Hideo Kojima will long be remembered in the gaming world for his numerous contributions to the industry, most especially the Metal Gear franchise. It is one of the cornerstones of gaming, and Kojima’s name has inexorably intertwined with it since its creation in 1987. But while Kojima’s fame is superpowered by Metal Gear, it’s not his only claim to fame.
Back in 2001, Kojima went in a different direction and tried something new, or new for American audiences. When Zone of the Enders was released, it struck a chord among certain gamers, both in the US and in Japan. It was anime come to life, building on familiar concepts in that medium. The first game, released on March 1, 2001, told the story of an untrained boy named Leo Stenbuck stumbling across a powerful mech warrior, the Orbital Frame known as Jehuty. Explosions ensue.
Despite his lack of training and age, Leo proves to be capable enough to send hundreds, maybe thousands, of enemies to their fiery deaths on his way to saving civilians (and possibly spending the rest of his life in therapy). The second game, Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner, released February 13, 2003, switched to a new character named Dingo Egret, a former pilot who finds Jehuty and leaves a different, completely original trail of destruction in his wake.
The stories were drenched in traditional Japanese storytelling elements, so much so that it went on to become an anime series as well as an OVA movie. The brand was popular and spawned a cult following around it, but it failed to create the lasting franchise that both Konami and Kojima hoped it would be. Kojima blamed poor timing, but has remained a steadfast proponent of the series. Thanks to the current trend of re-releasing older hits with a new HD skin, Zone of the Enders has another shot at life.
The rumors of a sequel have been in the works for years now, and that will probably be determined by the reception of this Collection. Both Kojima and Konami are banking that they don’t need to convince anyone of the merits of their game, but rather just re-introduce it. That’s a good bet too, since the gameplay is what made these games memorable in the first place.
The game is based around constant movement. As you control Jehuty, you are given the freedom to move in a 3 dimensional capacity and utilize different weapons to take out targets. The second game pushes this even further and offers multiple targets at any one time, giving it an even faster feel. As you scan across the dozens of targets, multiple sensors lock on and send out homing missiles, which gives you the feel of perpetual motion and frantic combat.
The graphics upgrade helps, but there are still some design issues in the surrounding world, especially in the textures and environments of the settlements. The game is ambitious in its design though, and while some of the textures are flat under the microscope of HD, the larger sets, like the background of Jupiter are a sight to behold. The mech you fly and the enemies you face, however, are the highlight of the remastered offering.
The combat looks fast and crisp, and the graphics are good where it counts. The first game’s CGI cinematics are dated, but watchable. The second game uses an anime style though, which blends the newer resolution graphics of the game into a more seamless package that could fool you into forgetting that this game was released nearly a decade ago. There are moments where the illusion fades, but they are few and far between.
But again, the highlight is the gameplay, which has been imitated several times but rarely bested. When first released, the gameplay was impressive and original. 11 years of development have seen that mechanism built upon, so the originality has taken a dent, but it is still a style that is under-appreciated. There have been improvements in other games, but the original core mechanics remain relevant and smooth.
The Zone of the Enders HD Collection is a chance for gamers to re-examine a classic series of games that have been cruelly overlooked by all but a handful of gamers that refused to let them die, and for good reason.
These titles are the essence of gameplay first design, which is then subjected to the Kojima treatment, adding layers of themes and ideals to a healthy dose of blended narrative. The HD graphics are nice, but that was never what made the franchise work in the first place.
(This game was reviewed on the PS3 using a copy provided by the publisher)