[Review] Zone of the Enders HD Collection
HD Remakes occupy a dangerous territory. On the one hand, they bring back old favorites (hopefully) better than ever with an updated image and design elements. On the other hand, they cater to nostalgia which is a dangerous sentiment, as the feeling tends to gloss over negatives in favor of an overall positive experience to remind oneself that a game may not have been good as it was once thought to be.
Luckily for me I never played Zone of the Enders prior to this HD release.
Zone of the Enders is Hideo Kojima’s big mech game released for the Playstation 2 back in 2001. It follows the dramatic adventures of a young child named Leo Stenbuck forced into the cockpit of the Orbital Frame (The names of the robots in-series) Jehuty. What follows is a story that hits the cliche of the 90s robot mech story without irony. Namely: a whiny protagonist. Luckily they replaced him in the second game with someone a bit more tolerable but my complaints about the story extends to both games.
The story was not very interesting to me. Whether or not it was the standards of modern day television tropes or because the original story was not even that great to begin with is up for debate. There are definitely elements in it that were original for its time, but age has brought along stories that have done better with similar themes. I appreciate the concepts of destiny and war, but the story for these games are lacking. Special mention goes out for some of the characters such as ADA the A.I. for having interesting characterization, but a lot of that was overshadowed by the protagonist (of the first Zone of the Enders) who ended up like an optimistic Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis. Basically it means he was annoying without anything to distinguish himself from the rest of the early annoying protagonists of his generation. The second game’s story is fine by all standards but nothing to write home about.
Exceptions are to be made in the design elements of both the world in which the games take place as well as the mechs themselves. There are a lot of cool things going on aesthetically and in HD the whole thing looks pretty stellar. Likewise the Orbital Frame designs are outstanding, save for the fact the cockpit is right between the legs… It’s not very flattering or convincing for that matter.
However, there is reason to see why exactly Zone of the Enders endured so long in the memory of gamers everywhere; The controls are no laughing matter.
The Orbital Frame pilots like a dream with tight controls, varied attacks, and a certain elegance that is almost perfect for a game in which one pilots a large robot. So good are the controls that most of it is left unchanged in its sequel Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner.
If there was one game worth having the collection for it would be for the superior sequel. With a clean cell-shaded art style, it also improved upon an already awesome control scheme. 2nd Runner is the game to remember fondly… Were it not for the frame-rate issues plaguing the game.
In actuality, it really depends on your tolerance for this sort of thing. Throughout the game there were not any serious detriments to the gameplay, but the drops were definitely noticeable especially during the cutscenes. If you can handle anywhere from a .4 – .6 second drop occasionally then you can still get through the game with little problems like me, but I would be lying if I were to say they were not noticeable*.
The clear difference in quality in all regards between the first and second game is quite shocking but the evolution is understandable. The first game laid the foundation of what was to be large ambitions for a seamlessly elegant mech game. The second game improved upon the first in almost every way and were it not for some technical issues would deserve all the adulation I could give.
I was really curious as to what the hype over this game was and I’m glad that I finally got to play it. I can understand now how it succeeded in making a name for itself as a cult title. Sadly the first game’s weaknesses are too apparent and the technical issues too glaring for me to recommend this game wholeheartedly like I would have wanted, but if you are a fan of robots and bigger fan of good robot games, then Zone of the Enders earns its place with the best of them. Just don’t expect anything too much from the story.
*Small note: I reviewed the game for the 360. From what I hear the performance issues are much greater in the Playstation 3 version. Be warned.
[+Design elements are outstanding][+Great mech design][+Amazing Controls][-Lackluster story][-Subpar voice acting][-Very little substance][-Framerate Issues][-The cockpit placement is between the legs (hilarious)]