There's a nice symmetry then, to the fact that the Zone of the Enders HD Collection, which contains the original Zone of the Enders as well as the European special edition of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, comes with a demo for the upcoming Metal Gear: Revengeance (although Australian readers may want to read on!)...
At least it does in just about every region other than Australia (possibly due to classification issues – the Revengeance demo has pulled an R-rating which Australia still doesn't have). So, absent the demo the HD Collection will have to stand up to scrutiny on its own merits. How does it fare? Read on…
Both Zone of the Enders games are set in the late 22nd century, a time when humanity has colonized Mars and set up space stations around Jupiter. They have also developed orbital frames (or mecha), powered by a scarce resource known as ‘Metatron'. For reasons never explained in the game there is friction between various colonies, resulting in a BAHRAM force invading the colony on Antilia in search of two extremely powerful orbital frames.
The 2nd Runner has a very similar story, though there's a new lead character; Dingo Egret. During a routine day mining metatron Dingo discovers an unusual container with Jehuty inside. Unfortunately for Dingo the BAHRAM forces searching for Jehuty arrive at the same time and wipe out all his co-workers. Dingo swears revenge on BAHRAM, and that's the crux of the second game.
If you've never played a Zone of the Enders game before, the first thing you need to know is that they feature high-speed robot action, not the lumbering shuffle of so many other videogame mechs. The game is played from the third-person perspective, and there's a training program to take you through all the basics such as moving, attacks, dashing and guard. You get additional training as you learn new skills and find new sub-weapons.
Making intelligent use of the environment, both laterally and vertically, plays a big role in successfully taking on your opponents. Both games auto-lock onto enemies, which is extremely useful, but also has some drawbacks (more on that later). Jehuty's attacks depend on its distance from enemies; up close you'll unleash devastating sword attacks, while at range it fires projectiles. You also have a bunch of sub-weapons at your disposal, including homing missiles, an attack that temporarily immobilizes enemies, and another that heals Jehuty among others.
The lone exception to this pattern is rescue missions where you receive an SOS from a nearby town and have to eliminate BAHRAM forces while saving as many people, and doing as little damage to buildings as you can. Saving people isn't too hard, but limiting damage to buildings is tough as it severely restricts the weapons at your disposal. It's worth it though, as you performance in the five rescue missions makes up a significant chunk of your overall grade when you complete the game.
Zone of the Enders is an extremely short game, with your first playthrough taking around 4.5 to 5 hours. If, however, you treat it as an extended training mission for the vastly superior second game, it doesn't seem so bad.
The 2nd Runner was released in 2003, two years after the original game, but it improves on the original in almost every conceivable way. The visuals are sharper, the narrative is told through a series of anime clips that fit the game better than the FMV sequences of Z.O.E., there's greater variety in missions, more enemies, more collectibles, superior replay value and overall it feels much more polished than Z.O.E. It's interesting to note that there really aren't any other games out (on PS3 at least) that closely resemble either of the Zone of the Enders games, making them a unique proposition well worth checking out if the idea of high-speed mech combat appeals to you.
The biggest issue I had with the HD Collection has to do with the auto-lock targeting. In the first game this actually works quite well, mostly because there are only ever a few enemies around and it's easy to cycle between them. In The 2nd Runner however, there are often a ton of enemies nearby and trying to lock-on to the one you want can take a tremendous amount of effort. While that in itself is frustrating at various times through the game, the problem is accentuated in one of the games two rescue missions.
In this particular mission you have to target allies for healing amongst a swarm of enemies. However, even with your ally directly in front of you while you furiously press the L2 button to change targets, you often won't lock onto them, leading to many an unfortunate death. Seeing as this rescue mission makes up a huge chunk of your overall grade for the game this one mission, despite being fun in its own right, can be a major chore to complete perfectly thanks to the inaccurate targeting system.
There are a few technical hitches – pauses between cut-scenes, slow loading times and a few hitches during the anime sequences that result in little black boxes appearing on characters' faces, but these are pretty minor. Lastly, Aussie gamers have every reason to be disappointed about the lack of the Metal Gear: Revengeance demo which has been omitted due to classification restrictions!
Visually the two games have received a bit of an update, as you'd expect considering this is a HD collection. Jehuty and the bosses appear to have had the most work done on them as they positively sparkle when on camera. Their edges are clearly defined, they're highly detailed and their surfaces reflect light nicely. The 2nd Runner features some cool-looking effects too, and the cel-shaded explosions look as pretty today as they did nearly a decade ago.
The sound is one area time hasn't dulled. The techno-heavy soundtrack suits the game as well today as it did a decade ago, and the dynamic score that changes based on the on-screen action rivals some of today's games. The sound effects are great too, which is good news considering how often you'll hear explosions and battle sounds. The one area both games struggle is with voice acting which doesn't really meet today's standards. That's fair enough considering both games are nearly a decade old, but that age shows here as much as anywhere else.
The Zone of the Enders HD Collection has its faults, but the high-paced combat is so fun that you'll be able to ignore many of them. Without any other games (on PS3 at least) that closely resemble either of the Zone of the Enders games this is a unique proposition. If you can look past the whiny characters and weak storyline and focus on the action, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection is a unique and interesting title, though clearly not up with Hideo Kojima's best.
Review By: Mike Allison