The difference between Parasite Eve II and any of the games in the Resident Evil series can be summed up like an unhip microbiology major's bad joke: "What's the difference between a neo-mitochondrial mutagenic airborne virus and a fluid-transmitted virus which reanimates and increases aggressive tendencies in mutated expired organisms?"
The answer? Not much.
While initially it seems that these two diverse vectors for socio-political unrest in isolated small townships would be different enough to be instantly discernable by any masticated bystander, this is actually not the case. When you get right down to it, being mauled by a cybernetically-enhanced mitochondrial monster is every bit as bad as being chewed to shreds by an undead zombie attack dog. It plays pretty much the same, too. Go figure.
Parasite Eve II is game developer Square's second attempt to break into the survival horror genre, while trying to maintain the uniqueness of their franchise by keeping a minor RPG slant. The game is played in third-person perspective with 3-D characters moving across 2-D backdrops. Also present are the standard "spooky, off-kilter" camera angles and a menu system extremely similar to other staples in the same category. The most obvious divergence from the genre is the magic system present in the form of "Parasite Energy," which the main hero, Aya Brea, can employ to produce various effects such as healing, defensive and offensive spells. Its a nice feature and adds a bit of reserve firepower in the odd event a player is without ammunition, but it doesn't play a major role.
In general, the title succeeds in every area a game of this sort needs to, and anyone familiar to the genre will feel immediately at home, magic aside. It goes without saying that most of the usual elements are here—such as item boxes and switches to push—though one thing that really struck me about Parasite Eve II is that all of the puzzles were about as reasonable and logical as any game of this sort could hope to have. While the placement and quality of the hints and clues needed a bit of work, in general they were logical and very reasonable in the context of the game as well as real life. Keys were found hanging from hooks on walls, you needed a wrench to remove bolts, and the code to open the cash register was located in a nearby memo to new employees.
I've always felt that the thing the genre needed most was a foothold in reality, more so than is found in other similar titles available. Granted, there needs to be a certain suspension of disbelief to even entertain the notion of living corpses and gooey monsters escaping from a lab, but most games of this sort tend to go overboard and throw logic completely out the window, especially when it comes to puzzles. It's nice to see a game with a slightly firmer grip on how things work in the real world, and I'd like to see the concept taken further.
Another thing which differentiates it from the rest of the pack are the subtle twists in the roles creatures play. Rather than each encounter being one of potential life or death, very few encounters will have a high chance of ending Aya's investigations into the paranormal. Rather, most of the battles you'll get into come off like the minor melees that come with playing RPGs. They might be annoying at times with their high frequency and respawning, but the main point of them is to help the player build abilities and options for bigger encounters later on in the game. Experience and money are awarded after every battle in order to activate Parasite Energies or to buy weapons and items in a structure extremely similar to Dino Crisis 2. The more you kill, the more resources you have to kill with. Instead of trying to avoid encounters in a game of health-pack entropy, you'll be actively hunting the buggers down so you can save up enough credits for the grenade launcher in the shop. It's an interesting change of pace, and one which was notably appreciated.
While these elements help Parasite Eve II from falling completely into the "cookie cutter" trap, it ends up being too similar in presentation and content to Resident Evil. While copying a series with such staying power isn't necessarily a bad thing, it brings along so much of RE's old baggage that you might expect Jill Valentine or Barry Burton to pop out from around a corner during gameplay to lend some S.T.A.R.S. support.
To begin with, it addresses none of the complaints that people have had against the typical game engine and controls since the creation of the genre. In a play environment featuring constant combat against bloodthirsty monsters, Aya doesnt have a "quick turn," "dodge" or any other escape feature to get her out of trouble in a hurry. While the good news is that the majority of the games monsters are quite sluggish, there are still more than a few times where youll be ambushed by a swarm of exploding slugs or double-teamed by some human-headed horses. It never gets frustrating to the point of quitting, but it's not nearly as smooth or fluid as combat should be.
Another minor annoyance was that the static camera angles sometimes prevented a clear view of the slobbering mass you can hear creeping around in the room with you. It's clear that dramatic tension was what they were going for, but when you cant see a beast that's coming at you from four feet away, there's a problem.
Interestingly enough, with all the complaints regarding poor and cheesy voices were in Resident Evil, after playing Parasite Eve II Id definitely say that cheesy voices are better than no voices at all. While you'll occasionally get a short audio clip consisting of "Hey!", "Freeze!!", or assorted monster squeals, for the most part the characters are silent throughout the game with dialogue being relayed through text. I definitely support having text during story scenes (it should ALWAYS be a selectable option, in my opinion) but it really hurts the game's presentation by taking away the speech aspect, which has become an expected staple in the genre.
Couple the lack of voices with Aya's milquetoast by-the-numbers persona in addition to the predictable, unimaginative story and you'll find that its fairly tough to really get into the game and start rooting for the characters. Sure, Aya is blonde, female and uses firearms like a combat vet, but a good protagonist needs more than these token qualities to become someone memorable. Throughout the game, Aya barely exhibits any personality, and the supporting characters are pretty minimal. Just as important as the hero, the plot needs to have enough twists, turns and unique aspects to make the player get sucked in and ignore the fact that the gameplay is basically the same thing we've been playing since 1996.
While Parasite Eve II meets most of the criteria for a fairly good horror shoot-em-up, the biggest problem with it is that it doesn't really add anything that hasn't been done before several times. The underlying, flawed control framework of the game has already been revised and improved upon by other games. The story isn't anything to write home about since most of the plot points are telegraphed from a mile away, and the main character is written vanilla. While it doesn't commit any serious offenses, neither does it strive to present anything truly unique and inviting. If you're a fan of survival horror and you need a fix, or if you just need to play them all, Parasite Eve II will fit the bill. However, Parasite Eve II reminds me of those prefab paint-by-numbers kits you can get at a toyshop—the finished picture might look pretty neat and you might have fun doing it, but there isn't a whole lot of originality or creativity put into it.