Orange Goo Monsters—RPG Club Plays Parasite Eve Part 3
Welcome to Pixels or Death’s RPG Club, the space our writers have given themselves to play old RPGs and not feel like they’re “falling behind.” Our intrepid players are still clawing their way through Square Enix’s PS1 title, Parasite Eve.
By this point, most of our crew has either finished the game or has ventured forth into the final stages. Aya’s battle against the wicked Eve has taken a dark turn, both literally and figuratively, plopping her in one of the gaming world’s least beloved level archetypes: sewers. While this has greatly upset one of our writers, another has taken the time to give credit for racial representation where it’s due, while I myself wonder why my parents let me anywhere near Parasite Eve.
Reid McCarter: “SEWERS. STINKY, SMELLY SEWERS.”
Does anyone like sewers? Like, not just in videogames, but in real life too, sewers are pretty much the worst. Sure, they serve a very important infrastructural purpose, but they smell awful, they’re hot and dark, and they’re massive labyrinths that are pretty much impossible to navigate without a map. Despite this, many games—especially role-playing games—seem to think it’s necessary to include at least one awful sewer area that players are forced to slog through.
Parasite Eve‘s sewer level sees Aya Brea descend below the streets of Chinatown to chase down the orange goop that now constitutes the Central Park audience transformed by Eve near the game’s opening. As sewers go it’s not quite as bad as it could be. From manhole to exit the entire trip through puddles of human waste and twisting passages is thankfully brief.
Still, in an apparent effort to simulate the complexity of New York City’s real world underground the area is structured in a needlessly confusing way. Moving from one end of the screen to another leads to duplicate rooms, obviously meant to make navigating the level as disorienting as possible. Where the rest of the game features unique pre-rendered backgrounds, filled with the sort of details that help serve as exploration landmarks, the sewer is comprised almost entirely of bland, grey and green backdrops with no distinguishing features. Why would spending time in this boring, ugly place seem like a good idea to Parasite Eve‘s developer? For that matter, why would designing these kind of sewers seem like a good idea to any RPG developer?
Are sewer levels just pallette cleansers? Before and after Aya’s trip to the New York City underground there is a respective sense of dread and relief. Entering the sewer is an immediate test of will that, having been endured, makes the following museum section of the game more enjoyable than it may otherwise have been. Maybe games need to make players drudge through sewers to appreciate how good they have it during the rest of the experience. Maybe there’s a heavy-handed metaphor for life hiding just beneath this sentiment…
More likely sewers just suck and we’re all better off not thinking so much about them.
Well, we’ve reached the end of Parasite Eve. To be honest, I found the story and plodding pace to be a bit of a let down. But I expected this to be the case, due to the nature of PS1 JRPGs in general. What I didn’t expect, however, was how attached I would be to the characters of this game.
Parasite Eve has some of the most well rounded and balanced characters I’ve ever seen in a videogame. The fact that this is a game from before 2000 is momentous. Before playing Parasite Eve, I had thought that Lee Everett, of Walking Dead fame, was the only black character in a videogame to not be defined by his skin color. Daniel Dollis proved me wrong.
Danile Dollis is a New York Police Officer that accompanies Aya Brea on her mission to defeat Eve. He is brash and headstrong – both traits that irked me at the beginning of the game. “Here we go,” I thought as I saw him running about. “All that’s left is for him to shout a string of expletives, and we’ll have another Barret Wallace on our hands.”
Boy, did Daniel show me. He is slowly revealed to be a nuanced and well-developed character; one that is willing to do everything he can to save his friends, but who must also learn to balance his job and spending time with his son, whom he has sole custody over. Throughout the game, Daniel is shown struggling with doing his duty and neglecting time with his family.
Granted, this isn’t Pulitzer Prize worthy character development: “the cop that learns the meaning of caring for his family” is a well worn archtype in entertainment. But here was an African American character in a videogame that was developed beyond being the “token black guy.” He isn’t sporting an afro or cracking stupid jokes or making a fool of himself. He’s diving headlong into this mess with Aya, shouting encouragement along the way. It’s a very refreshing thing to see, especially in a Japanese RPG.
Beyond that, the characters in Parasite Eve are diverse across the board. Aya is half-American and half-Japanese, while also being a female protagonist that takes charge without being overtly sexualized or stereotyped. A doctor named Hans Klamp is an important character. And Wayne Garcia helps you out on your journey by upgrading your weapons.
Say what you will about Parasite Eve’s story, but its characters are varied and portrayed accurately given the circumstances that they are in. I applaud the designers of the game for pulling that off.
Mike Barrett: “Maybe I shouldn’t have played this as a child.”
As I reached the closing areas of Parasite Eve, I began to understand that it has a special place in the history of Square Enix, despite being often forgotten by both gamers and the company itself. Not because it did anything particularly outstanding, but because it was their first game to earn a “Mature” rating.
Compared to many M-rated games on the market today, there’s relatively little contained inside Parasite Eve that should give parents cause to worry. Perhaps the higher quality cutscenes of animals mutating into oozing beasts and Eve’s late game nudity would trouble some, but most of the mature themes are tucked safely away in scientific jargon and plot. I played the game as a kid and know that all of the adult stuff like scientifically engineered semen and the threat of terrorism flew right over my head. I just fought monsters. (That’s what you do in games, right?)
Yet those things are what truly deserve the heightened rating from the ESRB. The game focuses on the real world, using actual locations from New York as the setting. And despite the fantastical nature of gameplay involving rapid mutations and superpowers, everything roots itself in science to varying degrees of accuracy. It’s like a “What if?” story about our cells and evolutionary history, which can be a terrifying idea once it takes hold of your mind, like something out of The Twilight Zone.
In that way, Parasite Eve hinges on that reality factor like a much more discussed game lately—The Last of Us. No, I’m not saying Parasite Eve is on the same level as The Last of Us, but I am saying that their meta-narratives operate on the same principle. While neither game explicitly positions itself as something that’s troubling because “it could happen to you,” that is the feeling the narratives constantly motion towards.
You might have to make tough choices and you might lose control of yourself to some disease or outside force. Given the same situation, you probably wouldn’t be able to survive, which is the notion almost all of modern horror rests on. That’s terrifying, and justly deserves an M-rating.
That’s all for this week’s entry. Stop by next week when we offer up our final thoughts on Parasite Eve as well as reveal the next game we’ll tackle. You can also catch up on our earlier entries in Part 1 and Part 2.