The phenomenon of HD remakes has been something of a "thing" this generation, with numerous games from the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and original Xbox getting a visual overhaul. Most of the games selected for the HD treatment were best sellers on their original platforms, so it was something of a pleasant surprise when Konami announced the Zone of the Enders HD Collection. The visually distinctive mecha combat franchise garnered a loyal following among core fans on the PlayStation 2, but it never really took off in the United States.
Looking back, the original Zone of the Enders likely sold plenty of extra copies due to the inclusion of the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo disc. The joke among many gamers a decade ago was that they bought a demo and Konami included a free game. Those who decided to try Zone of the Enders were pleasantly surprised by the depth of combat the mecha game offered.
Instead of limiting players to the standard two planes of movement, Zone of the Enders offered up fully three dimensional combat. Players needed to be aware of where their enemies were at all times and had to learn how to use height to their advantage. The speed of the mecha was also a surprise to American gamers, who were used to thinking of mechs as slow and lumbering beasts. Agility is the name of the game in Zone of the Enders.
Telling the story of a reluctant hero, the biggest issue with the original Zone of the Enders was repetition. While the open environments are fun to explore and allow full freedom of movement during combat, the "wash, rinse, repeat" method of killing enemies and moving on to the next objective quickly starts to lose its luster. Of the two, it's definitely the weaker game.
Moving Zone of the Enders into the HD era is something of a mixed bag. The first game appears to perform at a consistent 60 fps, and the combat is still the main draw. Character models shine, even though they don't appear to have an increased polygon count. This is likely due to their design, which looks like something that would be right at home in "Neon Genesis Evangelion." The world environments don't fare as well, with the low polygon models and lack of detailed texture maps belying the game's age.
Visually, the biggest hit is in the cinema sequences. They don't appear to be remastered for the HD collection. Instead, it merely looks as though someone took the original video files and stretched them out. All of the cinema sequences look soft and out of focus as a result.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is a more ambitious game — not to mention the better of the two — both in its original format and here in the HD collection.
The 2nd Runner drops the open map aspect of the first game in favor of a more focused level design. Rendered cinema sequences have been replaced by hand-drawn, anime-style cut scenes. These mini movies look a lot better than the upscaled videos used in the first game, though the in-game environments still have the same low-poly look to them.
Mecha design is still Egyptian inspired, though what's here appears to be more varied than the first game. Combat also comes at you more furiously in The 2nd Runner. The game wastes no time getting you started, and if you're playing on a higher difficultly level, the AI doesn't hold back. The 2nd Runner is designed to challenge your reflexes as well as your strategy. Make a mistake, and you're toast.
Story mode is on the short side for both games (and the story is just as convoluted as any anime), so The 2nd Runner adds a bit of replay value via optional missions, versus mode and even a reimagined version of Konami's classic space shooter, Gradius. Hardcore fans of the franchise will also appreciate the fact that the HD collection provides the special edition version of The 2nd Runner, which was previously only available in Japan and Europe.
Performance-wise, The 2nd Runner isn't quite as solid as Zone of the Enders. While it seems to keep itself near the 60 fps mark most of the game, there are times when it noticeably drops. The PlayStation 2 release had a similar issue with slowdown, though it is disappointing that the issue couldn't have been avoided for the update. Also disappointing is the fact that versus mode is still local only. Being able to go at it with an online rival would have been a stellar addition.
Another quirk worth mentioning is The 2nd Runner's camera system. It was a minor annoyance back then, but it's going to be challenging to step into it as a gamer who's used to today's more flexible cameras. The lock-on system attempts to keep your enemy in range, but it also maps the right stick to target selection. As a result, you're likely to swap targets unintentionally as your right hand attempts to adjust the camera out of habit. It takes a bit of effort to "relearn" the older system. Once you get over that hump, there's a great game waiting to be experienced.
In a nod to tradition, the HD collection ships with a demo disc for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but in this case, it shouldn't be your main draw. While the demo has some strong visuals, it disappoints as far as gameplay. Read our preview for more details.
Ultimately, Zone of the Enders HD Collection is something of a niche product. While the HD remakes are competent, The 2nd Runner is the reason to purchase the collection. It is noticeably the better game, in every respect. The original Zone of the Enders is nice to have for historical sake, but anyone who's not a core fan won't spend a whole lot of time there. It's all about the second outing. If these are ever made available as separate digital downloads, The 2nd Runner will be the one to get.
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