Why The Third Birthday failed
One of the worst games I ever played through was The Third Birthday. I've written about it before to some degree, but in my other article about Aya Brea and why we need her now more than ever, I never quite explained all the thoughts I had about the trainwreck that was this game. It scored very well with critics, sure, but a critic score is not reflective of the major audience. For example, I hate the DmC: Devil May Cry reboot despite the love it gets from critics.
Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to figure out why The Third Birthday was a total flop:
The story tried to push themes and plot twists much more than the characters.
A good plot is only measured by the characters within it. After all, you need someone to root for and understand, and you watch/play more to better understand them, or see what will happen next in their lives. Characters in this game, however, were often dropped, as the story moves at an incredibly fast past.
Let’s take episode two as an example, where two characters are introduced to the player: Owen and Gabrielle. We know nothing about them, yet they are clearly important to Aya’s past. In this same episode, Gabrielle is erased from history because she dies, and Owen betrays the group for reasons never outright stated. And they are never mentioned again, save for Gabrielle at the ending.
So, how is the player supposed to understand these two? Easy, you read the textbook-thick pile of notes instead. Now, if this sounds a lot like Final Fantasy XIII, it kind of is -- that game also relied on storytelling through the datalogs that the player has to read. The difference is that Final Fantasy XIII was still trying to tell its story and it does become easier to understand what is going on eventually. It’s not good, but you can eventually understand it due to how long the game is, and the fact that it does have a focus on its characters. The Third Birthday fails at even this, as this is not the first plot point that is dropped with no explanation given, and makes you feel like you missed another scene.
This is more evident in episode four, when Aya meets Kyle, and the two seem to leave each other on good terms...and then Kyle suddenly kills all of Aya’s team and destroys her one way to time travel. Again, you have to refer to the notes if you want any kind of clarification here.
For the record, I should also mention that all of the cutscenes in The Third Birthday also total out to an hour and some change, but that's not nearly enough time to expand on all the characters. I can understand the need for a short story, as the game was made to be replayed over and over to unlock secret weapons and go on higher difficulties.
But that just begs the question: why go for something so complicated that needs a lot of reading? Even when the game brings in Maeda, a supporting character from Parasite Eve 1, they managed to turn him from an awkward scientist who cared a great deal about Aya into a very creepy scientist who is more interested in what her tears taste like and her value as a specimen…
Expect me to say this a lot, but how is this change better? (And yes, he is completely forgotten at the end of the game too!)
Now some may defend Aya’s behavior as rational since her body was switched with Eve and that’s why it’s acceptable. Except here’s the thing: now that we know this is Eve, what do we know about her that makes all of this okay? Even in Parasite Eve 2, we barely knew a thing aside from the fact that she was a clone of Aya.
This game ignores a lot of things about Aya’s past, like never even meeting Maeda. How is Eve a good replacement for Aya Brea? How can she be able to take over Aya? And what else do we know about her? I want to know the past Eve more.
And don't even get me started on how Aya being shot and Eve suddenly saving her makes absolutely no sense either!
Because Eve's character has to be fused with Aya’s body, Aya has to die due to the incomprehensible story, and that’s it. While I did kind of praise that Aya sacrificing herself is the one thing in-character, the method is absolutely awful -- as not only does the player have to shoot Aya, but there’s a giant flash of blood and red covering the screen to further emphasize the horrible action.
(Ya know, for as much as I hate the reboot of Devil May Cry, the reboot never pointed a gun at the original Dante’s head and blew his brains out! Okay, there was the insulting wig scene, but that didn’t end up scarring me!)
Moreover, knowing that this is a child in Aya makes the sexualization with the clothes damage and fetish clothing even creepier! I remind you that Eve looks and acts at least like she is 10-years old! Though if this game did try following continuity, she should technically be 20 since The Third Birthday takes place ten years after Parasite Eve 2. In fact, this makes the interactions with Maeda even more disturbing!
This scene hurt for all the WRONG reasons.
In fact, let’s really look at this game. It tries to go for a more “mature” tone with a sexualized Aya, tons of gore and blood, and attempts to be complicated -- all of which results in baffling moments that make no sense for the characters involved. In short, this is basically what would happen if Parasite Eve 2 was made by DC comics in the New 52 reboot!
Really think about this game and compare it to Red Hood and the Outlaws, where Starfire’s personality changed so radically that she became unrecognizable and simply used for sex as opposed to her kindness and compassion. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
And that of course begs the question: How are these changes better for the characters when they are stripped of what made them iconic and likeable characters?
I am in no way saying female characters cannot be sexy or have attitudes around that. Hell, I play and love the Senran Kagura series, but not every character in that series is looking for sex, and that game has the excuse for its cloth-ripping due to its targeted audience. Senran Kagura even features many characters with more enjoyable and understandable personalities when compared to these versions of Starfire and Aya. Change is only good based on the results achieved, not all the damn time.
So we have a story that kills off its characters very quickly, a very short story with very little explanation (even though we need a lot of it), and the only way to understand everything is to read a textbook worth of notes. The game slapped fans of the old series in the face multiple times, forced the player to kill off Aya for good, and anyone who plays without the notes will be titling their head more than an owl.
...I think you're probably starting to understand the main reason as to why this game died.
Parasite Eve is dead thanks to this game. It literally killed Aya Brea, one of my favorite characters of all time. And that’s why I can never, ever accept this game as good. That and the gameplay isn’t all that great, especially the DNA board with randomly activated abilities that took hours to try and find suitable upgrades. Why anyone thought that was a good idea baffles me.