An idea that has remained fresh and under-utilized for the past decade, Zone of the Enders is an action series that allows players to fight as a human-controlled robots against other robots (controlled and otherwise). The game uses a typical third-person action game control scheme to some extent, but as fighting robots, the action is incredibly fast-paced; battles can move from the ground to the sky in the blink of an eye, and whether it be against the mech forces of BAHRAM or one of the crazy bosses, battles will force players to quickly switch between melee and long-distance laser attacks.
Included on the Zone of the Enders HD Collection disc is an HD remake of Zone of the Enders, Zone of The Enders: The 2nd Runner, and an exclusive demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Because of the delicate nature of high-definition re-releases, we won’t spend too much time on the quality of each individual game, but I suppose that will have to happen to some extent.
I originally wrote a paragraph here explaining the story as Wikipedia explained it, but even after finishing both games (and even starting a second play through in ZOE2), it still doesn’t make much sense to me. I know that the games follow this huge conflict between Earth and various camps of people throughout the solar system, and that you play as Jehuty, a fighting robot (Orbital Frame) that is stronger than every other fighting robot except another Orbital frame called Anubis, who is seemingly more powerful. I could basically understand that BAHRAM are the power-hungry bad guys and I could sort of see some of the motivations of various characters, but the more intricate plot details were lost on me. From the three people who I’ve asked about these games, there were two who did understand the complete plot and one who was equally as lost as I was.
The first Zone of the Enders is something of a rough concept. At about four hours long, the game sets the groundwork for the great ideas this series has to offer, but it does so in a bit of a stumble. Following a boy named Leo, a colonist from Jupiter, he accidentally finds himself piloting Jehuty and ends up having to save civilization from the destructive rebels. The story doesn’t give much context, and it comes off as convoluted when little is explained but a ton of plot threads are introduced at once. The gameplay is split between missions of defeating enemies and saving colonies, getting the right programs and weapons to outfit Jehuty with the offensive horsepower he needs, and fighting bosses. The shame in the gameplay of the original is that it relies on button mashing a bit too much, even though it is quite fun at times. In addition, the game doesn’t give much direction as to what you’re supposed to do next, so a good ten minutes can be wasted every few levels just aimlessly going into areas to activate a cutscene or find an activation password. Again, the idea is so creative and fun that it’s difficult not to have fun throughout the entire game, even despite these faults. Another positive comes with the updated visuals. Some textures still look bad, and the cutscenes have not been updated at all in either version (so they look pretty awful), but the overall game looks great in motion.
As a game, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, is a huge improvement. The game follows Dingo, a guy who falls into Jehuty by accident and ends up taking on BAHRAM (and its leader) head-on. Because the story isn’t strung together through a confusing hub world, everything flows much better. In addition, the story is longer (by at least two hours) and more coherent, the combat is faster, and the visuals look top-notch. The actual HD revision of 2nd Runner is good enough to actually look like a game that would be released nowadays. The cutscenes are still PS2 quality, but the fact that they are carried out through anime-style cutscenes keeps any part of the game from looking too dated. Unfortunately, the framerate suffers greatly at times. The game runs fine 70% of the time, but too frequently combat slows down significantly, and a few battles are a chore to get through thanks to the choppiness of the game. It’s never too horrible, but it is a real bother at times.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this collection is the aforementioned Metal Gear Rising demo. Although it’s included on the blu-ray disc, you need to install the 3400ish MB file onto your hard drive to play it. Regardless of the reasoning, it is a pretty huge demo. The first part is a tutorial stage that goes over the general basics of how to play. Raiden’s sword slashing looks as incredible as ever, and the entire goal of the five-or-so minute experience is to gain a greater understanding of how to manipulate the sword slashing to your advantage. The second part is a 20-30 minute story demo that places you in an actual level of the game. For the most part, the demo is made up of light exploration, a few fights against mechs and other cyborgs, and a very difficult boss fight. What makes the game feel so great is that it feels like a delicious combination of Metal Gear Solid and a Platinum-developed game. The smooth hacking-and-slashing is constantly rewarded with letter grades based on performance, but with that also comes the trademark Metal Gear writing and (albeit limited) stealth. And again, the swordplay is excellent. Simply slicing at columns or enemies and watching them fall apart is a glee, but still retains a level of depth that the included boss fight (I won’t spoil anything!) still requires a massive layer of strategy. While it might not justify forty dollars on its own, I doubt many fans would feel ripped off by this delightful inclusion.
Because the first game isn’t that amazing and the excellent sequel has some technical issues, it might be a little difficult to offer a whole-hearted recommendation. If you are a fan, however, and you love everything about both of these games, I doubt you will be too disappointed even in light of the faults. If you have never played the series and want to give it a try, I won’t try to stop you. And at the end of the day, at least you’re getting a Metal Gear Rising demo out of it.