The 3rd Birthday Review (My Year of JRPGs)

There might be a word in the English language to describe the story of The 3rd Birthday. There are words that sorta get the point across — silly, ridiculous, horses–t — but those don’t really paint the picture. I’m probably overthinking it. The plot makes so little sense I was starting to think of it as abstract surrealism, but it’s probably not that since characters spend far too much time explaining things.

The game is a nominal sequel to Parasite Eve II — Aya Brea is the main character, and Kyle Madigan and Eve (the one from Parasite Eve II) have important roles. The story doesn’t really have anything to do with either Parasite Eve game, though. Here we have an outbreak of monsters called Twisted that have, by Christmas 2013, done quite a bit of destroyin’ all over the world. Aya has amnesia and has inexplicably developed the ability to possess people, and she’s been recruited by a government organization that has a goofy machine that lets her possess people in the past. They’re using Aya to try to, mission by mission, save the world by changing the past.


The 3rd Birthday (PSP [Reviewed])
Developer: HexaDrive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 29, 2011
MSRP: $29.99

For a while it’s like Timecop, and there’s a file you can look at between missions that compares the old version of the past with the current version, and it’s fun to see how what you’ve done has changed things. Or it is the first time; after the second mission, which takes place just days before “the present,” the timeline starts t see inexplicable changed. For example: there’s one character who is dead at first, then alive after the first mission, and then dead again after the second mission, even though the event that caused his death didn’t happen again. On top of that, other sweeping changes have happened to the world after the second mission even though it’s only been days since the point in time where changes were made.

Events get more and more hilariously convoluted as things move along until, by the final, 20-minute-long cutscene, one piece of mindblowing exposition after another is dumped on you until you realize there’s just no point in trying to make sense of it.  The 3rd Birthday has to have one of the worst written stories in the history of gaming. Not that I didn’t love it; it’s so bad and insane and utterly baffling that it kinda circles around and achieves JRPG nirvana. Did I mention that there is a cutscene in a PSP game that is 20 minutes long?

(I watched all the cutscnes again to try to make sense of it. Didn’t help.)

I’d have probably been more angry if the gameplay weren’t so damn awesome. The game is technically a third-person shooter, but it really isn’t. Aware of the PSP’s control scheme limitations, Square Enix made it all about the lock-on, and it ends up being a sort of twitch action RPG. Your ability to kill monsters is based on a combination of your level, an amusing DNA altering thingie that is completely confusing if you don’t read the instructions and your weapon stats, which are determined by how much you use a type of weapon and the mods you put on them.

I refer to it as a “twitch” game because the game moves as the pace of a real shooter, or perhaps even faster in a lot of ways. Without one very important tweek to the shooter formula, the game would be impossibly difficult. That tweak is Aya’s possession ability, dubbed Overdive. Using it, she can move from the body of one soldier to the next instantly, and as the battles ramp up, the game gets epically frantic. The fifth episode in particular — which features huge battles full of large, powerful enemies —  is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with the PSP, and it’s not even close.

And sometimes you get to use a vehicle, and oh boy.

There is one major problem with the control, though, and it shows up whenever you have a weapon that won’t lock on — grenade launchers, sniper rifles and one pretty neat lazer. In the case of the grenade launchers and the laser, you’ll probably only use them to battle large enemies that chase you around the room, but when you press L to aim, it’ll make you look in whatever direction Aya is looking — as opposed to the direction the camera is looking —  and that is NEVER the direction you’ll want to aim.

My only other problem with the game is its characterization of Aya. Despite being the main character in an action game, she isn’t even close to being the strong female character the gaming world needs her to be. That she has amnesia explains why should wouldn’t be emotionally initially prepared for the dangerous situations she gets herself into, but anybody forced to fight in a war over and over will eventually become hardened and, you know, accustomed to being there. Aya is only strong when you’re controlling her; she literally whimpers through every cutscene all the way to the end. Then Dr. Maeda shows up and makes all sorts of strange, overtly sexualized comments about her to her face, and not once does she take exception to it.

And the game objectifies her to an offensive degree. As she takes damage all her clothes fall off until she’s only wearing a denim thong, essentially. One reward you get for completing the game is a sexy maid costume to have Aya wear into battle. And if you complete certain objectives during missions, like killing all of a specific enemy type or making sure certain soldiers survive, you’re rewarded with the ability to watch her take a shower. It’s f–king terrible.

I don’t really know what my verdict is on this game. I loved playing it, for the most part, and I don’t really want to count off for the bad story since it was satisfying in its own unique way. But it’s a huge knock that this game shows so little respect for what should have been a great female character. More than anything else, I’m eventually going to remember The 3rd Birthday for that rather than how much fun it is.

Pros:

  • Brilliantly-conceived gameplay is a blast
  • Lock-on works
  • Story is so bad it’s good

Cons:

  • The game hates Aya and is sexist
  • Stupid free aim

Final score: 79/100

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