Zone of the Enders HD Collection

August 11, 2013

I remember when Zone of the Enders was little more than a price barrier, standing between me and the first demo for Metal Gear Solid 2. The original game, produced by Hideo Kojima, was largely picked up by MGS fans after the pack-in and not the mecha action game attached to it, but those who tried it out found the beginnings of something unique. Both Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner could now be considered ‘cult classics’ – not necessarily hits with the mainstream, but with a following large enough to ensure a third game currently in development. In what is no doubt an attempt to bring the franchise back into gamers’ collective consciousness, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection has been released containing both these games, and staying true with what worked before, includes a pack-in demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. But let’s focus on the actual games.

First off, the HD upgrade has sharpened the graphics, brought the games into widescreen and added a very fancy (and somewhat pervy) new anime intro. In areas, The 2nd Runner especially looks like it’s been cleaned up a lot, so it’s a welcome remake.

Zone of the Enders tells the very standard tale of a young boy in the 22nd century, thrust into a perilous situation as he is forced to pilot a giant mecha known as an Orbital Frame against hordes of terrorist robot forces. During the course of the game he must rescue his pious and kind girlfriend, face off against a vicious foe and learn the value of bravery.

There are some good central ideas at the core of ZOE, but not enough is done with them. The ‘Enders’ referred to in the title are humans living on Mars and Jupiter colonies, exploited by Earth’s government and treated with disdain. The terrorist forces you fight (BAHRAM) are supposedly fighting for Mars’ independence, but we never really get any insight into their story, or the bigger picture, or even the smaller lives of these colonists. There’s also the matter of ADA, the Frame’s on-board AI, who comes to understand the value of human life and attain a degree of sentience throughout the game. This is handled slightly better, but the simple story can’t find a lot to do with these developments.

What grabbed my attention when I first played the game back in 2001 was the unexpected swiftness of the gameplay. Your Frame, ‘Jehuty’, doesn’t handle like most mechs in other games. She doesn’t feel heavy or slow, but is constantly in the air – able to boost at lightning speed around the battlefield and clashing with opponents in an instant. The controls take some getting used to – moving higher or lower is done with the face buttons rather than an analogue stick – but once you get into the groove, it’s a unique experience. However, it does feel like a prototype for a much larger one.

The game is quite short, probably no more than eight hours long if you know what you’re doing, and it takes place over a fairly limited gamespace, inside a colony orbiting Jupiter. You can fly between areas through an overworld, but there’s little reason to re-visit areas except to partake in optional rescue missions, or level up Jehuty (which doesn’t take long seeing as there are only eight easily achievable levels). There are several boss battles, which are generally grand in scale and quite challenging.

There are a few niggles here and there. Aiming is extremely slow and imprecise, but for some incomprehensible reason necessary in some missions, as you try to hit tiny invisible targets known as ‘Porters’ accurately. There’s a range of sub-weapons to use, but many feel useless and only a couple are truly useful. The ability to destroy the environment was novel at the time, and still fun now, but being penalised for it constantly takes some of the joy out of it in single-player (although the unlockable multiplayer mode has no such judgment on your actions and is as a result quite fun). This all said, I like Zone of the Enders. It may be partly due to nostalgia, but it’s brief, fun and is nicely presented, with some memorable music.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner eschews the first game’s protagonist for the hilariously named ‘Dingo’. An ex-BAHRAM agent and miner, Dingo discovers Jehuty boxed up on Callisto, and after a brief introduction, is fused with its life support systems – if he leaves Jehuty, he will die. From there, the game takes on a much larger scope than the original, taking you from Jupiter to Mars’ BAHRAM fortress and finally setting the stage for an epic showdown between Jehuty and its all-powerful twin, Anubis.

Now, the second game improves on just about everything from Zone of the Enders. For one, the story’s grander scale allows for more interesting situations and locations, even if once again any cool ideas are boiled down to a very simple ‘good vs. evil’ battle. The visuals have been upgraded into a quasi-cel shaded look. Frames and robots are in proper 3D, but have anime-style textures, effects and explosions. The 3D character models are replaced by great looking anime cutscenes, giving the series more of a visual identity than it had before.

The gameplay in The 2nd Runner receives an upgrade as well. Jehuty seems to move even faster, her laser cannons are more plentiful than ever and her ‘burst’ attacks are even more satisfying. You can now charge energy balls, Dragon Ball Z style, watching them grow to giant size before hurling them at enemies, which is as awesome as you can imagine. Sub-weapons become a lot more useful too, each gaining a more clearly defined purpose and tactical edge for battles.

Unfortunately, this port hasn’t fixed the extremely annoying slowdown The 2nd Runner suffered from, which is disappointing given how quick and nimble Jehuty is meant to be. Once the action picks up, the frame-rate becomes more choppy than Chopper’s chopstick night onboard his Chopboat in the middle of the Mediterranean.

The 2nd Runner also features some great music, including the memorable ‘Beyond the Bounds’ song which has since become the series’ most recognisable theme.

The Zone of the Enders HD Collection is worth a purchase if you’ve heard of the series and want to see what all the fuss is about. I guarantee you that watching some footage from The 2nd Runner will be enough to pique your interest, and neither game disappoints in providing fast paced, stylistic and fun robot action. Sometimes I wish the plot was better, or the translation to HD fixed their performance problems, but I like the universe which Kojima helped build and look forward to the eventual third installment. If you’re after something a bit different, check it out (and not just because you want the Metal Gear Rising demo).


Fast-paced action | Great anime style | Interesting universe | Revengeance demo


Plot doesn't amount to much | Slowdown | Aiming controls

Overall Score: