When I was at PAX this year, I had the pleasure of checking out an awesome space combat/mech game called Strike Suit Zero (you can check out my preview here).
As I was playing through SSZ on the show floor, I could help but think about how much it reminded me of the Zone of the Enders franchise. I felt that if the series had continued, it would probably something similar to SSZ. But, with all due respect to SSZ and Born Ready Games, I’ll stop comparing the two games…SSZ is brilliant and you should all go check it out.
As most of you are probably well aware by now, ZOE has recently received the HD re-release treatment. From the brilliant mind of Hideo Kojima comes two games that place you behind the controls of lightning fast and deadly Orbital Frames…or mechs, basically. While the ZOE series may not have risen to such popular heights as another Kojima series, there is still a pretty loyal following for ZOE, and I’m happy to see that it got to have a HD re-release.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the first ZOE game. In fact, even though I knew I played it back when it launched, I don’t remember playing it at all. It’s pretty strange, really. I do have some fairly fond memories of the second game, however. Perhaps that is a testament to how brilliant the second game is when compared to the first game.
ZOE is not a “bad” game by any means, it’s just not as well rounded as its sequel. In fact, if you’re new to the ZOE franchise, think of the first game as a really, REALLY long tutorial…something to get your feet wet in anticipation for the sequel. You’ll get to know the universe, the characters, the whole concept of the Orbital Frames, and how combat works. The problem with ZOE, which is not really Konami’s fault, is that the structure of the game is too one dimensional for today’s audiences. We’ve now come to expect a certain degree of freedom and variety with our games, and the sort of repetition that ZOE offers isn’t something that is very appealing.
Yes, it’s cool to pilot an Orbital Frame, the music has a great sense of atmosphere, and mech combat is truly thrilling, but then level after level, you realize that the same sequence is happening over and over. In addition, the first game’s cutscene graphics aren’t anything to write home about. Unlike the second game, which uses a beautiful and engrossing anime for its cutscenes, the first game just looks…blocky. Which is not that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things; it just happens to show the age of the game.
[quote_left]This melee option is where the game truly shines. It’s really nothing more than mashing the attack button, but man, is it glorious to watch. [/quote_left]Combat is probably the biggest highlight of ZOE. Your Orbital Frame is a major tool of destruction; fast and furious, for lack of a better phrase. When you’re at a distance from your enemy, you have a ranged gun attack, though it’s not the most accurate thing. Get up close, however, and you can bring the pain with your sword. This melee option is where the game truly shines. It’s really nothing more than mashing the attack button, but man, is it glorious to watch.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is everything that ZOE was, but taken to 11. Like I mentioned earlier, rather than the blocky, polygonal cutscenes of the first game, ZOE 2 gets a full blown anime for its cutscenes. Overall, the game looks better as well. There’s a lot more happening at once onscreen, and the number of enemies you have to contend with is dramatically increased. This is evident right off the bat, as ZOE 2’s first mission within the Orbital Frame has you contending with swarms of enemies, a far cry from ZOE’s one or two. The action doesn’t let up throughout the course of the game, either.
It’s like Konami learned whatever they needed to learn with the first ZOE, and wanted to see how much further they could push everything with the sequel. Where in ZOE, variety and repetition were the game’s weaknesses, these same things are strengths in ZOE 2. You get much more varied environments and enemy types, and more freedom to attack the enemies how you see fit (though we’re not talking about the type of freedom that you might find in today’s open-world games).
The sound quality in both games are fantastic, though the voice acting in ZOE isn’t as strong as its sequel. This most likely is due to the fact that the characters are much younger in ZOE than ZOE 2. In ZOE 2, the voice acting is top notch. The character of Dingo is especially well played, and though I have heard many English overdubs to Japanese games sounds less than stellar, this one does not suffer from the same fate.
The music is very well done in both games. I’m always a big fan of games and movies where the music style/genre matches with the tone of the film. I find it ridiculous when a medieval period piece, for instance, breaks into a fight scene and a metal or rap song starts playing in the background. That takes me out of the experience and makes it harder to suspend my disbelief. ZOE and ZOE 2 have a fantastic soundtrack that fits very well with the overall tone of the game. You get pulsating, electronica music throughout the course of both games, and though that particular genre isn’t really my cup of tea, I felt that here, it simply works.
Going back and playing these two game is a blast. ZOE has its shortcomings, but like I mentioned before, if you treat it like an extended tutorial, a set-up game, almost like an Episode One of sorts, then it’ll serve its purpose well. ZOE: The 2nd Runner is where the series truly gets a chance to shine. It holds up surprisingly well even by today’s standards, and it’s still a blast to suit up in Jehuty and take on swarms of enemies.