Two cult classics get another shot at life in Zone of the Enders HD Collection.
Hideo Kojima’s name will forever be synonymous with the Metal Gear franchise. And with good reason- the series is consistently innovative, engaging and topical. However, it’s not Kojima’s only brainchild- Zone of the Enders has garnered a cult following in the decade since its release in 2001; at the time, it was probably best known for being packaged with the demo for the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2. A sequel, which is universally regarded as superior to its predecessor, was released in 2003- The 2nd Runner. Both of these titles have been packaged in Zone of the Enders HD Collection, a re-release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. So how do the games hold up after all these years?
The first game tells the tale of one Leo Stenbuck, a kid who stumbles upon the Orbital Frame Jehuty while trying to evade the destructive BAHRAM forces. In Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, players took control of Dingo Egret, a pilot who discovers Jehuty once more 2 years after the events of the first game.
Back when Zone of the Enders released, it was definitely original for westerners; it was essentially an anime come to life. Gamers got the chance to jump into a mech and swordfight giant robots in space. The series always had promise, but never achieved a Metal Gear level of success. Jumping on the current trend, Zone of the Enders HD Collection gives the series a shiny coat and a chance at a new audience. Kojima announced in May (when this collection’s release date was revealed) that a new iteration of the Z.O.E. franchise was being readied, utilizing the FOX Engine. Surely Konami is keeping a keen eye on how Zone of the Enders HD Collection fares to test the waters for a sequel.
The first game, unfortunately, does not hold up well. The voice acting is worse than I remember (especially the actor for Leo), and the 3D cutscenes have aged badly (they almost look culled from a Saturn game, and the washed out upscaling doesn’t help matters). And though the gameplay is solid, the simplistic mission structure means you’ll find yourself grinding through waves of enemies in simplistic levels, searching for an upgrade, then rinsing and repeating for the remainder of the game’s incredibly short campaign. However, it laid the groundwork for a great sequel with fun, intuitive (for the time) ranged and melee combat, and an interesting premise.
The meat of Zone of the Enders HD Collection is in The 2nd Runner. Here, the gameplay and story is polished to a mirror sheen; firing guns in ranged combat, deftly dodging a swarm of enemy missiles, then dashing in for the kill with your energy blade puts a smile on your face. Dingo is a far more tolerable protagonist than Leo, and although the latter does make an appearance, he definitely takes a backseat this time around. The art style for The 2nd Runner smartly eschews the 3D cutscenes and fully embraces the anime vibe with fantastic 2D animation, and this look inspires the game’s 3D visuals as well. The first game’s drab palette is cast away in favor of a wide range of colors and varied environments. The particles effects used for the weaponry and environmental effects are outstanding, and with the Zone of the Enders HD Collection’s resolution upgrade it really does look like an anime brought to life.
Beyond the glossy resolution upgrade, both games feature an improved framerate, which is especially noticeable in The 2nd Runner, which features a faster gameplay pace. The games’ artistic style really pops with the cleaner textures, clean lines and brighter colors.
Zone of the Enders HD Collection is worth picking up for The 2nd Runner alone (and, needless to say, the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo). The first game is definitely playable, but will mostly serve as an extended introduction to the superior sequel. It’s great to see this franchise get a shot in the arm, and I can’t wait to see what Kojima Productions brings to the table with the next installment.