Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I can state with confidence that Japan probably created the whole giant mecha genre. And while it’s not my particularly favorite genre, I have enjoyed the occasional mecha adventure. When you watch as much anime as I use to it’s bound to happen. Playing a game like Zone of the Enders HD brought back memories for me of growing up watching shows like Gundam Wing. So how well does ZoE capture the imagination of what it’s like to pilot a mecha suit?
Zone of the Enders takes place around 100 years in the future when humanity has mastered living in space through terra-forming & orbiting colonies. One such colony outside of Jupiter suddenly comes under attack by soldiers using Orbital Frames, advanced mech suits, who appear to be searching for something important & don’t care about who gets in the way. The “something” in question is a powerful frame called Jehuty. But a teenage boy named Leo stumbled upon it first & finds himself thrust into the conflict when he’s asked to deliver the frame before the enemy gets it… & presumably kills him.
Combat is the name of the game here. Battles take place entirely airborne as you maneuver Jehuty around enemies. Jehuty can attack both at range with a blaster or with an energy blade at close distance. Other abilities include a dash (think of thrusters), guard & Burst, which shoots a ball of energy that can’t be blocked. You’ll also pick up sub-weapons that can help in a variety of situations, such as a sniper rifle or a repair module. Leo is aided in his job of getting Jehuty across the colony by ADA, an on-board AI who helps guide you through various goals in the game. You’ll spend most of your time flying to different regions of the colony to find “drivers” to help you circumvent the enemies’ defenses. There are also the occasional rescue missions where you try to stop the enemy frames before they kill the survivors or destroy the colony.
Narrative: Weak & predictable. What I know of the backstory to this game I learned by reading the game manual. There’s nothing in the game itself that explains anything. They don’t tell you who the enemy is, or why they’re attacking the colony, or even the history behind the frames. It’s a shame, because the backstory is actually fairly interesting. It involves an ongoing conflict between “Earthlings” & “Enders”, people who live on Earth still versus people who live in space. But none of that comes through any in the game itself. Heck, the supporting characters, the ones you’re delivering Jehuty to, don’t even tell you who they are. It’s even hard to tell who the good guys are supposed to be. Sure, you have the “bad guys” attacking the colony, but people on Earth started the whole thing by subjugating the colonists. And then there are the characters, who either have no personality at all or are totally unlikable. Leo, our “hero,” is an obnoxious little prat that needs to be hit upside the head. Every time he opens his mouth he’s either whining or berating someone. It feels like the developers went too far in trying to play up the Reluctant Hero angle. They try to explain his motivations towards the end of the game, & I’ll concede that it’s a good backstory that would otherwise make me feel sympathetic towards a character. But when it’s given in the third to last cutscene in the game (not even joking), it’s a little too late for me to care. They do the same thing with the main antagonist of the game, Viola. And again, while interesting, it’s too late in the game to really affect anything & still leaves a lot out. It’s like they’re just throwing blobs of meaningless exposition at me. And then there’s ADA, who fits the mold of the logical AI that starts to develop human understanding. ADA’s character isn’t bad, but it’s been done before & better. So overall, while the story has some strong underpinnings, it’s just really poorly executed. Score: 2
Mechanics: Aside from some frustrations near the end, I found the gameplay in ZoE to be very fun & engaging. For the most part, combat is very fast & fluid. It was a lot of fun dashing & spinning around enemies while slashing at them with my energy blade. Thankfully the lock-on system works really well & makes close-quarters combat easy to follow &, quite frankly, cool to watch. The long-range blaster is a bit shoddy, mainly because it doesn’t lock on to enemies, but I spent most of my time using the dash attacks so it wasn’t really an issue. The sub-weapons are all varied & useful for different situations. ZoE only has a handful of boss battles, but I thought they were well-done with each boss having its own unique strategy. But that’s not to say it’s not without its faults. For one, there’s a lot of backtracking to previous areas to find a new weapon or program you need to progress. I also couldn’t get the grab mechanic to work half of the time, which led to some fussing on the last area where you have to grab bombs to defuse them & I kept hitting them instead & blowing up. In combat, I kept missing the enemy I was trying to grab & getting hit instead. There’s also a sad lack of variety with the regular enemies, given that there’s only three different types. So overall, despite some glaring flaws, the combat & weapon variety is the best feature of the game. Simple but effective. Score: 4
Aesthetics: It’s always hard to judge fairly with these HD re-releases. The original ZoE was released back in 2001, so obviously don’t expect it to be up to modern standards. However, I thought that the in-game models were very crisp & the movement was very fluid. The frames have a nice design to them. Some of the environments are a bit lackluster, with very little detail. It doesn’t help that the entire game takes place at night. The pre-rendered cutscenes have a strange blur to them, even affecting the captions. And again, the models are much simpler than current stuff. For the soundtrack, you of course have a lot of techno music. But I happen to like techno & thought that the music was pretty good. It’s fitting, at least. And the boss fights have some of the best music. But the voiceacting… it ranges from flat to melodramatic. Leo’s voice in particular grated on my nerves. Honestly, I think his voice is half of the reason why I hated him so much. The others aren’t nearly as bad, but they’re pretty flat & emotionless most of the time. Another small complaint is that the sound of the dash starts to grate on your ears after a while. It reminds me of the sound of scraping silverware on plates. Score: 3
Replay Value: First of all, the game is short. Really short. Even with me maxing out my level & doing all of the rescue missions save for one, it only took me around four to five hours to complete. There is a Versus Mode, but I don’t see that as being more than a novelty that quickly wears out. There’s not a lot of reason to play it more than once unless you want to go for a higher rank by doing better on the rescue missions. I’d say ZoE is a one-&-done kind of game. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: While not a bad game, Zone of the Enders HD is hampered by its bare storytelling & annoying characters but bolstered by its fun combat system. If you’re a fan of the mecha genre, I think it’s at least worth renting just for the combat, but if you’re not into that sort of thing it won’t be winning you over.
Title: Zone of the Enders HD Console: 360 & PS3 Rating: M Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Release Date: October 30, 2012