Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 9.5/10
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is the sequel to 2001’s Zone of the Enders. Fans of the original should consider it practice, since ZOE 2 is where the real challenge starts. ZOE 2 has reached new heights of diversity in gameplay compared to the original, and everything (and I mean everything) about the original battle system has been improved. The visuals have also taken a completely different course into the anime/cel shading direction. If there’s one thing to be sure about, almost any fan of the first Zone of the Enders will enjoy its sequel.
If you felt like me when playing the first ZOE, we were kind of left in the dark as to who the enemies really were and what their intents were. Thankfully, a “Previous Story” movie is included on the main menu screen which gives a recap of the whole first game and explains the different plot holes that were left to question. We learn that an evil “army” named BAHRAM, bent on creating all-around destruction, went to the colony where the first game’s hero, Leo, lived to retrieve an orbital frame (which are what the mechs that are in the game are called) named Jehuty. Jehuty would be used to activate a weapon of mass destruction named Aumaan. At the end of the first game, we were given a non-elaborative statement about what Jehuty’s “final” mission would be, which was to go to Mars and self-destruct in Aumaan. So, we were left to wonder what would actually happen to the characters we saw through the first game, as well as what would happen to Jehuty and its AI named ADA.
Many years after the events that happened in Zone of the Enders, the story picks up with a character named Dingo on a Metatron mining mission on one of Jupiter’s moons. Metatron, being the precious energy substance of the future, was very highly valued. While on the mining mission, Dingo finds Jehuty hidden away in a large box on the moon. Unfortunately for Dingo, BAHRAM did as well. Dingo hops into Jehuty and proceeds with kicking the bejeezus out of all the units sent after him. ZOE 2 is a very straightforward game, and progresses more or less like a regular action game. The “world traveling” parts that were present in the first game have been done away with and replaced with cinematic sequences filled with story. But while ZOE 2 loses the “freedom” aspect, it definitely makes up in keeping the challenges diverse.
The primary objective of beating up an endless amount of ambiguously named enemies has been done away with in the transition to the sequel, but there are still plenty of enemies to slaughter. Raptors, Cyclops and Mummies make their way back into the game, but not without friends and some new characteristics. Raptors, while more or less the same as in the first game, are the most common unit you’ll be seeing. The Raptor AI has been immensely improved, and actually poses a challenge at certain times. The Cyclops, which was just a hard-punching version of the Raptor with no long-range attack, has now become a formidable opponent as well. Using some sort of distortion blast for long-range attacks as well as getting an AI upgrade makes the Cyclops not-so generic of an enemy anymore. The Mummy has also had an AI boost, but besides having the usual couple of sub-weapons to use against you, when defeated can sometimes revert into a Raptor and continue fighting. Other enemies making their first appearance in the game are orbital frames such as Spyders (basically mini walking tanks), Leonardo, Mosquitoes, among others. Just about as often as you’ll be fighting against “regular enemies,” you’ll be fighting boss-like enemies. There are so many different boss battles (not to mention they can take a while) included in the game, and they really diversifies the experience as you play. Each boss is extremely unique in how to beat them, almost reminiscent of the way a Metal Gear Solid game treats its bosses.
Nearly all of the sub-weapons from the first game also made the transfer as well as a couple new sub-weapons. Absent sub-weapons that were featured include the Javelin and Bounder, but the Javelin can be seen being used by a Raptor sometimes. New sub-weapons include the Vector Cannon and the ability Zero Shift. The Vector Cannon is a huge cannon that has so much energy it can blow the crap out of battleships many times bigger than Jehuty, but to use it Jehuty’s feet must be on a firm ground. Zero Shift is the ability to travel from one point to another with almost no time spent between traveling. If you can’t grasp the concept, just think of it as teleporting. The new sub-weapons, as well as enhancements to the pre-existing ones, add another layer of gameplay as you’ll have to use sub-weapons intelligently through the game. Many of the sub-weapons now rely on a pressure-sensitive button command, unlike the original ZOE, allowing for more control over your sub-weapons.
While the gameplay experience being extremely revamped is a very important part of what makes ZOE 2 great, the visual aspects also take a very big part. ZOE 2 is easily one of the most visually impressive console games to come out of this generation, let alone for the Playstation 2. The detail used in mech design, environment, and the use of cel shading to give the game an anime feel along with anime cutscenes really gives it a distinct art style. It’s not 100% cel shaded though, it still uses the “realistic” style seen in most games for a majority of what is seen, but the cel shading amplifies the visuals immensely. Music is also very good and fits in exactly as it should be, and even the J-popish theme song the game has fits in. I may not understand the words in the song, but I still feel the emotion they convey…sniff.
While the game only took me eight hours to beat on normal, it is an amazing eight hours at that. After you beat the game, there is a New Game+ sort of thing that allows you to play through the game again with a different version of Jehuty (whether or not you have certain abilities dictates the version, as well as the look). A Versus Mode is included, allowing you to play against a friend or computer using mechs from the game, but until you beat the game once you won’t be able to play with anything but Jehuty. What will take the largest amount of time, though, are the Extra Missions. Throughout the game, you collect items called Ex Missions that allow you to attempt specific challenges, whether they are survival, objective, etc. What it comes down to, is extending the length of the title quite a bit past the ten hours or so you might spend on the single player mode after one go. Also worth mentioning is that there is a level that is basically one huge, epic battle fighting against literally hundreds of orbital frames while being assisted by only a few allies. Needless to say, it’s definitely a weird kind of adrenaline rush to take part in it.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is a game that makes me clamor for more ZOE-action. Packed full of high-paced mech action has always been its most appealing aspect, but the story is also another factor in its appeal. ZOE 2 is one of the best games for the Playstation 2, but is unfortunately fairly rare nowadays. If you see the game and it interests you, my advice would be to buy it, you won’t be disappointed. Here’s hoping for a Zone of the Enders 3.