare but it does a solid job of accompanying the admittedly repetitive action. And for their part, the voice actors do a far superior job to the somewhat clumsy and vague translation they have to work with. You will tire of Aya's grunts, however, as they result not only from the regular occasions that she takes damage, but also when she rolls and runs out of ammunition. The 3rd Birthday is a game that looks better than it sounds, and aside from the attractive (if vacuous) cinematics, the in-game graphics prove that the loyalty Square have showed to Sony's handheld has paid off. Characters and enemies look and animate well, and the impressive displays in the sky give much needed set-dressing absent in interior levels.
After 10 hours of linear progression and incomprehensible plot, The 3rd Birthday screeches to a halt. With a bonus ending to unlock, a regular ending to comprehend and a bizarre ability system to get to grips with, the dedicated may find reason for a second play through. Otherwise, the shallow customisation options and little significance to the Parasite Eve series provokes the mystery of where they would get such dedication from. For the rest, the game offers a mediocre shooter with some sparks of enjoyment to pull them through the short, yet often tortuous playtime. It is not the worst crime action game committed to the PSP, but neither is it the Parasite Eve sequel we've all waited these last 10 years for (yes we have).
A simple yet polished, no frills PSP shooter
A mire of frustrating controls and incomprehensible plot