The market for games involving giant robots has been primarily dominated by western developers with games like Mech Warrior and the recent Hawken. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been any mech-based games from eastern studios, as I’m sure you’ll find tons of Gundam tie-in games to prove me wrong. These games, nevertheless, weren’t all that good.
Along came Hideo Kojima, who wanted to try making a game that didn’t have the words ‘Metal’ and ‘Gear’ in the title. He made Zone of the Enders as one of the launch titles for the PS2. While the game did see some modicum of success, it wasn’t really all that famous. It did manage to get a cult following, however, and Kojima was happy enough to give us a sequel, and so we got Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. It’s now been 12 years since the first game, and 10 years since the second, and to get some people excited over the in-development Zone of the Enders 3, Konami has released the Zone of the Enders HD Collection.
Who doesn't love flying robots?
Controlling the main star of the Zone of the Enders games—Jehuty—may seem daunting at first, especially since the games use almost every button on the controller, but once you get used to it, it’s a breeze just blitzing between enemies as you hack them up while getting distance between you and the bigger target so you can unleash a big spirit-bomb-style attack on them. Analogue sticks control the mech and camera with elevation being controlled by the trigger buttons. All the attacks are on the face buttons, which include shooting, hacking, slashing, and grabbing for throw attacks.
The first game was an experiment back in the day, and it’s apparent now more than ever. The game faces issues with the writing and some elements of its gameplay, and of course, the voice acting. Whoever can forget the enormous amounts of terrible of the voice acting?
The plot of the first game involves a boy named Leo Stenbuck – a colonist from the Antilia colony near Jupiter. The colony faces an attack from BAHRAM forces, and as anime and anime-inspired things generally go, Leo ends up piloting a mecha – which are referred to in this universe as Orbital Frames. This mecha, named Jehuty, is special, of course. Leo uses Jehuty and its built-in AI A.D.A. to fight off BAHRAM, who are after the mecha under orders from their enigmatic leader Nohman. As he battles BAHRAM, Leo’s main aim is to rescue civilians, get more power-ups for Jehuty, and make it to the other side of Jupiter without letting the bad guys get their hands on the frame.
Jehuty is extremely badass
The story feels a lot like it’s a filler amongst an epic storyline that’s happening in the background, and basically ends up being an excuse to let you fight using an awesome mech. The controls are simple to get used to and make you look extremely awesome. The game does suffer large problems with repetitions though, as the only different thing you do is fight a couple of bosses here and there. It isn’t difficult to see why the game wasn’t that much of a commercial hit back in the day, but we sure are lucky that it made some money, because that gave Kojima an excuse to give us 2nd Runner.
2nd Runner is an improvement over the first game in every way. The story is much more engaging and doesn’t face problems with its pacing, the gameplay is more fun thanks to the controls being more responsive, and the bad voice acting is replaced by cool cutscenes with mediocre voice acting.
The second game doesn’t have Leo. Instead, it gives us a new pilot for Jehuty – Dingo Egret. Dingo comes across Jehuty while working at a mining facility in Callisto. He is then attacked by BAHRAM and their leader. Out of desperation, Dingo gets into Jehuty to fight them off, and after a series of unfortunate events, ends up mortally wounded. Dingo then gets plugged into Jehuty, which acts as a life-support system for him, and thus continues the saga of getting Jehuty to Mars.
Escalation is on scale of a typical mecha anime—meaning it's completely insane
This time around, the game has completely embraced its anime roots. The level of escalation in this game rivals that of some of the craziest anime ever. Some of the fights are so epic that you’d be forgiven for forgetting you aren’t watching an episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
2nd Runner also has much better graphics, thanks in no small amount to using what looks like the same – if not similar – graphical engine as that of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This is even more apparent if you look at the mecha in this game and any Metal Gear from MGS2. The cutscenes are either in-engine, or are shown through a beautiful 2D anime art style.
Both of the games walk a fine line between being third-person shooters and hack-and-slash games. Switching between the two modes is automatic, and depends on the distance between you and your target, with the attack button or both modes being the same. Shooting generally entails strafing, and you can strafe in any direction you like. Jehuty also has a burst mode that lets you dash in any direction, including in your enemies face where you can then either pummel them to the ground or throw them to other enemies to make big explosions happen.
"Come at me bro" is what you'll be saying when you pilot Jehuty
Konami has done a great job on the HD rerelease, much like its previous attempt – the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. The game seems to run at a solid 50-60 fps, which helps the action look smooth and fast, though I did notice a framerate drop in one particular encounter. Every other fight in the collection has worked fine, though, despite the sometimes large number of enemies in the battlefield. If nothing else, you can always pretend that you’re Neo from the Matrix movies for that one fight. Both the games look beautiful with the higher resolution textures and widescreen support. If you played the terrible HD remake of the older Silent Hill games, don’t let that put you off of this great release. With this, Konami is building a solid track record of HD Collections.
If you were a fan of the games from back in their heydays, there’s no doubt that you already own a copy of the HD collection. For those that don’t, give this game a try. It might surprise you. Don’t let your distaste for anime get in the way of experiencing what will probably be a once-in-a-generation experience. Despite the cheesy voice acting and the sometimes-incomprehensible plot, the Zone of the Enders HD collection still manages to be a great addition to anyone’s library.