The original Zone of the Enders may have eluded most when it was originally released by Konami on PlayStation 2 back in 2001. Although not a huge selling title, the Hideo Kojima developed mecha-robotic action-adventure achieved cult following (possibly due to the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty demo being bundled with it) and enough success to warrant producing a sequel, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner in 2003.
Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Konami Computer Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Action, Third-Person Shooter
Release: October 2012
Since then, the series has kept a seemingly low profile, until earlier this year when Kojima himself confirmed a third title to be in production. For those that missed it the first time round, Konami have opened their game library to re-release both titles in a compilation package; Zone of the Enders HD Collection, loaded with updated features for fans to re-visit and a new generation to discover.
One of the first things you’ll notice is the stunning opening cinematic, completely recreated and animated in 16:9 ratio HD by renowned Japanese anime studio Sunrise, best known for their work on the Gundam animated series. If first impressions matter, Zone of the Enders HD Collection certainly makes an impact and hopefully points to greater things to come out of Kojima Productions.
Although a re-release of existing titles, Konami have worked to bring the series up to a standard for current generation consoles. The interface has been completely updated to high definition resolution along with the in-game graphics, art has been redrawn and the audio has been tweaked and improved to better reflect the gaming landscape. Trophy and achievement hunters are catered for with support on all released formats and rumble features where applicable. The original cut scenes remain intact in its 4:3 ratio presentation which I initially found disappointing after the spectacular introduction, although learnt to appreciate the true to original design.
Set in the 22nd century, Zone of the Enders centers on the exploits of a boy named Leo Stenbuck, inhabitant on the Jupiter colony of Antilia. While fleeing from a terrorist attack, Leo unwittingly becomes the pilot of ‘Jehuty’, a mechanized unit known as an Orbital Frame. Throughout the course of the game, Leo along with Jehuty rescues his female companion Celvice and takes on opposing forces, putting Leo’s mettle and bravery to the test. With Mars and Jupiter colonised in the distant future, the colonists have been given the title of ‘Enders’, harshly treated by the Earth’s government who impose exploitive laws and taxes against the inter-planetary inhabitants. This imbalance leads to terrorist forces BAHRAM rising up to fight for Mars’ independence, who Leo encounters along his journey.
Popular mecha anime Gundam has shown the huge story-telling potential of revolutionary tales set in an intergalactic future, but unfortunately Zone of the Enders never quite reaches this level of detail. The diminutive colonists inhabiting the different colony locations are only ever referenced but never seen, making it difficult to really care for the people you’re supposedly fighting to protect. Character development is better illustrated through ADA, Jehuty’s on-board computer who through experiences comes to better understand the value of human life.
Z.O.E excels in its gameplay, turning mech-based titles on its head as Jehuty is able to move with speed and mobility unlike other mech games where movement tends to be slow and clunky. Always airborne and floating along the battlefield, enemies can be engaged at range with projectile fire or tackled with close range melee in the form of bladed beam slashes. Left, right and even up and down are all possible in the scope of control, although controller configuration will take a little getting used to. Aiming isn’t as responsive or as accurate as it could be given certain missions demand use of accurate aim-shots to complete.
Not a particularly long title with fairly limited map areas to explore confined to Jupiter’s colonies, navigated via an overview screen. There are side missions to take for experience and levelling purposes but they aren’t all that interesting or enticing to play, largely due to Z.O.E constantly penalising and grading your results for destroying the environment, which crumble fairly easily even when you’re consciously keeping damage to a minimum. The boss battles do provide challenging encounters that will require thoughtful strategy to overcome.
In Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, Leo is replaced by the quirky named protagonist Dingo Egret, ex-BAHRAM agent and miner. Upon discovering old faithful Jehuty packed away on Callisto, Dingo finds himself in a predicament becoming fused to Jehuty life support system, where upon leaving the Orbital Frame would result in his death. Z.O.E.: The 2nd Runner expands on the original in just about every respect, with new areas on Jupiter and Mars to explore, deeper, more engaged story-telling ultimately resulting in a climatic showdown between Jehuty and her twin counterpart, Anubis. The visuals have been enhanced with an animated cel-shaded appearance, as well as updated textures more in-line with the anime illustrated concept art. The anime tie-in doesn’t stop there with animated cut scenes presented in anime styling. Pacing in the gameplay has also been quickened for a more fluid experience, along with new sub-weapons and primary arsenal for a more gratifying killing experience.
Sadly there are a few drawbacks that haven’t been rectified from the original Z.O.E.: The Second Runner. Slow-downs and a drop off in frame rates are clearly evident and grinds the explosive combat to a halt at some inopportune situations. Given the technical advancements over the years, I felt perplexed to see Jehuty suffer from the same lingering problem in this day and age. Fortunately the soundtrack has been retained and all those memorable classic tunes haven’t been dulled over the years.
If you’ve kept track of the details behind Z.O.E HD Collection, you may be aware of an included demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance as incentive to purchase the bundle pack. Unfortunately due to classification restrictions, the Australian release will not come with the hotly anticipated demo. Even without the guest appearance of Raiden, Z.O.E HD Collection is still a worthy purchase for its sheer enjoyment value. High-speed mechanical combat has been strangely absent from the gaming landscape and Zone of the Enders HD Collection is a nice reminder of what can be achieved, and hopefully a teaser of what’s the come.
8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.