Parasite Eve 2
by Vanor Orion

I remember buying this game totally off the cuff when it first came out ten years ago...damn, it's been that long? Well, anyways, I bought the game without any research or reading any reviews. I just saw it sitting up on the shelf at Toy's R Us and looked at the back of the box.

-Pretty CG cutscenes.

-Precisely one picture of gameplay.

-Picture of Aya taking a shower.

"I'm gonna buy it!"

Mind you, at the time, I don't think I'd beaten the original Parasite Eve. I don't even know if I owned it at the time. I had played it...and I sucked at it, as I sucked at all things RPG-related at that point in my gaming development. At the time I was wading into the deeper end of the gaming pool with games like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid, so much to my shock and delight, as it happened Parasite Eve 2 took a rather drastic change from being less of an RPG and more of a survival-horror game...yet still managed to retain a great deal of distinction from the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or any of the other survival-horror titles of the time.

So Parasite Eve 2 picks up a year or so after the first one left off. After catastrophe was averted in New York, Aya joins up with the FBI's newly-formed MIST team, who are responsible for dealing with new outbreaks of mitochondrial flare-ups (referred to as Neo-Mitochondrial Creatures) across the US and snuffing them out without letting on to the public of their existence. And right away the game begins in MIST headquarters in LA, where you play Aya as she is practicing on the gun range, which serves as the game's tutorial to help the player get accustomed to the rather substantial changes in gameplay from the first game to this one.

Clearly veterans of the original game were probably thrown off by the shift that the gameplay took in the sequel. While the original game is very similar in terms of presentation (pre-rendered backgrounds and static camera angles), this game definitely feels more like a survival-horror game and less like an action-RPG. The most obvious indication is how Aya controls. On the first Aya had free-roam 3D controls, whereas on on this, she has the standard "tank" controls of most survival-horror games of the time.

The main issue here though is actually something that's carried over from the original game. Mainly that movement kinda feels sluggish. On the first game whenever you moved Aya around it felt as though you weren't really going anywhere fast, and that kind of feeling is present when you move Aya around in the sequel. While it's not as annoying as it was on the first game, it does take some getting used to once you get into the combat.

And that's another major departure when comparing 2 to the first game. Rather than being a semi-turned based action-RPG, combat is almost completely in real time in PE2. Rather than there being random encounters, enemies will be present in some areas of the game. If the enemies get the jump on her, or of you press Square, then Aya enters combat mode, and you go about killing the enemies with an assortment of weapons and Aya's trademark mitochondrial powers in real-time. So rather than having to wait for a guage to fill, you can pretty much plug away at the enemies without having to stop save for reloading or running out of MP or consuming items.

As a result, most of the RPG elements of the first game are either gone, or have been made more transparent and implemented more practically. For starters, all the weapon customization from the first game is gone, which kind of sucks. On the other hand the player isn't spending time juggling their inventory with tools and transfering weapon stats and whatnot. Instead, there is a pretty huge variety of weapons in this game split up into various categories, such as handguns, rifles, shotguns, and so on. It's like the first game but the pros and cons of each category and weapon make much more sense compared to the first game.

One thing I really like is that all weapons have stats. They have ammo capacity, rate of fire, range and weight. The first three speak for themselves, but weight can affect how quickly you raise and handle your weapons, so smaller weapons balance out weaker attack power by being easier to handle than the larger rifles and shotguns you find in the game. Each weapon's attack power is affected by the kind of ammo you use, which there is a variety of for each weapon type. Handguns, shotguns, and grenade launchers have a variety of ammo types, featuring greater damage output or even special quality such as the Firefly and R. Slugs for the shotguns, which can do greater damage to enemies weak to fire, or pierce through an enemy's defense, respectively.

What I really love about this is how it's all implemented: all the weapons have their pros and cons, and all fill in their niches, while still having a good amount of variety for the player to choose from, and it feels very easy to manage and understand, which was something that was kind of lacking in the first game. On the first game you would find stronger handguns or stronger rifles or shotguns, but it didn't necessarily feel like an improvement due to how the weapons and combat was set up in the original. On Parasite EVe 2 when you find (or purchase) a new weapon while it may not seem like an improvement over something you're already using, more often than not it has some hidden or belated advantage that comes into play at certain points of the game. For example handguns have the hidden ability to sometimes do critical damage with each shot fired, giving them some parity with the larger weapons which normally can't do that except under special circumstances.

