Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360, Playstation Vita
Review Platform: Playstation 3
Release Date: October 30, 2013
There is a time and place for niche titles. Games that encroach the foundation of established franchises with quirks can fail easily, but every once in a while we get a rejuvenating entry whose creative liberties pave the path of monotony with welcoming ingenuity and spirit. In 2001, Zone of the Enders premiered on PS2 systems worldwide, but its immediate success was a result of the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty demo that came packaged with the game. But it didn’t take long before players got sucked into ZOE’s unique approach to mecha combat and it soon became a cult classic. A sequel was inevitable and in 2003 ZOE: The 2nd Runner made its debut, fixing many of the predecessor’s shortcomings and marking the series as one of the most cherished franchises of the last generation. Now over a decade later, everyone’s beloved Jehuty receives an HD facelift, but how does it stand the test of time?
- Updated graphics do wonders for the art style
- Gameplay is just as fun a decade later
- Two cult classics for only 40$
- Fantastic new Anime cut scenes
- First ZOE is still plagued with the same issues
- Camera is still annoying
- Simplistic gameplay
The current generation is nearing the end of its lifecycle and there’s still nothing quite like the Zone of the Enders games. While simplistic, the fast paced mecha combat is incomparable, making the HD release feel as refreshing as it did over ten years ago. The sequel is clearly the highlight of this collection but the original’s charm and introduction to the ZOE universe shouldn’t be dismissed. You play a 17-year old kid who stumbles into a mysterious robot while being chased by the terrorist force BAHRAM that attacked his space colony and murdered his friends. In an attempt to hide from his pursuers, the boy falls into the cockpit of Jehuty, a giant Orbital Frame ready to kick ass. And so our story begins.
Zone of the Enders is a hack n’ slash shooter with giant, lightning-fast robots. The gameplay relies on rhythmical button mashing, but its simplicity allows for incredible aerial maneuvering and ferocious choreography. The first ZOE is simple in its narrative, taking players from one area to the next as you liberate survivors, retrieve parcels of data, and occasionally engage in boss battles. Each city block is guarded by patrolling enemy robots that you can take out with long-distance and melee attacks. When away from your enemies, Jehuty automatically shoots with the selected weapon, while close range combat switches to hand-to-hand style attacks. You can charge attacks, even throw enemies, so it oftentimes feels like a fighting game. But beyond the flashy combat, the first Zone of the Enders lacks substance and variety. Enemy units are repetitive and the brief campaign has you recycling similar objectives over and over. But ZOE is merely a warm-up to the spectacular sequel.
Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner is what defines the series as a niche franchise. Its narrative escalates to great heights with the addition of fantastic Anime cut scenes making the entire universe feel more cohesive and fleshed out. We’re introduced to a new protagonist, Dingo Egret, who’s a BAHRAM ex-pilot currently working as an ice minor on the moons of Jupiter. After he discovers Jehuty, he’s attacked by his former forces and fatally injured, only to be rescued by a disgruntled BAHRAM soldier. Dingo’s story feels more engaging and the characters you meet are genuinely more interesting.
While the predecessor introduced conceptually unique combat techniques, 2nd Runner gives the gameplay mechanics more depth and involvement. For instance, you can now dictate the direction of throws, which lets you toss opponents all over the battlefield for more precision. Additionally, you can grab certain objects around each arena for long-range attacks. The lock-on mechanic has been tightened up which makes shifting between enemies feel less schizophrenic – you can even lock-on to an entire wave of opponents simultaneously. The repetitive 3-hit combo from the predecessor has been overhauled with modifiers that vary your attacks by altering the final button press. This small change adds great strategy to combat, especially when you’re alternating between enemy types.
Unfortunately, similar problems continue to plague both games. Rotating the camera feels awkward and slow. The battles are fast and 40+ enemies sometimes surround you, but turning the camera with the right analog stick makes it seem like Jehuty is moving through butter. Ascending and descending feels just as uncomfortable and distracts from the otherwise smooth flow of combat. But none of these shortcomings divert from the joy of slicing away with a giant robot. Considering their age, both titles play smoothly and are an exemplary achievement of technical excellence.
The HD upgrade did wonders for the visuals. The games’ unique aesthetic translates beautifully to high def and the added cut scenes really bring the package together. The first Zone of Enders still has that Metal Gear Solid color palette throughout, while the sequel introduces more environmental effects and softer tones. Some of the CGI in the first ZOE is still very fuzzy and certainly shows its age, but the animated cinematics are ageless. In the audio department, the soundtrack is superlative. Catchy techno-pop tunes are in sync with the action as you slice through waves of opponents. Voice acting, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Leo from the first ZOE is extremely annoying and ADA just won’t shut up. The sequel definitely polishes the performances, but the dubbing is clearly the games’ weakest element.
|Final Score||“A Classic Then and a Classic Now”||8.5|
Back in the PS2 days, the game was a graphical masterpiece. Surprisingly, more than ten years later and its visuals still impress. The exemplary art style is ageless and unique. This is a beautiful package that stylistically transcends time.
The gameplay is simple and oftentimes repetitive, but it's undeniably fun. The sequel is significantly more diverse in its arsenal and control complexity, while the original ZOE is more of a warm-up. Both games provide a unique mecha experience that's yet to be bested.
Two incredibly popular classics for only forty dollars? Yea, it's a steal. If you call yourself a gamer, this is a must for your collection.
Sound effects and music are superb, but the voice acting can be borderline atrocious. The sequel is light years better in its performance, but you can't hide the poor dubbing. Nevertheless, it's the thumping tunes during combat that really matter.
Review by Tin Salamunic
Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin.