HD collections are usually only done with very successful and renowned game series; some examples are God of War, Ratchet and Clank, and Metal Gear Solid. That’s why it’s somewhat strange to see Zone of The Enders being rereleased. The games weren’t horrible by any means, but there are many people out there who have never heard of them. That could work in the collection’s favor, since it will give people a new chance to experience these games, but is also raises the question: are they worth experiencing?
The setting of Zone of The Enders has been done countless times before. Some planets have been colonized thanks to large mechas called Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle, or LEV for short, and tensions between the Space Colonies and Earth begin to rise. In a shocking turn of events (sarcasm) the colonies attempt to liberate themselves from Earth and thus a war breaks out. The protagonist for each game pilots a special LEV unwillingly, but must do so anyway. There really isn’t anything new in the story to set itself aside as groundbreaking. However, there are some good general concepts, although they aren’t presented properly and don’t really connect with the player.
The story in the first Zone of The Enders revolves around a boy named Leo, who was in a tight jam when an enemy robot appeared. He witnessed his friends die, causing him to run for his life and accidentally fall into Jehuty, a specialized LEV. With a special A.I. called A.D.A to help him control the dangerous weapon, Leo must pilot the LEV to survive. He wants nothing to do with the fighting, but certain events unfold which force his hand.
It’s important to keep in mind that this game was originally made back in 2001, because the voice acting and writing are terrible. You’ll cringe or laugh at the awkward deliveries of what are supposed to be dramatic lines. The graphics may have been updated but the character models still interact awkwardly with everything. The landscapes are boring and redundant, with gray and brown colors making each area feel exactly the same. The dialog is also wordy and goes in unnecessary circles for most of the game.
What was originally ahead of its time, and remains pretty impressive today, is the actual gameplay. Fighting in the LEV is simple and addictive – you can move in any direction and the various attacks are easy to learn. The control scheme is brilliant since it allows you to switch between different attacks easily, and this makes strategic fighting remarkable. You might shoot a couple of lasers from long-range to impede your enemy’s movements, then dash in to land a sword strike to push them back, and finally end it with a big, powerful energy blast to completely obliterate them. It’s fluent and simple, which keeps the focus of the gameplay fun instead of frustrating.
The actual fighting may be fine, but everything else needs work. There is a world map that you will constantly revisit in between the areas where all the fighting takes place. Each area is a boxed-off location with enemy squads floating around. After fighting these enemies you go back to the world map, then to another location where you fight more enemies, then back to the world map, and rinse and repeat. Many of the missions involve finding some object or destroying the right enemy. It’s extremely repetitive and there is only one thing that prevents it from becoming completely annoying: the entire game is only about four hours long, so it ends before things can get frustrating, although that really isn’t a positive.
The game also has some issues with letting you know what to do next. Maybe it’s because games back then didn’t hold your hand as much as they do today, but nevertheless you’ll find yourself doing a lot of backtracking looking for an item. The game will help you out by giving hints in the dialog, but they’re extremely awkward and don’t actually assist in the end. For example, one conversation might go like this: “I need to get past this barrier.” “There is an item to get you past this barrier.” “So, you’re telling me, if I get this item, I’ll be able to get past this barrier? Then I guess I should find this item.” Yet the game won’t tell you where to look for the item.
Truthfully, the first Zone of The Enders isn’t going to hold your attention that long. There are some side missions, but nothing to really keep you around. It’s too short to ever warrant purchasing, and even if the gameplay is interesting, it’s obvious that it needs tweaking. Luckily, that’s what Zone of The Enders: The 2nd Runner is for.
This time, a man named Dingo, who was an ice miner on Callisto (one of Jupiter’s Moons), climbs into Jehuty after the moon is invaded by a swarm of dangerous LEVs. He wants nothing to do with any fighting but gets roped into it anyway. The writing and voice acting are still bad, but this time the cutscenes are done in an anime style, so the characters aren’t as awkward.
The basic gameplay is the same but has been tweaked to fix all the previous problems. There isn’t a world map and you move fluently from one area to the next instead of simply going back and forth between boxed-off areas. The landscapes are still rather dull, but they are different enough to one another that it at least feels like you are moving around.
The combat works the same as before for the most part, although it has a faster pace and there is also a small combo system in place this time. There are also other new elements added, such as how knocking an enemy into a building will do bonus damage. It doesn’t feel repetitive like the previous game, and it’s longer as well. The only problem is the frame rate, which can drop incredibly low at times. However, when things run smoothly, the fighting is phenomenal. You’ll be slashing and diving around enemies so fast your eyes won’t be able to keep up, but you’ll trust your reflexes to keep you alive.
Both games may have their problems, but they also attempt to raise some serious issues. In the first game, Leo and A.D.A. are constantly arguing over the sanctity of life – A.D.A claims it’s logical to kill all enemies while Leo shows mercy, and this spills over into the value of artificial life as well. It’s an interesting concept, but the presentation fails with the poor writing and voice acting. The same can be said for The 2nd Runner - Dingo is more or less forced to fight and questions are raised about fighting in general. They are interesting ideas and it’s easy to see where the developers were heading, but they never quite drive that proverbial nail home.
There are some obvious flaws present in these two games, but they don’t completely derail the overall experience. The combat is well done, especially when you consider that these games are around a decade old. The presentation is the main fault that drags the games down. That being said, the games’ stories are definitely interesting and are both worth experiencing. Zone of The Enders: HD Collection is a good chance to pick up these two games, especially with the third game is in development – this collection will get you up to speed. There is even another little incentive – contained within the collection is a demo for the upcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. As such, for those of you who are big fans of Metal Gear Solid, it might not be a bad idea to grab this package. Zone of The Enders: HD Collection may have some flaws, but it is still worth playing.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Zone of The Enders: HD collection developed and distributed by Konami.