Nostalgia can be a funny sort of thing. Most of the time, it forces us to see history through rose-tinted glasses and in turn blinds us. This was the dilemma I was in before I found myself replaying the games featured in the Zone of the Enders HD Collection. These games are often lauded by video game fans as being some of the best mech-style games that have been made and as such, they have a high legacy to live up to. All of these years later, however, the games still hold up for the most part.
The collection contains two games, Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner. The original Zone of the Enders is a game that is fairly common and can be found in almost any used game store for dirt cheap, but The Second Runner is significantly rarer, with used copies running well over $20 on average and new ones going for significantly more. Considering just how difficult The Second Runner is to find, the collection might be worth it for that game alone.
The original Zone of the Enders focuses on a child named Leo, in the 22nd century on a colony orbiting Jupiter. The government of Earth has become less and less popular and as a result, separatist forces known as BAHRAM rise up and begin attacking colonies using “Orbital Frames.” These Orbital Frames are, for all intents and purposes, mech suits along the lines of Gundam suits. Leo happens to be trying to escape an attack by BAHRAM when he accidently finds himself piloting a mech suit known as Jehuty. He finds himself unwillingly thrown in the middle of the battle as Jehuty is meant to be a final weapon against BAHRAM forces.
The game’s controls are still fairly simple, yet this simplicity allows for the game to move surprisingly fast. You use two of the face buttons to control altitude as they fly through an area, while moving the left analog stick to move. The combat simple yet complex, with one button controlling your primary attack (which will be either a ranged attack or a melee attack depending on your distance from a targeted enemy) and another controlling a secondary set of weapons, which you can cycle through. For the most part, combat is still fairly simple and effective, yet the game often times has trouble distinguishing which enemies to attack. Cycling through targets is not that easy in this game and can lead to you having an enemy two feet away from you, while targeting the one who’s five hundred feet away and poses no immediate threat.
The main problem facing the original Zone of the Enders port is how sloppy everything outside of the game looks. When you are actually playing the game, the in-game models looks fairly well up-scaled on the Xbox 360. However, he game featured cutscenes that were usually pre-rendered and they look terrible as they were, seemingly, just blown up to fit a widescreen display. Additionally, the voice-over work doesn’t match with the mouth movement of characters. As a result, characters mouths will often move when they are not saying anything. It would have been awesome to see these scenes re-worked to look as good as they should.
All of the other minor problems this game had are still here, as well, though. The game still ends on one of the worst cliffhangers in all of gaming and it feels like there were a number of issues with the translation. It tries to handle the complex issues of war but it often times falls flat. Also, there is still a heavy fog of war in the game, leading it to be nearly impossible to see anything that is more than a short distance in front of you. However, the actual combat is still rather enjoyable and for being a three hour game, it doesn’t wear itself too thin by the time you are done with it.
The Second Runner, on the other hand, feels far better as a game, almost immediately. While the controls are very similar, the movement feels faster, sorting through your secondary weapons is much faster and everything is bright and lively. The art style of this game serves it much better than the original, especially when it comes to the cutscenes. Instead of the ugly, pre-rendered mess of the first game, the sequel features actual anime cutscenes. Additionally, the game uses in-game cutscenes and when it does, it looks fantastic, evoking a cell-shaded style to them. Everything about The Second Runner feels like it had more care given to it.
The game also features a more interesting plot, following a former member of BAHRAM forces known as Dingo Egret. Dingo finds himself forced, unwillingly, to fly Jehuty against BAHRAM. While it’s a similar plot to the first game, the sequel finds you travelling to far more locations, interacting with more characters and giving deeper meaning to everything in the universe. This level of depth creates a unique experience, allowing for a much more interesting world.
There are a few smaller issues in this game, however, mostly due again to controls. While much of the games controls are faster and more responsive, choosing different targets is still an issue. The game features large swarms of smaller enemies and if you find yourself fighting against a swarm of enemies and a few larger ones, the game will target each individual small enemy. This especially becomes frustrating as there are now spawn points that you’ll have to destroy in order to stop the flow of enemies in an area and targeting them is the most important thing you will usually do in a fight.
The collection does feel a bit lacking, as a whole. While the collection does feature a demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (a nod to the original Zone of the Enders featuring a demo for Metal Gear Solid 2), there is nothing extra on the disc. While the demo is a lot of fun, there are a number of things that could have been added here to make the package more appealing. The franchise features multiple anime’s and it would have been a nice touch to see these added in the collection. Additionaly, there are almost no options whatsoever between both games. This is a big problem with the original, as it can be almost impossible to see anything at times and having a brightness option would have helped this immensely.
However, Zone of the Enders is a serviceable collection of two fairly decent games. It would have been nice to see more care given to porting the original game since the actual gameplay still is farily competent. The Second Runner is still absolutely beautiful, though, and a blast to play. While there could have been more to it, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection is worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of this franchise.
SCORE: 7 out of 10
A review copy of Zone of the Enders HD Collection was provided to Pixel Related.