In the average conversation about horror games, its not unreasonable to expect the conversation to lean heavily into either the Resident Evil or Silent Hill series.
Between the first two Resident Evil games being released in 1996 and 1998, as well as the first Silent Hill game being released in 1999, there was no shortage of huge horror masterpieces being released in the late 90s. While these games are certainly incredible milestones in the world of gaming, the size of these games would overshadow other horror games trying to make their mark. Case in point: Parasite Eve.
Parasite Eve was developed by Square in 1998.
Similar to their Final Fantasy games, PE is a RPG at heart featuring active time battle gauges determining when characters can attack, with players choosing the action that protagonist, Aya, will be taking next. What had set the game’s combat apart from a traditional Square RPG is that while the ATB gauge fills, the player can move Aya around the battle arena to dodge enemy attacks.
The storyline itself is pretty out there.
Parasite Eve is presented as a sequel to a novel of a similar name by Hideaki Sena. The game begins with Aya on a blind date at an opera house. Midway through the performance, the attendees begin to spontaneously combust, with the exception of Melissa Pearce, one of the actresses in the opera. After a brief chase and a discussion of mitochondria, Melissa transforms into a creature named Eve and flees. I’m not going to give a full plot synopsis, but the rest of the game sees Aya pursuing Eve, who is trying to give birth to a creature called “the Ultimate Being”. Aya eventually destroys this creature, and in the true ending, she has to come face-to-face with her dead sister and has to defeat a purebred Eve.
There’s a lot of talk about mitochondria and biology which makes for an interesting story, but what makes Parasite Eve an effective horror game is its use of body horror.
There’s some pretty gross stuff that happens in the game, and it’s both horrifying and exciting. One of the first enemies you encounter is a rat. Being mutated into something truly horrific, its snout elongates with the skin peeling back from its face along with beast like fangs growing out of its mouth. Its tail grows and splits at the end and its legs take on a ghastly height. The end result is a creature that is a shell of its former self but something far more grotesque.
Another notable moment from the game is when Aya visits a museum. The mutations grow on the bones of a tyrannosaurus, turning it into a creature that is half fossil, half flesh but all horror. Parasite Eve revels in its creatures, revealing some of the truly grotesque gems in their own CGI spotlights. Parasite Eve handles its horror well, and its sci-fi plot gives the mutations that these creatures undergo an air of validity, similar to Resident Evil’s G-Virus.
Parasite Eve had the misfortune of coming out the same year as Resident Evil 2 and one year before Silent Hill which left limited room for it to get the spotlight and appreciation it deserves. Not only that, it released a year after Square’s own Final Fantasy VII which is a behemoth of a game itself. Being sandwiched between two massive horror games and one massive RPG essentially guaranteed that Parasite Eve was going to get lost in the shuffle, but anyone that has played it will tell you that it’s a game worth checking out.