In the latter half of the 90s, it seemed like Square could do no wrong. Thanks to the INCREDIBLE success of Final Fantasy VII, Square used that momentum to experiment. One of those experiments was Parasite Eve, and I got more enjoyment from it than many of the other Square games not named Final Fantasy that Square released at that time like Brave Fencer Musashi. It's not perfect, but the risk Square took with this one really paid off.
Unlike a lot of Square's RPGs, Parasite Eve takes place in a real setting, specifically New York City on Christmas Eve. The game focuses on Aya Brea, a cop who survives a biological attack at the opera caused by cellular mutations that morph animals into monsters and cause humans to spontaneously combust. At the center of it all is an actress who continues to mutate over the course of the story, gaining the expected delusion of godhood. The story is engaging although it can be a little hard to follow. A LOT of scientific terms are thrown around; one would almost have to be a pre-med student to keep up. Even with the confusion, I stayed interested in where the plot was going the whole way. The game is only about 12 - 15 hours long which is short by Square RPG standards, and there are very few sub-quests. However, that works fine since it keeps focus on the plot.
The gameplay is a strange mix of real-time and turn-based combat. Free movement is possible to dodge attacks and get into good positions to attack. There is a large supply of firearms available which each have their own strengths and can all be modded to boost stats or provide special abilities like shots that set enemies on fire. The battles are not random; there are specific spots that trigger battles similar to Chrono Trigger. Adept players can dodge those spots whenever they want. I thoroughly enjoyed the battles here. There are no real puzzles, but I didn't miss them. With such a focus on the story, throwing in puzzles would've felt out-of-place. While repetition did set in around the fourth day of the story, I still enjoyed myself.
The audio-visual package still holds up very well. Even though the characters look a little rough up close during the cinematics, they still look fine during gameplay. The special effects still look good, and the pre-rendered backgrounds and movies still look amazing. The music sets the mood beautifully, quiet and low-key during the slow, tense times and ramping up perfectly for the battles. The sound effects are okay but pretty standard, though the squishy sound effects used when a creature mutates can be pretty sickening.
Parasite Eve still holds up as an excellent horror RPG that, strangely enough, also fits Christmas perfectly. While many PS1 games can be hard to play now given how far games have come in twenty years, I can still find enjoyment in getting lost in Central Park blasting mutant pigeons. If you're tired of watching Black Christmas and Gremlins for your holly-jolly-horror fix, give this one a shot.