The PO8 handgun for example only has 8 rounds in its clip and isn't very spectacular as far as handguns go, yet not long after you get one you can find a special clip that extends its ammo capacity to over 30 rounds. Later you find a suppressed handgun with a small clip, but it has a built-in flashlight that's useful against blinding stronger enemies and offing light-sensitive and weaker ones, and it has has a high-critical rate.

Another thing is that while I said that the weapon/stat customization from the first game is gone, that's not entirely the case. Certain weapons in the game can be customized, and customized a great deal in fact. The M4A1 rifle for instance can have a great variety of attachments to allow it to do all sorts of things. You can put a bayonet on it, two extras clips to increase the magazine capacity from 30 to 90, to attaching a grenade launcher, flamethrower and even a fucking laser cannon. And there are other weapons in the game that feature some level of customization, either through ammo or with attachments.

The same goes for body armor in this game. Armor in the first game was open to the same stat building and skill customizing as weapons, however, like the weapons, Parasite Eve 2 takes all that and simplifies, making it much easier to manage. Normally Aya can only carry 20 items on her at a time, including weapons, ammo, and restorative items (and blissfully excluding Key Items to their own inventory), yet when in combat Aya can't access her inventory like normal. Instead her various armors feature item slots for her to attach items and weapons to take into battle with, and various armors can be augmented with special item pouches that can boost the armor's item attachment rate by one. Furthermore, all armors have their own stat boosts and passive skills, either confering HP/MP bonuses, and giving immunities to status effects or giving perks to Aya's own combat abilities, such as regaining MP when injured or surviving a fatal blow, or better weapon handling.

God damn, I went off on a tangent there, didn't I? Let's get back to where I left off, the beginning.

Anyways, after you do a little practice shooting on the range, Aya gets sent to LA Akropolis, which has been overrun by NMCs and have slaughtered the fuck out of the SWAT team that got sent in first. When you first arrive it's presented in a semi-real-time CG cinematic, simlar to the sprite-to-FMV transitions on FF7 and FF8. You walk along and survey the carnage outside, including the crashing of a police chopper. After a little chit-chat with a officer outside, you step inside and ride the elevator up to get control of the situation.

All you have going in is an M93R with three-round burst, and a Tonfa Baton (which is more a joke in this than they were in the first game). Very quickly you can scour some of the deceased SWAT for their weapons and gear. Things play out very much like your typical survival-horror game. You explore where you can, find items and events to move things fowards and explore new areas. As mentioned before, you don't encounter enemies randomly, but instead the game rather heavily embraces the fact that Aya is now a part of a unit dedicated to hunting down and killing NMCs. So as you go through each area and exterminate monsters, you rack up Bounty Points, which can be used to purchase weapons, armor, ammo, and various other items from vendors in certain areas of the game. And you also accumulate Experience Points, which are used to revive and strengthen Aya's various dormant mitochondrial powers.

It's actually pretty well-done how its implemented. When you reach certain story points of the game, enemies may respawn in places you previously cleared out. By looking at Aya's GPS, you can see "hotspots" highlighted in red where enemies have reappeared. You don't have to go back and clear them out, but doing so can sometimes net you extra items and rare ammo that enemies will sometimes drop, on top of more BP and Exp to spend on weapons and strengthening Aya's powers. So the player can choose to be thorough and make things easier on themselves, or choose to try and get by with the bare minimum, which is very possible in this game. It adds to the game's variety and makes the game's difficulty more up to the player than it simply being something that's static and scripted.

Speaking of which, Aya's got a pretty impressive (and consistently more useful) array of Mitochondrial powers in PE2. What's really nice is that her powers are better organized than on the first one, and she only has 12 powers, total, and none of them are crappy filler, which Aya tended to have on the first one. She has four "elements" of powers whose qualities are all perfectly in alignment with their theme. Fire gives her access to Pyrokinesis and other combustive offense abilities. Water gives her access to healing and status removing abilties. Earth gives her access to defensive and offensive support skills that let her reduce damage taken and allowes her to give more out. And finally she has electrical abilities that tend to inflict disruptive and poison attacks.

And none of these powers are useless. While some are more useful than others, or more often used than others, they all have have a use and can be very effective at certain times during the course of the game. In essence, like everything else in Parasite Eve 2, Aya's powers have been simplified and refined, compared to the first game, which like almost everything else in PE2, is for the better.

