Zone of the Enders
made quite a splash when it was launched a year after the Playstation 2. Hideo Kojima's high speed mech combat game was the title that really showed off the graphical capabilities of the new console (it also included a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2
, which probably helped it along too). Two years later, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
took "high speed mech combat" to a much higher level. Many players still have fond memories of these games and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
is getting quite difficult to find. Zone of the Enders HD Collection
will not only bring back those fond memories, but they will also introduce the games to a new generation. North American gamers have had a month to enjoy this collection, but the game only arrived in Europe last week. Now we can tell you whether the games are worth revisiting or whether they are best left in the past.Zone of the Enders
Leo Stenbuck is a 12-year-old Ender who, along with his friends, is caught snooping around a hangar in the Jupiter colony of Antilia. When his friends try to blame him for their trespassing, Leo is released and given a tough decision: run and save himself, or try to single-handedly beat their captor and save his friends. The decision is made for him when the colony suddenly comes under attack from BAHRAM, and his friends are killed by a falling mech. While fleeing from the attacking forces, Leo falls into an Orbital Frame by the name of Jehuty, the very Frame that the invading forces are hoping to find and capture. He is forced to fight for his life and those of his fellow colonists before embarking on a dangerous mission to return the Frame to Mars.
The rest of the story is quite loosely told and can be difficult to follow, though as long as you can put up with the whining of the game's protagonist, the story actually plays second fiddle to the revolutionary (at the time) combat system. Jehuty comes equipped with an energy sword for close combat and an energy projectile for distant combat, both of which are used via the X button. The suit has complete three-dimensional movement and can boost using RT to allow quicker movement. When boost is combined with Jehuty's basic attacks, more powerful close and ranged attacks become available. Extra weapons can also be collected throughout the game, although these are used via the B button. If an extra weapon is not equipped, enemies can be grabbed with the B button and then be thrown at other enemies or scenery to cause extra damage.
Players will encounter groups of two or three enemies at a time and will automatically lock on to one of them. You will stay locked on to the enemy throughout a fast-paced battle that can move in any direction. The camera will stay locked on as the world spins around you, until you either defeat the enemy or manually target another enemy. As impressive as it feels, the basic enemies consist of just three types, all of which can be easily defeated using the basic X attacks. The larger boss battles do switch things up a little and require a bit more strategy, but button mashing is still the name of the game.
The battles take place in different areas of the colony. Unfortunately, these 'different' areas look incredibly similar, even down to identical layouts in some cases. Eventually you'll end up getting bored with the repetition. The game only takes five to seven hours to complete depending on whether you wish to watch the lengthy cutscenes. As the weaker game of the two, you're likely to only play this for the back story or the completion.Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
Dingo Egret lands his mech on the surface of Callisto to begin work at the mining facility. After receiving a strange Metatron reading, Dingo follows the signal to a strange container. As he investigates, Callisto is attacked by BAHRAM forces and Dingo is forced to take refuge in the Orbital Frame that is hidden within the container. That Frame is Jehuty, which is still being sought by BAHRAM. After defeating the invading troops, Dingo enters the BAHRAM battleship to try and head the enemy away from his friends on Callisto. After being taken prisoner onboard the ship, Dingo is fatally wounded when he refuses to join BAHRAM. He is saved by a UNSF spy who places him within Jehuty, which now provides his life support, and tasks him with helping to defeat BAHRAM.
The story of the sequel is a much more engaging affair, helped along by the complete lack of whining. The combat is still very much the most important aspect of the game, though. Jehuty handles in a very similar way to the previous title, although some of the attacks have been tweaked due to an increase in the number of enemies that players will encounter at once. Whereas the first game would see players fight a maximum of five enemies if they were unlucky enough to trigger encounters near multiple units, 2nd Runner
rarely has less than five enemies on the screen at once. Encounters of 40-50 enemies are not uncommon, although these enemies are usually weak. As such, the boosted distant attack can now target multiple enemies at once, the number and range of which depends on how long players hold down the X button. Players can also grab objects from the surrounding environment and use those to throw at distant enemies or bludgeon them at close range.
