While we don't mind a fair challenge now and then, The 3rd Birthday delights in cranking the difficulty up to levels that appear specifically designed to give you a deeper understanding of Wayne Rooney's inner turmoil. Like Wayne, part of the problem comes down to the age-old issue of not having adequate control over the camera.
To give Square Enix its dues, it has done a reasonable job of shoehorning a third-person shooter onto a one-stick handheld. Most of the time, the game's lock-on serviceably snaps the reticule to the nearest enemy, but it all starts to unravel as soon as you need to manually adjust your aim or target specific body parts of an über-boss. Even a split-second's hesitation while you fumble with the d-pad to cycle through the available targets is enough to get you into trouble when coupled with Brea's slovenly running pace.
In a game featuring such aggressive enemies, her casual jog seems completely at odds with the gravity of the situation, leaving you cursing. It wouldn't be so bad if the scantily clad saucetress could stand up to the Twisted masses just a tiny bit. But in a game where up to half of your health bar can be whittled away by a single hit, mistakes can be punishing – especially once you factor in the ineffectual recharging health system.
In sections where you're fighting alone, with no chance to Overdrive, it's particularly aggravating to persistently fall foul of the game's anachronistic harshness. 11 long years might have elapsed since Ava last saved the world, but evidently the game's designers are still firmly rooted in the conventions of the late 1990s. Anyone who pines for the days when you used to have to battle vicious enemies with minimal health and without the safety net of sensible checkpointing will be in their element. The rest of us might struggle to resist the urge to hurl the PSP at the nearest wall.
If you can calm your inner psycho long enough to reach a chapter's conclusion, there's masochistic satisfaction to be had. You can bask in temporary calm, take in the game's bewildering DNA upgrade system, and spend some of your hard-earned cash on the usual assortment of weapon upgrades. Eventually, you might even find yourself powerful enough to make light work of some of the game's early encounters, but the incentive to overcome your boiling frustration and make that happen is limited to say the least.
If you're really invested in the completely cracked storyline, you can also immerse yourself in the unending character bios and logs about things that presumably will make at least one person in the world feel a more complete human being. The respite is all too fleeting, though, and soon you're sent off on another against-the-odds round of predictable combat encounters.
Eventually it becomes clear how Aya developed her Overdrive ability, and who she was getting married to, and what the Twisted are all about. The problem is, it's hard to ever truly engage with it when so many of the The 3rd Birthday's key encounters are fundamentally spiteful. If you're really determined to eke some enjoyment from the rubble of frustration, there are a few moments that might make you feel like it's worth it. Sadly those occasions don't come along nearly enough to justify all the joyless attrition en route.