The Zone of the Enders games are cult classics, with a huge following of loyal gamers clamoring for a third title in the series. Kojima and publisher Konami have decided to do put a short term band-aid over this and released the first two games together as an HD collection. After over a decade since they released, it’s easy to see the major flaws the games have but there are still some great things to be found here.
The original Zone of the Enders, which released as a PS2 launch title, takes place in space as humanity has begun expanding into space by building colonies on nearby planets. In doing so, an energy source called Metatron is found and thus begins a power struggle for this new energy, which drags in our protagonist Leo. As Leo is pulled into the fray, he stumbles upon a Mech suit called Jehuty and sets off to stop the war.
2nd Runner takes place a few years after the original, as your new main character Dingo finds the Jehuty suit while being attacked. Now he has become the pilot and takes off to avenge his fallen comrades, who have been slain by a group called BAHRAM. This group just happens to be after the very suit that Dingo is piloting, creating a real struggle as he tries to use it to end the plans of BAHRAM.
Neither of the stories are particularly memorable, which is a bit disappointing coming from Kojima. Both games feature long, drawn out dialogue that seems to go on forever with some flashy cinematics sprinkled in. The first game does a terrible job of expanding on the characters or trying to develop any sort of sensible plot. 2nd Runner does a better job of trying to bring things into focus, but still falls extremely short.
The combat in both games is what helps Zone of the Enders remain interesting in today’s market. Mech warriors fighting at breakneck speeds is always fun and after playing one of these games, you will begin to realize just how bad current mech games really are. You have use of your sword to take out enemies, as well as a long range gun, lazers, and other special weapons you pick up along the way. All of this is handled while flying around the screen, dodging and darting between oncoming enemies. In the original game you get a tiny sample of what this battle system can be but are really left wanting more. The encounters are boring and over far too quickly, however the 2nd Runner provides a lot more depth per battle, with various different strategies to take down different enemies as well as the ability to pick up objects and use them in battle.
One of the few things the original can say it offers that the sequel doesn’t is the ability to travel back and forth between areas on the map. 2nd Runner is very much a linear game in this aspect, with no real exploration to be had. However, to make up for this, the sequel does offer better level design and more unique objectives to complete. It also offers compelling boss fights that really test you and force players to bring out all the stops. It really does feel as though the original game was just a demo to get people’s thoughts on the combat; while the sequel took those ideas and expanding them into a proper action game. What is clear though, is that despite it’s kinks, Zone of the Enders delivers one of a kind exciting action.
As with all Kojima games, the visuals here in Zone of the Enders are all extremely well done. Animation studio Sunrise was even brought on to create a new animated sequence to tie the two games together. However, the HD Collection suffers greatly from huge performance issues in the frame rate department. This is more noticeable in the 2nd Runner, which damages the best game in the collection sadly. Voice work in both games is also very weak and time has not done the two any favors. Thankfully the soundtrack still holds true today, with great techno beats and some truly good orchestral arrangements.
There really isn’t anything like Zone of the Enders on home consoles today. The first game is absurdly weak and offers little more than a look into the world before it ends abruptly after five hours. The main course here is the 2nd Runner, which takes concepts from the first and expands them to create a very appealing experience that everyone should try. Even with all the shortcomings to be found in the story and character development, this is one HD collection worth picking up. Sure it might just be a glorified action game but it doesn’t matter – this is a sweet action game. As someone who never played the series before today, I can safely say that Zone of the Enders really surprised me in a good way. I too now join the droves of people out there begging for a third entry in the series to see just what Kojima and company could do with the game on current consoles and beyond.