Square Enix's The 3rd Birthday is a puzzling game. For the last few years, Square Enix has showed nothing but CG cutscenes of the game as teasers, hiding what little of the gameplay it had created at the time. For some people, The 3rd Birthday is going to be exactly up their alley: a sexy, 3rd person shooter with a "dramatic" storyline, and some gun toting along the way. On the other hand, after plaything through chapter one, The 3rd Birthday raises some moral dilemmas that can really make it a tough sell.
"One thing RPGamers can look forward to is the game's visual appeal and the constant action throughout."
The 3rd Birthday has players reprising the role of Aya Brea, a CTI (Counter Twisted Investigator), who has been sent with her team to investigate the Twisted, terrifying creatures who have begun to invade Manhattan. As the only person who can use the Overdive system, Aya is sent out into the field to deal with these demons directly, though it is clear that the CTI has even greater plans for our heroine. She has lost nearly all of her memories and is determined to restore them, even if it means being manipulated by the CTI as humanity's only hope.
I admit that I've been struggling with the story. Aya Brea was one of my childhood heroines, as she had a strong sense of justice, and a sharp-mind. Sometimes humble, Aya showed that women could have strong female role models in video games, something that The 3rd Birthday has yet to acknowledge. The story itself has a lot of potential, but the treatment of Aya's character is somewhat problematic. Through the prologue and first chapter, she is treated poorly by close-minded members of the CTI. She is not treated as a woman, but as an object, something that removes what made her an amazing protagonist to begin with. Aya's character in The 3rd Birthday has become completely unrecognizable, perhaps for the worse.
As mentioned prior, The 3rd Birthday is a sexy 3rd person shooter with RPG elements. Most of the combat works as a pop-and-shoot style RPG, similar to that of Mass Effect 2. The key element that makes the gameplay standout from being a typical shooter is that Aya has the ability to Overdive (body swap) at will throughout combat. As long as there are soldiers in sight, Aya can swap bodies with a press of the triangle button. Switching bodies allows Aya to gain different perspectives in the environments, but also replenishes her health and ammo. Also, once Aya has staggered any enemy, she can use an Overdive Kill, which allows her to jump into the body of the Twisted and unleash a deadly attack from its insides. This skill, however, will take a lot out of Aya, as it takes a few moments after the attack is performed for Aya to regain her strength. Outside of the Overdive skills, Aya can perform a skill called Liberation, which allows her to perform Energy Shot attacks. This skill is by far one of Aya's greatest assets, as it allows her to evade enemies at lightning speed while shooting them for enormous damage.
Although the gameplay of 3rd Birthday is fast, it's surprisingly strategic in places. During the first chapter, I was met with a Reaper, a large Twisted with the ability to teleport, and I constantly had to be aware of where the other soldiers were so that I could Overdive fast enough without taking too much damage. Unfortunately, the camera in The 3rd Birthday makes it very challenging to see everything that's around you, and when you have an enemy that can teleport, it's also guaranteed that it'll attack you from behind where the camera can't see it. Since the camera is controlled with the d-pad, and movement is done with the nub, it's hard to keep the camera positioned so that everything can be visible. Often, I found myself having to claw my fingers just so I can move the camera fast enough while moving Aya away from the Reaper. I've found throughout the first chapter that the camera was constantly working against me, which I found very frustrating considering it made it very difficult to anticipate an enemy that can warp. Despite the camera issues, The 3rd Birthday does sport fairly intense gameplay that does require some clever planning depending on the task in the mission. I can't really comment on the level of customization that the game boasts. From what I've played, leveling up only supplies BP which allows Aya to buy and customize her weapons and provides handy upgrades for more firepower.
One thing I can say for certain is that The 3rd Birthday is one of the most visually stunning games that I've played on the PlayStation Portable. The graphics are crisp, clean, with an immense amount of detail, that it's hard not to drool a little bit each time the game is turned on. The soundtrack, composed by Mitsuto Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Sekito, and Yoko Shimomura, is upbeat, and can get any player pumped up to destroy some Twisted.
While I can't say that my experience with The 3rd Birthday is entirely positive, one thing RPGamers can look forward to is the game's visual appeal and the constant action throughout. I hope that as I progress through the story, Aya will have more of a backbone, because as it stands right now, it's hard to love her the way I used to a long time ago.