Zone of the Enders HD Collection Review
Time to pull out your hipster "I knew about X before you" cards, people. If you were a fan of Hideo Kojima, the man behind the Metal Gear series, way back in the early 2000's, names like Zone of the Enders, Policenauts and Boktai bring back some fond memories. It seems like every gamer out there has nothing but nice things to say about Solid Snake's creator, but few ever mention any of his other, non-Metal Gear achievements. Well, no time like the present to give an HD upgrade to two of Kojima's early titles. As much as I wish that Boktai would be putting the sun into the hands of a whole new generation of players, I'll settle for the update of both the fondly remembered Zone of the Enders PS2 games. Aside from a few flaws, these games are a solid addition to any collection.
Because Zone of the Enders and ZoE: The 2nd Runner are games that have been around for quite some time, I'm going to stick to mostly the high points and talk more about the upgrade to HD. The first thing I want to get out of the way is that both games feature some of the worst storytelling, voice acting and plot development in modern video game history. Though these things are far more jarring in the first title than the second, both games are highly confusing and all over the place when it comes to the various devices used in telling the story. Really all you need to know is that you control Orbital Frame Jehuty (a sleek, massive mech brawler). Everything beyond that is headache inspiring and/or laughably absurd. If you thought Capcom's Lost Planet series made no sense, you ain't seen nothing quite like the Zone of the Enders games.
That is really my only complaint with these titles. They didn't make any sense back in the day, and they sure as hell don't make any sense now. It's a good thing the gameplay, especially in The 2nd Runner, is the real selling point here. Aside from a few obscure titles (every heard of Choushojuu Mecha MG on the Nintendo DS?), mech combat has never been as well designed or executed as it is in these two titles. The first ZoE game, admittedly, looks far less impressive when compared with the 10x faster, more intense sequel, but neither game disappoints, even all these years later. Those who have no experience with either title may not get very far into the first game; the pace and combat are starting to show a little age. I urge those who feel the need to move on to stick with it or simply jump right into The 2nd Runner. It was an A+ game in the PS2 era and manages to still be one by today's standards. Anyone who has gone back and watched the original Thundercats cartoon knows how nostalgia can blur the line between good and bad, but The 2nd Runner is as awe-inspiring as ever.
Because you can read in-depth reviews on these games just about anywhere online, let's move right into the HD upgrades. Konami has done a better than average job on bringing these classics up to modern visual standards. Everything is now presented in full widescreen and all the jagged edges and muddy textures of the originals (again, especially the first game) have been jazzed up and look great. The 2nd Runner's anime cutscenes, though patently ridiculous and mind-boggling, are where the new polish shows through the most. It almost makes them worth watching and paying attention to... woah, don't get carried away - I said 'almost.'
Here's where it gets weird. Despite all this new gloss, there is a huge problem with this collection: the framerate. Both the original ZoE games ran super smoothly on the PS2, but here you run into some serious slowdown when you've got too much going on at once on-screen. This is especially true in the better of the two titles, The 2nd Runner. Curious, I took to YouTube to see if this slowdown was a part of my memory I chose to ignore or if it actually existed back in the day. Guess what? It didn't. This seems to be a problem that exists only in the HD upscaled versions of the games, not the originals. I can't even begin to imagine what happened here. The only silver lining on this dark, slow-moving cloud is that the slowdown doesn't occur all that often. When it does, though, it casts a serious shadow on an otherwise great update of two classic games.
Kojima and Metal Gear fans alike will probably pick up the Zone of the Enders HD Collection simply for the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo that comes packed in with the set. Those people would do well to give the ZoE games a second look once the demo's newness has worn off. These two games were pretty unbelievable back in the PS2 days, and both hold up fairly well by today's standards. The HD framerate downgrade is a mystery and there is no new content in either ZoE game, but this collection is one that deserves a look by all types of action gamers.
Final Rating: 71%. The game deserves a look if you can look past the framerate issues.