Zone of the Enders was among the roster of niche franchises that arrived on Western shores in the wake of PlayStation 2. Its’ obvious anime influences being giant-robot action better known by the term “mecha action” set its scope within a fairly limited audience among the ever-growing PS2 user-base back in 2001.
Brief history lesson aside, with its third installment finally entering into pre-development phase, Konami assumed now was the best time to bring back both the original and the sequel aptly titled The 2nd Runner to a much wider audience via the HD Collection.
It’s a noble intention from the publisher’s side — giant robots have a distinct appeal among fans of Japanese games and Zone of the Enders has the mark of Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind the Metal Gear franchise. Moreover considering the fact that getting new PS2 copies of both the games online might be a hassle – it only seemed obvious for Konami to jump on the “HD remake” bandwagon.
Zone of the Enders is set in a futuristic time where a rebel force from Mars threatens the peace of the entire Solar System and giant robots called as “Orbital Frames” are considered as invaluable war machines. Both the games put players in the shoes of different pilots – colloquially called as “Runners” — in an Orbital Frame called Jehuty.
The original Zone of the Enders has players assume the role of a young teenager Leo Sternbuck who stumbles upon Jehuty after witnessing his entire colony on Jupiter burn in front of his eyes following a rebel attack. The sequel puts you in the role of Dingo,an ex-rebel who discovers Jehuty on Callisto and turns against his former allies.
The combat itself is typically action-based with slow and fast attack variants of melee and ranged weapons. In addition, sub-weapons which you’ll discover through missions provide an alternative attacking option. Like other games, guarding and dodging are key to success. The combat takes place in large open-spaces that can be used both for combat as well as for exploring for items that heal you. Enemies generally travel in groups and they can be seen so there are no invisible random encounters like JRPGs and avoiding needless enemy encounters often counts as an important strategy if you want to achieve success.
One of the major concerns in games with such fast-action combat often tends to be the camera but thankfully, both the Z.O.E games don’t have that issue and the control mechanics in general are very tight.
The mission structure is where both the original and its’ sequel – The 2nd Runner mainly differ. While the original has an overworld which can be used for travelling to different areas of the colony thus giving it a more “open-world” structure, the sequel is a strict linear affair with cutscenes being the only respite from consecutive stages of combat. Even if it might seem the opposite, The 2nd Runner‘s linearity actually gives it a nice continuity and reinforces its narrative pacing. It helps that the sequel’s story and characters are a league apart compared to the laughable and facepalm-worthy dialogues of the original.