Anyways, you investigate the Akropolis for a little while, and then encounter the mastermind of the situation, an impossibly large and not-quite-human guy named No.9. After getting through a rather harrowing boss fight with him, he explodes the Akropolis with Aya and her cohort barely escaping. Afterwards, Aya is sent to the Mojave desert, to the aptly-named hellhole known as Dryfield, where there has been reports of NMCs. Aya arrives to find the place abandoned and overrun with NMC, save for a one-legged hardass and gun enthusaist, and a mysterious laid-back Private Investigator, and eventually you are led to an underground bunker which has been manufacturing the NMCs that you've previously encountered.

And that's where I really need to just talk about everything that I love about this game, and how it stands out compared to a lot of the other survival-horror games of the time.

One thing is that strangely enough, there is no voice-acting. There's quite a few cutscenes in the game, but none of them voiced. Rarely you might hear a character make a laughably phony grunt or screaming sound, but no actual talking. It's really odd, and and originally I thought it was kind of a turn-off that the game had no voice-acting. On the other hand, looking back on how badly a lot of the voice-acting in most videogames of the time have aged, not having voice-acting has been kind of a godsend to the game in hindsight.

Another thing that is interesting is that the PE2 hasn't totally done away with the RPG elements of the first. As stated before, you still get exp and now currency to purchase new weapons and armor and improve your powers. You also have HP and MP, which are affected by your armor, but also by HP/MP boosting items you can find in the game. You also see numbers when you strike an enemy, so you can figure up how much damage you're doing/need to do in order to kill them.

Another thing is that this game looks really damn pretty, even if its all just pre-rendered. There's a great deal of variety and detail put into the environment, and not only that but a great deal of emphasis has been put into interacting with it. Right at the very beginning Aya can investigate things in her own headquarters and she will go into a great deal of background about various things, such as her time with MIST, background on her teammates, and her own musings about her personal life, and the like. Also, you can sometimes come across hidden clues and answers to questions you might find yourself being asked later. On the whole, investigating the scenery feels a lot more important and productive than it does on your average Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Hell, even the save points are set up like this, since you call back to HQ to save, you can also get updates and catch vital clues or pass info along to your comrades back at in LA, which can actually affect the outcome of the game later. The last thing is that we get to know Aya through her internal quips. Very often her internalizing carries with it a affible sarcastic wit, yet sometimes it gives way to sobering obersvation and realization. It kind of goes a pretty long way towards fleshing Aya out as a person without having to resort to cinematics to do so.

And of course there's the rather pretty CG bits in the game. And of course Aya's shower scene (that precedes a rather horrendous and tough boss fight). Actually, that's something to comment on. In the CG scenes, Aya is still seen as being quite average in terms of body appearance. In the first game she seemed to across as being very lithe and frail. In the CG scenes she seems to have filled out a bit more and gained a little weight. However her in-game presentation she is got quite a big booty, and seems to have a bit more weight than her CG counterpart. Just kind of a weird thing that the player will probably notice really early on in the game. That said, the CG in the game isn't used to an abusive degree, and only when necessary, usually to show off something that you couldn't show with the pre-rendered graphics, but when it is used, holy shit it's effective, showing horrofic transformations in ghastly detail, to some action-packed stuff towards the end of the game.

And the enemies in the game are quite freaky looking, and pretty scary. Because the game is in real-time, there's a lot more that the NMCs can do that the enemies in the first game couldn't. There's monsters that turn invisible, monsters that try to get close to you and explode, monsters that will try to use the environment to their advantage, monsters that try to swarm you, that try to ram you. Later on you even fight cyborgs that not only deadly, but also smart.

The bosses in this game are a fucking mutated offense to a loving god. And also very unique-looking and also tend to be extremely challenging. I have to say the developers outdid themselves with a lot of the enemy design in this game. It almost feels like a less surreal and less sexual take on H.R. Giger's work.

