Reviewed on PS2

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner

Reviewed By: John Wade, IV
VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER
GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: PlayStation II (Sony)
Produced by: Konami/KCET
Price Range: $41-50
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Genre: Action/adventure
Christian Rating: 3 of 5
   (some objectionable elements)
Gameplay: 5 of 5
   (excellent)
Violence: 3 of 5
   (mild)
Adult Content: 3 of 5
   (mild)

Zone of the Enders.  Illustration copyrighted.
Over the past few hours I've destroyed 3,715 mecha. It's one of the coolest feelings I've experienced while playing a game. But alas, if it weren't for a few blemishes Zone of the Enders 2: The 2nd Runner would be one of the greatest games ever made.

In case you were stuck in a hole during the early days of the PS2, Zone of the Enders was a groundbreaking anime-style mecha (think big robots) combat game, produced by the legendary Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear). Most people bought it for the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo but stuck around for the ride. It's fast-paced, frenetic combat system was easy to learn and had a tendency to make onlookers think you were better than you actually are. I know that it inspired many a “cool” and "dude!" in my household. There were a few flaws though, as the main character Leo was a very whiny youth and it made the cutscenes a chore to watch sometimes. The game was also painfully short, and there are stories of people able to complete it in less than three hours and some in one sitting! The ending also threw some for a loop, because *SPOILER* you were face to face with the final boss, and Jehuty's (your mech) AI system locked up and forbade you to fight him. You could only dodge his attacks until a r escue ship came. *END SPOILER* Even if you hadn't played the first game, ZOE2 will bring you up to speed with a “previous story” option on the main menu.

Zone of the Enders.  Illustration copyrighted.

But thankfully Konami must have given in to the fanboys because ZOE2 manages to surpass the original in almost every way. This game is a testament to what all game sequels should be like. The combat is faster, the enemy orbital frames (what the game calls mecha) are smarter, and they got rid of those blasted CG cutscenes in favor of a slick, well drawn anime style (which is produced by Gonzo! Studios, of Blue Sub No 6 and Vandread fame). Even though he didn't direct it himself, Kojima's fingerprints are all over the game. And while this could be a bad thing, just like MGS2 there's 2 parts plot to 1 part action so the game kinda flows like this: Ten minute intro. You hobble around in an old mech. Plot. You fight, yet get some plot. You fight a boss. More plot. Plot, plot, plot… awesome fight scene. Plot. Blow up a fleet of warships BY YOURSELF… plot. Get dropped in the middle of a war with over 1000 orbital frames (seriously), and then guess what? Yup, more plot! The coc kpit cut scenes are basically MGS codec scenes inside Jehuty's cockpit, with anime characters chatting. Another nod to Kojiima is the director's taste for blurry camera angles and green on black monochrome menus. I almost expected Metal Gear Ray to come shattering out of the ocean, complete with Solid Snake hanging on its tail. Okay, I'm going to break away from the Kojima-clich bashing and get to the review.

Gameplay: 5

The gameplay I could go on about for days. It's as well polished as it was in the original, only to a higher degree. Jehuty can still dash, use a blade, fire lasers, and use burst attacks as well as other sub weapons both old and new. Added to the arsenal though, are grab attacks. Once grabbed, an enemy (or certain objects) can be thrown (either at a wall or another enemy), swung as a weapon, swung in a wide circle to take out surrounding enemies, or even used as a shield to protect from enemy burst attacks. The dash burst attack has also been upgraded to include lock-on features. And let me tell you, it looks fantastic targeting 20+ enemies at once and obliterating them with a Robotech-style homing attack.

One of the biggest complaints of the original was it's length. Once you got used to the game, it was easily beatable in one sitting. This has been remedied, but not by much. The first time I finished the game, it took around seven hours and thirty minutes. Not very long by today's game standards… but the action makes up for it tenfold. Don't let my finishing time fool you though, because the timer only includes the time from beginning to end without dying… and I died a lot. Sixty times to be exact… this game is pretty tough. It's very rare that I get shot down by the first boss of a game, but I was defeated twice before figuring out her pattern. Some of the other bosses took at least ten tries. Also included this time are the extra missions, which for the most part is just a timed version of the game's levels with the occasional twist thrown in. Think VR missions and you've got the idea. There's also reasons to go back through the game, because loading your finished dat a allows you to start the game with a fully powered up Jehuty, which allows a few new paths that unlock more extra missions and occasionally a new fighter for the 2-player versus mode (yes, you can use the Vic Viper [yes, the ship from Gradius!!] in VS.).

