Sometimes we have to face the fact that times have moved on. Some games have more of a following thanks to their associations than their actual mechanics, and the Zone of the Enders series – produced by Hideo Kojima, and the first of which included a demo for the then much anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2 – feels like such a series. The iconic design of the Jehuty Orbital Frame, an undeniably cool Evangelion-esque mech, will probably spark all sorts of nostalgia for PS2-era gamers, but this remaster of the second ZoE game just goes to show how much we used to have to put up with, even if there are a few shiny new bells and VR whistles.
It’s fair to say that the main Frame designs are fantastic, and if you’re anything like me they’re all you’ll really remember about either of the Zone of the Enders games. Jehuty and its counterpart Anubis take inspiration from Egytptian iconography as much as they do Japanese mech design; they’re lithe, devastating craft that you can well believe are capable of slicing through thousands of less well-endowed craft.
Faced up against similarly cool-looking creations like Nephtis, whose primary attack is to fly straight into youat full speed, or Ardjet who sports a metamorphising cloak, Zone of the Enders 2ndRunner looks at times as though it’s going to be an interactive anime, with incredibly cool mechanical creations trying to mash each other into pieces. While that is true at a few key points, you soon see the game’s limitations.
Beyond the mecha everything is shades of green and brown, albeit now in 4K with the right hardware, and outside of the main boss characters you’ll be taking on a parade of the same robotic enemy goons ad infinitum. The fact that the combat is tight and genuinely makes you feel like a hugely powerful mecha goes some way to alleviate this, as does the game’s short runtime, but you might have had just enough as you’re approaching the end of what is thankfully a slim offering.
Perhaps a longer runtime might have meant that the story was easier to follow, but when you write it down it’s so simple that you can be fairly certain that it’s the fault of the script and the localisation. You take control of Dingo, who discovers the Jehuty Orbital Frame abandoned and frozen in the ice of a distant planet. After being shot by the diabolical Colonel Nohman you’re saved by being paired with Jehuty itself, on the understanding that you’ll help to stop Nohman from destroying everything by pairing his Frame Anubis with yours. You’ll have to go to various places and shoot various things, but the details become fairly inconsequential by the end.
The story sections still look pretty cool, whether they’re short animated cutscenes or talking anime heads, but when they’re spouting the kind of nonsensical tripe they are, it’s hard to become too invested. The English voice acting, or its direction, is also incredibly inconsistent, with Dingo going from disinterested and distant to aggressive and involved in the space of a couple of moments.
But Zone of the Enders is an important series. People are still riffing on Zone of the Enders combat style and you can see shades of it in games like Yoko Taro’s insurmountable Nier: Automata and in more direct descendants such as Project Nimbus: Code Mirai. It also features some fantastic character design work that remains amongst the most memorable of the PS2 era.
Konami perhaps feel like the ace up their robotic sleeve is going to be the game’s VR mode. PSVR owners are able to play the entire game in VR, and while the effect is momentarily very cool as it drops you into your mecha cockpit, it quickly becomes apparent that the game was never designed to be played in this way. Ranged combat is fine, and even when repeatedly boosting like the game needs you to, the comfort settings kept me from losing my lunch, but when you move in to use your energy sword it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the speed of the transitions between enemies.
The low resolution textures apparent in the landscape and buildings look even worse when you’re putting your face right up against them, and the anime cutscenes that look so good under normal viewing just don’t sit properly when you’re viewing them in VR. It’s great to see a company like Konami implementing a major VR mode into a remaster, but it’s ultimately the less enjoyable way to play a tired game. The additional VR model viewer is little more than a distraction.
Hideo Kojima has been accused at various points of promoting style over substance, and in this remaster of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner that’s more apparent than ever. For all of its fantastically designed mech, and its tight and often enjoyable combat, Zone of the Enders 2nd Runner is an ugly, poorly-told and overly short slice of nostalgia that can’t be saved by the introduction of VR.