My cells are magic?!—RPG Club Plays Parasite Eve Part 2
Welcome back to Pixels or Death’s RPG Club, our weekly feature where we plow through classic RPGs and give them the critical eye they deserve, for better or worse. It’s the RPG Club’s second week with Parasite Eve and things are moving along quickly. For this entry, we didn’t ask that our writers reaching any point in particular. With such a surprisingly short playtime, we don’t want to rush past any of those meaty details we love to dig into and ponder.
Instead, our writers took the time to think about Parasite Eve on a grander scale, including the atypical battle system, the straight-faced scientific baloney layered into the plot, and why we’ll probably never see another game quite like this one.
Science, in the absence of god, can be the next best thing to magic. Parasite Eve, a game that could charitably be described as science fiction, understands this better than a lot of media. Its plot centres on a dubious theory of cellular mutation (the mitochondria are taking over!) in order to drive an otherwise boilerplate monster thriller. Armed with an introductory level biology class level of education, Parasite Eve uses science to explain the existence of freakish dog creatures, healing spells, and sentient masses of orange goop. That all of this is presented with the same kind of straight-faced gravitas of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie is one of its greatest strengths. We just don’t see such ridiculous stories told so matter-of-factly anymore.
Parasite Eve is suffused with the spirit of the 1990s, a time when rapid technological advancement made it seem like just about anything was possible. The Internet wasn’t just a great communications and research tool, it was also a place where you could cyberdive through multi-coloured info waves.This same wide-eyed view of science is evident in the game’s dialogue between scientists and police. It colours discussions regarding how Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene theory applies to a rampaging monster. Laboratory experiments give Aya the ability to cast “Haste” or “Confuse” on enemies. When technology has been romanticized and the Dark Age belief in witchcraft, alchemy, and miracles have been rationalized away, we’re left with scientific reasons for magical phenomenon.
I love this about Parasite Eve. I love how earnest it is when its being incredibly dumb. It’s a time capsule of pre-millennial optimism that brings me right back to being a kid who believed that Michael Crichton was some kind of prophet and that Reboot was a real glimpse into the inner workings of a video game console. Keep on believing in magic Parasite Eve. I’m having a great time watching you explain how it works.
It’s easy to forget how much the world changes. In the sixteen years since Parasite Eve‘s debut, the political and cultural landscape of the world has changed so much that it seems impossible for a game like this to happen now. What specifically am I referring to? Terrorism.
Parasite Eve‘s plot, from the point of view of the normal people experiencing life in this fictional New York, is about terrorism. The game even uses that language itself during a scene involving a press conference after the initial opera level. A reporter asks the police about whether they’re calling the incident a terrorist attack, to which they reply yes. The scene then continues normally as though terrorism isn’t a real concern or headline worthy news. In fact, it isn’t until Aya spills the pseudo-scientific mitochondria stuff that the reporters seem at all interested.
This would never happen now. Ever. The world’s consciousness, and most certainly the minds of Americans, has changed drastically around the concept of terrorism and disasters. And that makes sense, since 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Arab Spring, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and countless public shootings have altered our perceptions of safety and response in starkly negative ways (probably forever). Parents are worried about sending their kids to school or to the mall with friends because of tragic gun violence. People are scared of boxes or a misplaced bag left on subway platforms because it might have a bomb tucked inside. People flee the coasts anytime a tropical storm forms knowing that they might be stuck without help for who knows how long if conditions get bad enough.
But not in 1997. In 1997, we were invincible. Despite some highly publicized cases of international disasters and terrorism, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, immediate danger from “bad guys” looking to destroy The West or get the highest victim count didn’t even seem possible. Those were someone else’s concerns, some other country’s problem.
So to see that naivety put on display so casually in Parasite Eve is jarring now. Dozens of people burst into flames and died at a major cultural landmark during the opening credits, and it’s no big deal. The police will get that terrorist, of course they will. People flock to a canceled concert for the wanted criminal ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN CENTRAL PARK, and it’s just…whatever. The plot’s attitude could not be more blasé. Later on, after another swath of people are reduced to cinders (or more accurately, a gelatinous mass), the characters finally seem to wizen up and evacuate New York, which happens basically overnight. A city of eight million people emptied in a day. Can you imagine?
No, of course you can’t, because we know better now. We all do. But back in 1997, we were invincible.
Parasite Eve’s combat is really growing on me. Running around to dodge enemies felt bland, at first. But as I delved into some of the combat’s nuances, I began to enjoy myself more.
The biggest plus I can give to the game’s combat system is that hoarding is actually rewarded. That isn’t to say that other RPGs punish you for hoarding—it’s just a moot point. There are essentially two RPG hoarding situations: you can have a bunch of weapons/items/armor, thinking they might be useful at some point, before reaching the end and realizing they aren’t. Or you pick up loot with the sole intent to discard it for virtual currency.
However, in Parasite Eve, toting around a variety of weapons is beneficial. This is because “tools” that you pick up while playing allow you to transfer stat bonuses from one weapon to another. I love this aspect. There are so many different types of weapons in Parasite Eve: Pistols, SMGs, Uzis, shotguns—the works. They all have different ranges and rates of fire. Now, say you’ve been using a shotgun for a large portion of the game, when you stumble across a sniper rifle. “I haven’t used a sniper rifle at all while playing this game,” you muse. But the rifle is weaker. With the “tool”, you can transfer your already upgraded shotgun’s stats on to the rifle, giving it a boost. This encourages constant experimentation, without punishing you for changing your mind. The system keeps me engaged throughout my play-through. If I ever feel like a particular weapon is getting stale, I can just transfer to a different one as soon as I stumble across it.
Parasite Eve’s story doesn’t interest me very much, with its unexplained scientific mishaps. But the combat keeps me playing.
Next week, the club will continue our discussion of Parasite Eve by moving into the end stages of the game and reflecting on how this evil mitochondria business wraps up. In the meantime, you can catch up on last week’s post right here and feel free to give us your thoughts down below in the comments section.