Zone Of The Enders
Back in 2001 almost everyone was anticipating the chance to play the sequel to Metal Gear Solid. Konami could have bundled the demo with an old boot and some moonshine and still it would have sold well. Now that I think about it, I wish they bundled it with some moonshine instead. Anyways, instead they took the financially secure route and bundled it with a mech game called Zone of the Enders (henceforth ZOE). ZOE was actually produced by Hideo Kojima, who was the creator of Metal Gear Solid. Does he still have the same magic he had with most of his past titles, or is this game what Mallrats is to the chunky Kevin Smith?
ZOE takes place in the future, but what kind of mech game doesn’t? There is some sort of invasion going on in a domed colony located on Jupiter. The protagonist is a young child named Leo who just saw his friends killed right before his eyes. While trying to find shelter, he inadvertently stumbles upon a powerful Orbital Frame (mech) named Jehuty that he ends up piloting. Leo is then guided by a stereotypical computer voice, which has been in every movie since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Leo reluctantly decides to try to deliver Jehuty to its rightful owners and maybe save his colony on the way.
The main problem with the plot is more of a personal annoyance than an actual fault, so maybe it won’t bother most gamers. Leo, the central character, spends too much time whining about how he wishes he could have saved his friends, but then he cries about how he does not want to kill anyone. I want to have revenge on the villains, not listen to the main character lecture about how killing is wrong. I blame the media for my insatiable thirst of violence. On the plus side, Leo develops well as a character and becomes far less annoying late in the game.
Where ZOE really shines is in the gameplay department. Jehuty controls like a dream and executing the wide variety of moves is a snap. The Orbital Frame can throw enemies into buildings or other baddies or you could shoot them with one of the numerous sub-weapons. When you are close to your enemy, Jehuty attacks the fool with a sleek energy sword. In addition all those methods of disposal, Jehuty can use a speed boost and dish out special charged-up attacks. Occasionally when you attack with your energy sword, the game becomes a button mash fest because of the enemy’s blocking capabilities. Besides that little nitpick, the combat is fairly deep thanks wide repertoire of attacks. I wish there were some kind of combos or multi-hit attacks to add even more depth, but as it stands the combat in ZOE is still great.
A problem with ZOE is that with the exception of bosses, there are only a couple different kinds of enemies. Some of them have a few different attacks, but they are still the same enemies. Perhaps Konami was saving the enemies for the sequel, or maybe they were on a budget? Either way, a few more unique enemies would have cut down the repetition immensely.
ZOE has a lock-on system reminiscent of the N64 Zelda games. Switching between enemies is fast and easy; sort of like me. You can block most attacks, but this isn’t really necessary unless you play on one of the harder difficulties. At least some strategy is involved.
There are basically three types of missions in this game. The first kind usually involves killing enemies until you find a certain passcode to unlock a required weapon or simply destroying a certain object, like a generator. These are almost always relatively straightforward since each squad of enemies displays what they are carrying. A quick zip around the level to find out which squad is carrying what is usually all it takes.
The second type is the boss battles. For the most part they have specific patterns of attack, but very little actual strategy is involved. With the exception of a couple, most can be easily beaten by just circling around the boss and unleashing charged attacks. A little more skill should be required to beat them since most are not even much of a challenge on higher difficulty settings.
The third are rescue missions. In these it is Leo’s job to destroy all the enemies in an area while minimizing the amount of damage buildings take. These can be slightly annoying because you have to watch out where you attack the enemies and whatnot. One of the rescue missions even involved disarming time bombs while enemy Orbital Frames swarm around you. These are a nice alternative to the other missions, plus they are optional. Completing them does not advance the story or anything, but you do get a little extra if you perform perfectly on each one. Too bad it isn’t worth the effort.
ZOE also has two perfectly implemented RPG elements. By far, the best is the inclusion of the world map we all know and love. Instead of advancing from one mission to another in a linear fashion, you can fly over the colony and choose the areas you want to enter. Nonlinearity is a good thing, and I hope more developers eventually realize that. Your Orbital Frame can also level up by defeating enemies. When you engage a group of enemies, you can even escape from the battle. These three cool touches add a lot of depth, partly because I love RPGs.
There is a two-player Versus mode in ZOE, but it either has to be unlocked by inputting a code or beating the game. After spending some time with this mode, it is apparent why Konami “hid” this mode; it feels incomplete. There is no way to play more than one consecutive round without exiting to the character select screen. There is barely any options in the Versus mode and there are even occasional camera problems. It would have been nice if Konami gave more than a half-hearted attempt in the Verses mode. It is nothing more than a 15 minute distraction. What a shame.
The main thing that prevents ZOE from being a truly good game is the length. Right when the story was getting good, the credits started scrolling and I blankly scared at my TV in disgust. The 24 missions are over before you even know it. The whole thing can be beaten in about four and a half hours. When you factor in the cutscenes, it drops down to about four hours. My hopes and dreams were shattered. Excuse the hyperbole, but I expected this game to last at least ten hours.
When this game firs came out, it featured some of the best graphics on the Playstation 2. It has been a couple years, but ZOE is still manages to impress. The levels are enormous and the ones set to backdrops of cities are particularly beautiful. The futuristic colony is a dazzling mixture of skyscrapers, search lights and a few nature-filled levels, like the park. The view distance leaves a little to be desired, though.
The Orbital Frames are meticulously detailed, right down to the cockpit view during some cutscenes. While the Orbital Frames are too original, they do have a unique style that sets it apart from all the other mechs in the anime and videogame world. The special effects are another strong point in ZOE, but at times it can be a distraction when there is plenty of action going on at once. There are motion blurs, massive explosions and a few seizure-inducing weapon effects.
Too bad ZOE is not as easy to listen to as it to look at. Leo has some of the most annoying voice in recent memory. He sounds like the whiny brat everyone beat up in third grade. The other characters fare much better, but Leo is this person you have to listen to throughout the whole game. At least everything is subtitled for the hearing impaired.
There are a couple J-pop songs (pop songs performed by Japanese artists) but they really are not good. They are very new-agey and boring, but that is just my personal preference. You may end up loving the songs. The music played during the levels is usually pulsating techno tunes, which suit the action perfectly. Usually when a game has techno music it comes off as goofy or just plain amateurish, but in ZOE it is actually bearable, and in some cases even enjoyable.
I really liked Zone of the Enders a lot, but the game length is appalling. The gameplay is decent, albeit slightly repetitive and the plot is mildly interesting. These two things alone make ZOE a good game, but with an improved Verses mode and a nearly doubled game length this one could have been a great game. At least it has a Metal Gear Solid 2 demo for the three people who have not played it yet. Overall, this is a definite rental but an iffy purchase. Anyways, moonshine is still better.