Parasite Eve has the energy that Square Enix needs to bring to new IP in 2023
Is Square Enix on the cusp of a new golden age, or is it still swimming upstream? Right now, it’s honestly hard to tell.
On one hand, Final Fantasy 16 looks absolutely balls-to-the-wall incredible. You’ve also got the company putting out a wide variety of games that really play to its strengths. There’s much-anticipated remasters like Chrono Cross, Crisis Core, and Live A Live. There’s series continuations and revivals for the likes of Valkyrie, SaGa, and Star Ocean. And there’s fascinating new bets ranging from the nichely obscure like Voice of Cards and Paranormasight to interesting new takes on some of the concepts the company is best known for, like Harvestella and Diofield Chronicle.
On the flip side, it seems barely anybody played a lot of these games. Some of them launched with little fanfare; it was easy to miss that something like Star Ocean: The Divine Force had even released. But the quality and breadth is a badge of honor, at least. As a buddy of mine argued, even if a failure, that line-up was a breath of fresh air.
And then, obviously, you’ve got Forspoken. Forspoken is a big ol’ swing and a miss. It’s a decent game, you know – better than the internet at large really gave it credit for. Some undeniably cringeworthy and dodgy elements became a lightning rod for the haters, some of whom clearly only disliked the game for its protagonist’s identity. In truth, Forspoken sort of reminded me of the first run-out of a lot of franchises – the first Assassin’s Creed, for instance. It’s an uneven, stumbly proof-of-concept with a wildly bloated budget that probably would’ve gotten way better in a sequel. Not that it matters now, mind: Forspoken developer Luminous Productions is closing, with its workforce absorbed into and scattered across the rest of Square Enix. That much-improved sequel will probably never happen.
And thus concludes an analysis of the state of Square Enix: an interesting slate, perhaps poorly scheduled, sometimes under-marketed, and often misunderstood. A fair amount of critical success, but not really as much commercial success as might be expected or deserved. Though, as ever, a new Final Fantasy peeks over the horizon, threatening to change the conversation entirely.
This whole thought process was triggered by a Square Enix anniversary, for today marks 25 years since the release of the original Parasite Eve. It gets one to thinking: this is honestly the quintessential Square game of its era that isn’t a Final Fantasy game. It’s a little bit familiar, a little bit weird. It’s very audacious. And it’s exactly the sort of game Square Enix should be making more of now.
When you see people hand-wringing over Final Fantasy 16 being obviously inspired by Western RPGs and jettisoning a bunch of series traditions, remember this: this sort of thing has been Square Enix’s MO forever – even back before Enix was in the picture. Parasite Eve is the perfect exampl; released two years after Resident Evil and pitched in Japan as the “Hollywood RPG”, it mingled survival horror action with Square’s RPG chops. And the result is wonderful.
Parasite Eve was as good as an all-new property, as while it is based on a Japanese novel of the same name, the book’s audience was relatively small at the time. Square Enix expertly traded on its skyrocketing reputation and the success of Final Fantasy 7 at this time, making sure pretty much every PS1 RPG it put out was unique in some way, taking popular elements and ideas from elsewhere and forcing them into some twisted form of their RPG framework.
It’s this that is Parasite Eve’s magic, its X-Factor. The mix of mechanics, ideas, and aesthetics is simply perfectly pitched. A fan of FF7 could come to this game and see in it a lineage from those creators and that game. But so too could a Resident Evil or Silent Hill fan, who in turn might gain a greater appreciation for RPGs.
Parasite Eve didn’t feel as big as a new Final Fantasy, but it also didn’t feel small and insignificant: it felt like Square was throwing everything at the wall. It’s more confident and self-assured than many of Square’s attempts at all-new franchises today, even as it took risks. Make no mistake that this was a risky game, too – with its horror elements, by being the company’s first ever M-rated game, and even by having an unprecedented number of Westerners on its team, with part of Parasite Eve’s development taking place in Hawaii.
Parasite Eve as a series eventually stalled, of course. There was a decent sequel, and then a fairly wretched threequel that (at the very least) had engaging gameplay. But to my mind, it remains the template I wish Square Enix would follow when trying to establish new things. It’s the perfect mix of familiar and new, of safe and adventurous.
It’s also still brilliant, and startlingly unique, even now, 25 years later. It’s a wonderful historical artifact – and one that perhaps modern Square could learn a lesson or two from.
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