Producer Hideo Kojima is best known for his hit series, Metal Gear Solid. In 2001 for the launch of the PlayStation 2 Kojima-San introduced the world to a different series, Zone of the Enders. So far there have been two titles, Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: the 2nd Runner. The Zone of the Enders series (Z.O.E.) has become something of a cult classic with many fans hoping that Kojima-San will make a new one. Recently Hideo Kojima did announce he has begun preproduction on a third Z.O.E. title. In anticipation of this third title, publisher Konami has decided to release a HD remaster of the original two titles in Zone of the Enders HD Collection. So how well has the series held up over time? Strap yourself in. We're about to get some "High Speed Robot Action"
Both Zone of the Enders games take place in the 22nd century and center around the conflict of the Earth forces and BAHRAM forces. Mankind has colonized Mars and the moons around Jupiter. The primary drive of colonization and conflict is control over a high energy ore called Metatron. Two Orbital Frames (piloted giant battle robots), Jehuty and Anubis, are featured prominently in both games.
In Zone of the Enders a young boy, Leo Stenbuck, accidently stumbles into Jehuty while trying to hide from the slaughter of his colony by BAHRAM forces. Jehuty's AI, A.D.A., and an Earth Forces commander explain to Leo that she is to be taken to Mars for a special mission. Leo at first refuses, having just seen his friends die; he does not want to have a hand in the killing of anyone else. Leo eventually reluctantly agrees to help after it's explained to him that many more will die if A.D.A. isn't piloted to fulfill her mission (Jehuty's original pilot had been killed in the same attack on Leo's colony).
Before he fulfills A.D.A.'s mission, Leo uses Jehuty to rescue a friend, Celvice. She joins Leo as he continues to rescue citizens of the colony and fight back against BAHRAM. Along the way he battles a BAHRAM commander named Viola multiple times and eventually battles the BAHRAM leader Nohman who is piloting Jehuty's more powerful "twin" Orbital Frame, Anubis. In the end Leo finds out A.D.A.'s secret mission.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner picks up two years after the events of the first game. Dingo Egret, a former BAHRAM Orbital Frame pilot is hiding out as a miner on the moon, Callisto. Picking up some strange Metatron signatures in the ground he investigates. He finds Jehuty hidden away as BAHRAM forces attack the mining colony in search of Jehuty. Realizing the only way to protect his fellow miners is to fight, Dingo boards and activates Jehuty which boots up the AI A.D.A. She explains how to pilot Jehuty. After successfully defending the mining colony Dingo wants to know who is commanding the attack so he pilots Jehuty to board the BAHRAM command ship. There he encounters Anubis piloted by Nohman who easily over powers him. Nohman has Dingo disembark and meet him on deck.
As he goes to meet Nohman, Dingo runs into one of the Orbital Frame pilots he defeated on Callisto, Ken Marinaris. She is not very happy with Dingo, punching him as Nohman comes in. Nohman wants Dingo to reclaim his commission as an Orbital Frame pilot and fight alongside him. Dingo, knowing how cold blooded Nohman is, refuses. Nohman proceeds to shoot Dingo, mortally wounding him. He tells Ken to dispose of the body. When Nohman is out of earshot Ken reveals that she is an Earth Forces agent deep undercover and she can save Dingo's life if he agrees to help her. Before he can answer Dingo's world goes black.
Dingo rather painfully wakes up later strapped into the pilot seat of Jehuty. Ken explains that Dingo's heart and lungs were so badly damaged that she had BAHRAM doctors directly connect him to Jehuty's life support systems. That A.D.A. and Jehuty are keeping him alive and that he will die if he leaves the cockpit. She further reveals that she can have his heart and lungs replaced, but she needs his help first to defeat Nohman. Dingo reluctantly agrees. Ken helps him and Taper, a colony militia soldier who is helping fight back against BAHRAM, escape to Mars. There they encounter Leo who has become an Orbital Frame pilot for the Earth Forces. They battle their way across Mars with Ken eventually joining up. They learn of a BAHRAM scientist named Lloyd who can upgrade Jehuty and A.D.A. to be more powerful than Anubis so Nohman can be defeated. After finding and defeating Lloyd he agrees to upgrade Jehuty. As he is doing so he relates information about Project Aumaan, a space station so powerful it could potentially destroy entire solar systems.
