Back in the PS2 era, while Hideo Kojima was still being praised for the classic Metal Gear Solid and gamers were waiting with bated breath for the sequel, Kojima and Konami released a different title. Zone of the Enders and its sequel 2nd Runner didn’t make quite the splash that the Metal Gear games did, but they were still well received by gamers, if not a bit under-appreciated. Now in HD, with remastered visuals and that familiar 3D-rendered anime feel, Zone of the Enders HD Collection gets its chance to once again show off its unique gameplay.
The first title, Zone of the Enders, is nothing if not heavy on the action, both in gameplay and in its cut scenes. Thanks to the easy-to-use controls, the battles, especially the one-on-one fights, are extremely fun and rewarding. No game to date has had much success in matching Zone of the Enders’ ability to provide satisfying robot battles. Dashing back and forth, dodging bullets, clashing blades with the enemy, and gaining the upper hand by landing the right move at the right time felt great the first time you did it, and it still feels great today. The sequel, Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner, follows suit with the fast paced action-combat, but the story plays a more pivotal role.
Zone of the Enders’ beginning may seem familiar to some, as it is very reminiscent of the 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam, which also finds a young protagonist, fleeing from a colony under attack by giant piloted robots, who jumps inside one that he finds and begins to fight back. In Zone of the Enders, this slot is filled by a young kid by the name of Leo, who pilots Jehuty, the main Orbital Frame ( the game’s breed of giant robots) of the series.
Beyond that, story is almost nonexistent, that is to say, it takes a big back seat to the gameplay. You need to save the colony you are on from bad people with robots who want to do bad things. It’s very basic at its best. The characters couldn’t be more uninspiring either. This game never gives you any reason to care very much for the characters, and the “development” is forced way too much. On top of all of it, Zone of the Enders is extremely short, with little to no closure. 2nd Runner is a bit deeper than its predecessor, and more grand in scale. You play as Dingo Egret, who, like Leo from Zone of the Enders, finds the Orbital Frame Jehuty and jumps in to pilot it in order to protect himself from attacking Frames. New characters are introduced and old ones return, making the cast that much more colorful.
With a lacking story, the tedious gameplay of Zone of the Enders becomes more apparent. With such basic gameplay, as fun as it is, a more in-depth story would have been nice. The problem with the awesome robot battles is that they start to get old. Backtracking to previous areas becomes too much of a regular thing at times, and you are forced into fighting the same enemies. No matter how fun the battles are, they still can’t stave off annoyance at performing the same tasks over and over.
Again, Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner builds upon this by giving you less backtracking, as well as making the combat more enjoyable. The controls are much more polished and friendly. Your dash doesn’t stop just because you attacked something, which makes maneuverability easier. The combat has also been modified, allowing for some new, though limited, combos that let you push back, toss up, or knock down the enemy. New gameplay mechanics have also been added and put to good use, such as being able to grab objects and use them as weapons, as well as enemies.
Despite its flaws, Zone of the Enders HD Collection is a great addition to the re-releases we have seen so much of. The gameplay, though tedious at times, is still great fun. The cinematics, though noticeably of the PS2 era, look bearable under the new HD upgrade, and the gameplay graphics look as fantastic as ever. If you’re an old fan, then you can’t miss this, especially with 2nd Runner being so rare. If you’ve never played them, then you should do yourself a favor and experience these great and under-appreciated games.