Another thing I want to talk about is the game's atmosphere. Holy shit. Like I said, the game looks pretty good and the attention to detail and the amount of stuff you can interact with actually goes a long way towards giving the various places and settings of the game a genuinely creepty vibe. Aya may look out a window and comment that she feels like she's being watched, or that she might have seen something but it's gone now. The sound design and music really go a long way towards freaking the player out. Dryfield has this very laconic, downbeat western theme playing, and later on in the bunker, you come across an animal testing lab where Aya will describe what she sees in cages, which in many ways is much more creepy than actually seeing what's in them. To accompany this is some extremely disturbing background noise of chimps and other animals snarling and banging on cages.

And finally, the story itself in the game is pretty damn solid, though perhaps a step down from the original, but then again it'd be kind of hard to top that. Rather than mitochondria rebelling of their own accord in this game, shady interests are trying to use mitochondria to engineer artifical evolution in humans (for whatever crazy reasons that aren't really well explained). While this sounds like your typical silly mad scientist scheme, it's surprisingly well-executed. The underground bunker where this all takes place actually feels like a real lab (as compared to say the lab on RE and RE2). The science is still sound, and it actually sounds plausible in terms of how they use artifical evolution to affect and create the various NMCs you encounter in the game. But I'm not going to elaborate too much on the story, since it is pretty decent (as far as videogame stories go).

There's also about two or three endings to the game. A meh ending where nothing is fully resolved, and the best ending, where everything is essentially wrapped. There's a lot of variation in how things can turn out depending on how much Aya explores, investigates, and even backtracks, since later on in the bunker you can use a clue you nonchalantly may have missed to get back to Dryfield and hook up with one of your partners who will aid you and help you investigate the bunker and get to the bottom of things.

Then of course, when you beat the game, that's just the beginning. You unlock both Replay and Bounty Mode, and then later you can unlock Scavenger and Nightmare Mode. Replay is like playing the game over but it's easier and you carry over a % of your Exp and BP from your last playthrough, on top of Aya's skills requiring less Exp to revive and strengthen, and she can even buy her skills back if you've got the BP to burn. Also, beating the game will net you a ranking depending on your performance, mainly in how much shit you killed and how many items you found and had at the end of the game, tallying up into BP to carry over your next playthrough, and depending on your grade, unlocking weapons for purchase from vendors right from the outset of each playthrough.

For those looking for a challenge, Bounty Mode has you squaring off against the cyborg enemies from later in the game throughout the whole game, and Scavenger Mode has you at disadvantage with having access to less items, weaker overall condition, and not being able to buy shit from the vendors for a good chunk of the game. And Nightmare Mode combines both Bounty and Nightmare Mode for some extremely harrowing and scary shit that will test your gaming skill to the extreme. And top of that in subsequent playthroughs you can use the phone to see various statistics, such as often Aya has used all the various weapons in the game, how often she's used her powers, and a lot of other in-game minutia. Fuck, you can unlock a god damn gunblade for use by Aya!!!

This game is just fucking brimming with nuance and replay value. Not to mention it's also a hell of a lot shorter than the first game. First time through the game may take 6-10 hours, maybe longer if you've never played it before. On Replay Mode you can easily breeze through the game in less than two hours if you know what you're doing. But there's just so much stuff hidden in the game that you can easily miss even after playing it five or six times, and hell, I just played this game ten years after I bought it and I still discovered some stuff that I missed, and I've fucking replayed this game like 20 times. Everytime you play, you'll want to try something different, either with trying different weapons, different powers, or trying to switch up your play strategy.

The only real issue this game has is one that is common to the survival-horror genre in general: The static camera angles can make aiming at shit offscreen annoying. Though PE2 sorta fixes this since you can lock-on to enemies constantly and move relative to their position. And another thing is that Parasite Eve 2 has a very un-survival-horror control set-up. Firing is done with R1 and if a weapon has a sub-attack R2 fires it, and Square toggles lock-on. Aside from the somewhat sluggish way that Aya moves (though the enemies' movement is similar so it's not an actual disadvantage), I really have no gripes with this game. It's fucking awesome, and a sequel to a Squeenix RPG that managed to not only change things up, but still managed to be pretty good in its own right, on its own merits.

What this game really has that a lot of other survival-horror games at the time didn't is replay value, and that's something that goes a long way towards exciting me when it comes to games these days, and something a lot of games lack, sadly, and it's the main reason I can still play Parasite Eve 2 ten years after I bought it and still enjoy it just as much as when I first played it back then. And by god that's the mark of a damn good game, and if you haven't, you owe it to yourself to check out this forgotten gem on the original Playstation.

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