Zone of the Enders.  Illustration copyrighted.

As far as graphics go, ZOE2 absolutely shines. It sort of throws you off for a moment, having an ultra-realistic looking environment with a touch of cel shading to provide a hint of a hand-drawn look. Forget Oni, this game looks like an interactive anime (again, thanks to Gonzo! Studios). Every piece of this game is absolutely beautiful, especially the workings of mechanical design genius Yoji Shinkawa. The man behind Metal Gear Rex and Ray, his designs complement the feel of the game perfectly. The sounds are all well and fine; explosions sound like explosions, laser blasts sound like lasers, and they all sound as they should from the distance (and location) that they are from Jehuty. Some of the radio chatter between NPCs are a little canned though, and they're very repetitive. Some of the vocal cast of ZOE returns (though aside from ADA I won't say who), and the newcomers are mostly well-acted, especially Ken. The guy that voiced Dingo Egret did an excellent job for the mo st part, but there were a few directorial slips. In one scene, Dingo belts out a well-acted line purveying a certain emotion that is completely opposite from the emotion of that scene, it's pretty funny. However I still would have preferred being able to hear the original Japanese vocal track.

Violence: 3

Actually not too bad, 95% of all the visible killing in the game is robots. Hordes upon hordes of soulless robots. One scene in this game, however, earned the rating of three. In an anime cutscene an important character gets shot mercilessly (and repeatedly) while in a Zero-G environment and the character disgustingly gags and coughs up blood while spheres of blood float around in the hallway. The character suffers until blacking out. It's really quite grieving and the shooting was unjustifiable and cold blooded.

Adult Content: 3

Frequent uses of the H- and D-word. At times words seemed to be tossed in there just because Dingo hadn't sworn in a few minutes. Ken (the female lead) also wears a tight, form fitting jumpsuit and all of the character sketches of her seem to point out this fact. One Easter-egg in the game has Ken pulling off her jumpsuit which reveals that she is wearing a small tank-top after getting in a situation where her orbital frame overheats and she needs to cool down rapidly. The context of this scene though actually makes it pretty funny, and you have to know how to do it to see the egg (like the trick with Meryl's officer uniform in MGS1). Overall, not anything you wouldn't see on TV but it's not exactly pristine material either.

Christian Rating: 3

The original ZOE was M rated as well, but most agree that it was due to the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo that game with it. The second offering is M rated as well, but it earns it this time. There aren't any religious undertones or anything, but it's merely a combination of the middle-range violence and adult content ratings that earn a Christian Rating of 3. One particular character spouts off about Human evolution and acts like the metatron ore is a living, sentient, being and seems to worship the metal… but you get to wipe him across the floor halfway between a planet and a moon, and around an asteroid so that makes up for it in a way. At first glance, some of the mech names may throw a person off. Of course, Anubis's name (and design) bears resemblance to a god of Egyptian mythology, but was not named after it. Shinkawa's high school nickname was Anubis. The Ardjet (Ken's frame) is designed after a Geisha, but this in no way is reflective of Ken's personality. One of the bo sses is named Zakat, meaning “purification” (he's a planet purging orbital frame) and “growth” (He's big. Really big.), and is also the word for the Muslim concept of tithing. None of the above information is pushed on the player, and in fact it required hours of research to come up with this information. Mostly harmless, but I felt it necessary to put it on the platter in case anyone was curious.

Reviewer's Overall Take: Neutral

Being a fan of both anime and blowing up an insane amount of things at once, I really got into ZOE:2. It's very rare that I complete a game, and then turn around and play it over again… but in fact I played through it thrice before lending it to a friend. It's got some grit in it, and I can't recommend this game with a good conscience to anyone younger than seventeen. However any mature gamer that's a fan of frenetic mecha-combat will enjoy this game immensely. Younger or more sensitive gamers need to beware though.


Year of Release—2002



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