As Lloyd finishes upgrading Jehuty, Nohman flies in and kills Lloyd. Dingo briefly retreats before teaming up with Leo again. Together they race after Nohman to stop him from acquiring Project Aumaan.
Controls and Gameplay
Both games in the Zone of the Enders HD Collection are arcade action giant robot battle games that use the same third person perspective control scheme. Because Kojima-San wanted to recreate the look and feel of the combat from Japanese animes the controls are fairly simple. Most movement is handled by they left thumbstick and two buttons for up and down. Attacks are also limited to two buttons, one for normal and one for special. The normal attack will also switch from distance to melee attacks automatically depending on how far the enemy is from player. This simple system makes battles in the first Z.O.E. game a bit easy, with tactics almost secondary. The second Z.O.E. game improved on this making tactics more of the emphasis.
Graphics and Sound
The upgrade and remastering of the original graphics from the PlayStation 2 to high definition for both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 are very well done. The anime style is crisp and clean. A whole new opening animation sequence has been created by legendary Japanese animation house, Sunrise, to highlight the over arching storyline. The cut scenes for Zone of the Enders looks a bit dated with their CGI, but their HD re-renders do make them look much crisper than the originals. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner also gets its cut scenes re-rendered, but since they were done in anime cartoon style instead of CGI they don't look dated at all.
No major changes were done with the excellent soundtrack, sound effects or voice acting other than bringing it up to date with Dolby Digital surround sound.
With HD remakes of popular games being all the rage these days it's surprising that the Zone of the Enders series has received a remastering. The first Zone of the Enders was released for a freshly launched and then unproven PlayStation 2, by a producer that at the time everyone was waiting for his next stealth action Metal Gear game, not an arcade action giant robot title. Back then it was thought it might not sell well so a demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was bundled with it. Reviews for Zone of the Enders were mixed at the time, but Kojima-San and Konami stuck with it and eventually released Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. It improved on the original in every way, yet kept the style and charm that has made the series something of a cult classic over the years. It's those fans that have inspired Hideo Kojima to create a third game and Konami to release this HD Collection.
As someone who did not get to play the originals I looked forward to the Zone of the Enders HD Collection when I heard of its announcement. I am already a fan of stealth action games because of Kojima-San, so I was very curious to see what he had done in a different genre.
I did find that while Zone of the Enders has an interesting story, the game lacked. A boy who does not want to kill piloting a powerful robot during a war he wants no part of makes for a great tale. On the other hand battle got to be repetitious. Go to an area, defeat all the other robots there, recover an item, move to next area. In some cases a secondary objective of "keep civilian casualties and surrounding damage to a minimum" would be thrown in to the challenge. Most battles I could just use normal attacks or in an interesting twist, I could attempt to avoid combat and "sneak" around in my giant robot to recover the items. The story is what really kept me going through the game, though at times it could get a bit confusing, and Leo could be a bit whiney. I can overlook the combat to a point since originally they were developing for a brand new gaming system and everyone was learning new things for a notoriously hard to program for PlayStation 2.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner balances everything much better. I found myself quickly on the losing end of a fight when I tried the same tactics from the first Z.O.E. game. Combat takes a more combined effort of normal, special attacks, and combos to win. The story also gets a bit more streamlined too bringing elements of the first and weaving them nicely into the plot. Also by the time Z.O.E.: The 2nd Runner was released, Kojima-San and his team had plenty of experience with the PlayStation 2 to make it dance. As a bonus the version presented here is the "Special Edition" version that has additional difficulties, more scenarios and extra VR missions.
For me Zone of the Enders HD Collection was a fun and interesting look at a series I had heard about from fans. The gameplay of the first Z.O.E. drags it down, but Z.O.E.: The 2nd Runner makes for a good capper. I give Zone of the Enders HD Collection a solid 4 out of 5 for great action and classic anime space opera.
Zone of the Enders HD Collection is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Partial Nudity by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
Zone of the Enders HD Collection is available now for the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360. For more information see the Zone of the Enders HD Collection web site.