In 2001, just a few months after the launch of Sonyâ€™s shiny new PlayStation 2, Hideo Kojima and Konami released Zone of the Enders (commonly abbreviated as Z.O.E.) Not only did it give gamers a demo disk for the great Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but it also gave them the chance to pilot giant battlebots in devastating interplanetary wars.
Now, with Konamiâ€™s release of Zone of the Enders: HD Collection, we once again get to take the controls of the Orbital Frame (Z.O.E.'s name for the mecha used in the game) "Jahuty" in the battle against the evil BAHRAM army.
Containing both the original Zone of the Enders, and the 2003 follow up Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, the HD collectionâ€™s graphics have been fully remastered and upgraded to suit the now common 16:9 aspect ratio. And, it also includes an all new introduction animated by Sunrise animation studio - the people responsible for Cowboy Bebop as well as the Zone of the Enders television series.
Like many anime (and Zone of the Enders in theme, style, and tone, is 100% anime), getting your head around the story can be a bit confusing. Basically, in both Zone of the Enders and The 2nd Runner, you take control of the giant battle robot, or Orbital Frame, Jahuty. In the first game you are Leo who, while trying to hide from the invading BAHRAM forces, ends up at the controls of Jahuty. With the help of ADA, Jahutyâ€™s onboard computer, Leo is able to fight against the BAHRAM army and their experienced pilots, or Frame Runners, Viola, in her Orbital Frame Neith, and BAHRAM leader Nohman in Anubis.
In Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, set two years after the end of the first game, youâ€™re Dingo Egret - a miner on Callisto who finds the hidden Jahuty just before the BAHRAM forces arrive to capture it. From there on, things get weird, with Dingo wired permanently into Jahuty and the return of some of the original gameâ€™s characters for some epic robot on robot action.
Of course, robot on robot action is what Zone of the Enders is all about. With the help of Jahutyâ€™s computer ADA, you get a quick tutorial on what a Frame Runner needs to know to survive. Basic movement is handled with the left stick while the right controls the camera and the gun sights. You use the face buttons for vertical movement, as well as ranged and melee attacks depending on the distance to the enemy. With the triggers and bumpers you can dash, lock onto targets or raise your shield.
While the controls feel natural, itâ€™s very easy, in the early stages at least, to clear zones by just mashing on the dash and attack buttons. But, as you progress, or if you decide to nudge the difficulty up a notch, using your shield and picking your moments to attack become more important, making the battles far more tactical.
While the gameplay is very enjoyable (I mean giant, fighting robots, câ€™mon), the environments in Zone of the Enders are bland. How it all works is you hover above the surface of the world while ADA points you towards your next objective. So you fly to the City 1 zone, or the Hills, and press â€˜Aâ€™. Then, you drop down into the zone and fight the pockets of BAHRAM forces that are there. All the environments are flat, bland, and boring. Sometimes they have boxy buildings that can take damage. Sometimes thereâ€™s a key or weapon upgrade you have to find. But once the fightingâ€™s done, you just want to get out of there and find something else to shoot at.
Luckily, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is far more interesting. With more varied and interesting environments, as well as swarms of attacking enemies, right from the start The 2nd Runner is streets ahead of the original game. While Zone of the Enders sometimes feels like a retro grind, The 2nd Runner is stylish and engrossing. Add to this an eclectic soundtrack of electronica and j-pop and you have a more than worthwhile purchase for those who missed the games the first time around, and those fans of Hideo Kojima who are looking to complete their collection.