By Matt Gosper
Another day, another HD Classics release! Zone of the Enders is the latest PS2 franchise to receive the makeover treatment with higher defs, and has seen release on both PS3 and the 360. Featuring both Zone of the Enders and its sequel Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, the HD collection gives both games the new coat of paint I’ve come to love from these compilations.
Zone of the Enders
Originally released early in the PS2’s life-cycle, Zone of the Enders is the OTHER mech-related universe from Metal Gear honcho Hideo Kojima. The game tells the story of Leo Stenbuck a (frankly, quite whiny) young man from the Antilia colony orbiting Jupiter. When the colony is attacked by radical group BAHRAM, Leo is thrown into control of an ‘Orbital Frame’ (aka mech) named Jehuty and sets out to liberate the colony and eventually journey to Mars to assist in the war effort against BAHRAM.
The game itself is fairly basic, not surprising for one so early in the PS2’s timeline – you’ll find yourself journeying from zone to zone to do battle against unmanned robots as well as other Orbital Frames piloted by humans, collecting passcodes and new weapons/abilities, and generally coping with some… retro anime voice acting. The combat system is not too complex, with your standard light attack/heavy attack/dodge abilities as you fly about the 3D environs, although the variety of weapons does spice it up. Luckily the HD treatment has pulled the game forward a fair bit – visual quality has been improved, although cutscenes retain the ‘fuzzy’ quality of previous HD-ified titles where they have attempted to scale-up the original video. Some environmental/special effects feel a lot newer than the base game, but not in a jarring way. The audio has also been retreated and sounds crisp and clear, with the backing tracks in particular feeling very solid. For such an early PS2 title it still feels remarkably playable, a testament to its solid design.
Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner
The Second Runner follows on from the story of the original title, and was originally released two years later in 2003. This time makes all the difference as the game feels far more ‘cinematic’ in the scope of its storytelling, with dynamic cutscenes and a big improvement in the spoken dialog. The game follows new main character Dingo Egret (what a name!) who discovers the Orbital Frame Jehuty mysteriously abandoned on Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons. Not long after the moon is assaulted by returning bad guys BAHRAM, still on the hunt for Jehuty.
Gameplay follows a similar path to the original Zone, with Dingo facing down waves of enemies using a similar combat system. Straight off the bat however, it is clear the system has been refined and improved upon as it feels far more engaging from the get-go. In addition the story is told through consecutive stages/levels, rather than the open-world system used by its predecessor. This gives the game a greater sense of flow, and makes the story feel more structured as well. In-game conversations are now delivered through voiced dialogue and animevideo of the speaking characters, as opposed to the disembodied voices of the first game. Whilst it’s not a revelation, it definitely makes the story feel more involved compared to staring at a fixed camera angle while you wait for the chatter to end in Zone of the Enders.
Likewise, the graphical and audio improvements for The Second Runner really help sell the game for gamers geared more to modern titles. There’s a greater level of detail at work here, and special effects also took a leap forward. The animated portions of the game such as cutscenes and conversation portraits are beautifully upscaled to look clean on modern TVs, which is the kind of attention to detail that has been lacking from some prior HD Classics revamps.
All in all this is a very satisfying burst of dolled-up nostalgia for some, and a welcome introduction for newbies to the series such as myself. On top of this, in a nod to the original Zone of the Enders on PS2 including an early demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the HD Collection includes a demo of the upcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which is sure to do wonders for the game’s sales just as it did the first time around. I highly recommend this burst of retro gaming for anyone with a penchant for blowing up things with giant robots.