Extra weapons are available but are now awarded at certain points in the campaign. These play a much more vital role in 2nd Runner
. Although players can defeat the initial enemies using X attacks, later enemies require much more strategy and variety. The environment also varies more with distinct differences between locations. Konami put a lot more effort into the setting of 2nd Runner
and, combined with a longer running time for the campaign, the second title easily comes off as the better title of the two.What's New?
In the end though, nothing of the games' contents have changed -- not the story nor the gameplay. My review of the two games would have been the same had I reviewed them when they were first released. What, if anything, has changed? Well, this is a HD collection, so the graphics that were of a landmark standard eleven years ago have received an upgrade to try to match the standard of the current generation. The environments and characters look noticeably sharper.
The game has received a new opening sequence, made up of HD anime that is meant to invoke the smooth feel of the combat that is at the heart of the Zone of the Enders
franchise. The game's cutscenes also appear in HD. The story cinematics, however, appear in their old form and look dated, more so in the first game. The second game used cel anime for the cinematic scenes and this holds up much better in the current environment than the standard definition animation found in the first game. After bothering to upgrade everything else, the decision to leave the cinematics just seems a little odd.
There are also achievements, of course. Is this an easy 1000G? No, not really. Some achievements, such as those that are story related, will be gained through a normal playthrough. Others, such as Gun Runner
, will involve a bit of collecting, although with a guide this shouldn't pose a huge problem. At least two playthroughs are needed in both games to be able to unlock all of the Frames, although luckily the games are short. The real challenge comes with the achievements that require top rankings on some of the missions within the game. This will involve a bit of practice and, if you're as bad a player as I am, probably a lot of frustration too.What About the Problems in the Original Versions?
Those problems are still there and it's a shame that Konami hasn't taken the opportunity to fix them. While the lock-on feature makes battles against enemies an absolute breeze, in Zone of the Enders
the lock-on feature does not work when you are to destroy something other than mechs i.e. porters or power supplies. For these, players have to manually aim at the target; once at the target, the reticule expands to show that the target has been recognised before shrinking back to normal size. Aiming with the right stick is not a problem, but even if you appear to have the reticule pointing directly at your target, you can still miss if you don't shoot before the reticule shrinks back to its original size. While aiming at one porter, I destroyed three buildings behind it before actually hitting my target.
The lock-on is also problematic in 2nd Runner
but for a different reason. At times the lock-on loses track of the enemy, often in the heat of the battle when an enemy moves quickly behind Jehuty, so that the player is forced to hit LT again to lock back on. The lock-on can also become fixated with Metatron or EX Mission pickups to the extent that it will not let you lock on to an enemy; the only way to fix this is to either collect the pickup or move the camera so that the pickup is behind Jehuty and out of the field of view. Hitting LT will only focus on the enemy for a split second before moving immediately back to the pickup.
The one problem that has improved is the framerate slowdown during the fast-paced battles in 2nd Runner
. I didn't notice any significant slowdown during battles at all. The game does still suffer from framerate issues in the new cutscenes though. It can get so bad that the subtitles can have three distinct shadows and mechs have a very fuzzy outline. These problems are not apparent in the first game.Final Thoughts
For those that are new to the franchise, you're likely to find Zone of the Enders
disappointing. With repetitive environments and few enemies encountered at any one time, the impressive combat will soon get old. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
is much more worthy of your time and is the game that saves the collection. Players often face a screen full of enemies and the game forces players to take a much more strategic approach. The combat feels more satisfying, which is important when that is where the game's emphasis lies.
The people who will really enjoy this HD collection are the players who really enjoyed the games when they were initially released. The games have received achievements, an upgrade in graphical quality and little else. They're essentially still the same games that were released on the Playstation 2, complete with the same issues, but the new HD graphics at least make the games look more fitting on the Xbox 360.