I’ve been a gamer for most of my life (longer than I care to say), and I’ve been a fan of the company Square since the first stateside incarnation of Final Fantasy on the NES. I even tracked down the actual first installment, previously only released in Japan, when it was finally released on the original Playstation. In 1998, Square departed from their Final Fantasy formula and published Parasite Eve. Parasite Eve itself was considered a critical and financial success, so I’m not arguing otherwise or saying it didn’t get any love during it’s time. What I wanted to talk about was not only why it deserves another look by gamers (or 3 or 4), but how interesting the premise is to begin with. Stay with me, we are going deep into the rabbit hole on this one…
Parasite Eve began as a Japanese manga series before it was adapted into a movie and later an action role-playing video game. With an interesting story, fantastically graphic (and somewhat disturbing) cut-scenes, and cutting-edge graphics for the time, Parasite Eve seemed to have a bit of everything you’d want in a game. People melt in their chairs and form a massive blob monster, rats morph into giant rat-scorpion-thingys,…basically nightmare fuel. The story takes place in Manhattan, New York, where you follow the exploits of a female NYPD rookie named Aya Brea. The game has relatively linear game play in that you are limited to specific locations in the city, and plot points and cut-scenes direct you to each location. Much like previous iterations of Square’s other beloved series Final Fantasy (FF), it is possible for our hero to encounter random enemies, where monsters randomly appear and the player is locked within a fixed location with the monster until it is dispatched (though it was possible to “Escape”). Combat evolved a bit from the turn-based system of Final Fantasy, with a pause-able real-time combat system employed in Parasite Eve later adopted in future FF installments. While you are waiting for your action bar to recharge, the character in Parasite Eve is free to move about the area, effectively (or ineffectively) dodging enemy attacks. Players have the option of using their equipped weapon or Parasite Energy to attack. And what would a Square game be without RPG elements present, giving you the choice to develop your character as you see fit. Character attributes can be upgraded with each level increase, and you can improve weapons and armor attributes with “super-tools”.
The basic premise of the game goes something like this: The mitochondria in our cells have been lying dormant, waiting to evolve their “hosts” into more ultimate versions of themselves. For those that are “ready”, they become incredibly powerful (and psychotic murderers, but I digress). If they are not “ready”…well you just…explode. Just like in the game, in the real world most eukaryotic organisms have mitochondrion in their cells. Humans have more than one mitochondrion (mitochondria) in many of their cells (1). The purpose of mitochondria are, simply put, to help produce energy for our daily activities. One fascinating thing about these little organelles is that with training, we can actually increase the size or number of the mitochondria in our bodies, effectively increasing our “power”. Without these organelles, life as we know it would cease, and we would (and people actually do) develop serious metabolic and cardiovascular problems. In the game or in our lives, it is made clear that the mitochondria are a vital part of our existence.
Hidden within the game are even more interesting ties to the real world. Within our natural history we see a possible reference here to an actual “Mitochondrial Eve” (3), paralleling the “Eve” from our game. The “Eve” in this game is the evolutionary “1st” of her kind, taking the next step to becoming an “Ultimate Being”. There is also an in-game reference to Richard Dawkin’s ‘The Selfish Gene” (4), implying in this case that the mitochondria is dominant and effectively taking control over the evolutionary process. An interesting premise and a nice way to vaguely tie a fantastical story to actual science and research.
Well how does this tie to midichlorians? I’m glad you asked. Though the connection has barely been acknowledged, George Lucas attempted a similar idea when proposing the midichlorians. Midichlorians, the bane of the Force and the worst thing to happen to the Star Wars universe since Jar Jar Binks, functioned to lessen the mysticism and increase the sciencey-ness of the Force. It gave moviegoers an explainable reason as to why some Force-users were more sensitive than others, and in a way explained how the power could be passed down through generations. Like mitochondria, midichlorians were found within the cells of all living things, coexisiting symbiotically and acting as energy “conductors” providing power to the beings they inhabited. Similar to mitochondrion in that with midichlorians, that actual number present could dictate the being’s “power”, though in case of midichlorians we are discussing Force power. Mitochondria can increase in number and size with proper training, increasing our aerobic “power” much like midichlorians and Force “power”. Coincidence? Perhaps…Regardless, I find the inclusion of mitochondria in Parasite Eve (as well as their simplified cousins “midichlorians” in Star Wars) to be very interesting, as our little “powerhouses” are technically capable of making us more powerful! Parasite Eve is a great game, and if you haven’t played it you should check it out! It’s on the Playstation Network for download, or for you hardcore gamers, just dust off your Playstation.