The great thing about sequels, when done properly, is that they’re a chance for developers to improve on mistakes in the previous game. They need to listen to the critiques of gamers. Fortunately, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, seems to have taken the criticisms levied on its predecessor & worked to improve itself. Many of the problems I had with the first game are gone, or at least improved upon. So how does that make the game fare?
The 2nd Runner picks up two years after the first Zone of the Enders ended with the new main character, Dingo Egret finding the Jehuty on Callisto while mining the moon for Metatron. Before he even has the chance to wonder why the frame is there, ships from the Mars military BAHRAM attack the moon to take Jehuty back to power up some enormous weapon. Dingo, formerly a runner for BAHRAM, has a dispute with the clearly insane leader, Nohman. And then Nohman kills him. But instead of that being the end of the story, Dingo wakes up to find that a spy for the Earth Space Forces, Ken, has saved him by attaching his vitals to Jehuty. This means he gets to live, but can’t leave Jehuty’s cockpit. With no other choice, & eager for revenge on Nohman, Dingo sets out to destroy BAHRAM’s ultimate weapon before it destroys Mars.
A lot of the controls from the previous game have been carried over. Controlling Jehuty, you can fly in any direction, dash, guard & fire of Burst shot. You also have both long & short-range attacks. There are more sub-weapons this time around, & unlike in the previous game where you gathered them like ammo, you now have a sub-weapon gauge that depletes as you use them & restores as you destroy enemies. Two other new attacks are the ability to attack while grabbing an enemy (including a cool spin attack) & homing shots, which you use by holding down the attack button while moving, allowing you to lock on to multiple targets at once. It’s also added an improved ability to sense enemies &, more importantly, incoming attacks.
Narrative: Overall, I think the plot to 2nd Runners is reasonably well done. It continues nicely from the first game, bringing back old characters & showing how they’ve changed while also giving us some new, interesting characters. I also felt it gave a satisfying conclusion. Dingo is a likeable protagonist, much more so than Leo from the first game. He’s portrayed as a “popular” character, liked by those who’ve been under his command, but also cares about those people as well, so he makes for a good hero. The game also does a good job of showing how he transitions from being resentful towards Ken basically holding his life in her hands to coming to under her motivations & caring for her. And thankfully it’s only as a comrade & not so tacked on romance. Amazingly, they actually made Leo a decent character this time around. He’s no longer the same whiny punk from the first game. He’s still a bit daft, but at least I didn’t hate him this time around. But I have to say, I wished they went in a different direction with Nohman’s character. In the first game, although we never see him, he comes across as a good leader. He tells Viola not to throw her life away & seems to care about his comrades’ well-being. But by the end of 2nd Runner, he’s your stereotypical villain out to destroy the universe. When is that ever a good plan? If they played it off as him being a misguided rebel trying to free Mars from Earth’s oppression, I think the story would’ve been more satisfying. I also feel that they didn’t play up Dingo’s life being tied to Jehuty as well as they could’ve. They could’ve made for a really tragic figure but it’s really only shown once near the beginning. So overall, good story but with a few missteps that could’ve made it great. Score: 4
Mechanics: The combat was the best part of the first ZoE, & the same goes for this time around. Combat is as fast & fluid as ever, but the new additions really help add some variety to the fighting. The new moves are incorporated really well into the game. I think the most useful addition is the ability to lock-on to multiple targets to fire homing shots. It makes fighting in large groups much easier. Some sub-weapons are carried over from before, but there are a few new ones. And just like last time, they all work very differently so you can vary your strategies. The ones I tended to use the most were homing missiles and gauntlet. But the best sub-weapon is the Zero Shift, which is the last one you get. It’s basically like a warp that lets you instantly get behind enemies no matter how far away they are. It’s a shame you don’t get to use it more, but given how overpowered it is, I understand why it’s saved for the end-game. The game also adds the ability to tell which direction an attack is coming from off-screen, which is very helpful. There are several new enemy types, each of which poses its own challenge. There are also plenty of boss fights & set pieces in the game, & I thought that each was really well done. All of the bosses require their own strategy. Sometimes you have to knock them into barriers, sometimes you pull their armor apart. I think my favorite boss was the Doctor, because at one point in the fight Jehuty’s sensors are blinded & you have to follow ADA’s directions to avoid attacks. My only complaint in the gameplay department is that there are four sections where you’re supposed to protect other characters. Two require you to fight enemies while keeping other mechs alive while the other two require you to carry a character around. I hate escort missions, but thankfully these sections weren’t too bad. Only the two sections where you’re protecting one person will fail you if they die, the others just affect your overall ranking in the game. Thankfully, you can heal people, which makes some of these sections easier. The only other minor complaint is that there’s no way to change sub-weapons on the fly; you have to pull up your menu screen. But overall, excellent gameplay with a few minor frustrations. Score: 4
Aesthetics: The game has two distinct art styles. The major cutscenes are in an anime style while the actual in-game sections have a sort of cell-shaded look. The anime sections look really nice, & while the in-game graphics aren’t the most detailed, they look okay. Occasionally you’ll have a scene where you’ll get pop-up windows of the characters talking on the screen that are in the anime style over the in-game graphics. I didn’t find these to be utilized well because the characters are mostly static in these windows except for their mouths moving, & it made it hard to see what else was going on. On the audio side, I can’t really say much about most of the music because, aside from the theme song (Beyond the Bounds) none of it stuck out. I can’t remember most of it, but at least none of it took me out of the moment. And the voiceacting is… well, while none of the voices were bad, a lot of the times their delivery was flat. Hardly horrible, but definitely laughable when trying to convey emotional scenes in monotone. Score: 3
Replay Value: Average. I don’t personally see a point in playing more than once, but you can replay the game with unlocked frames. You can also unlock Ex-Missions by finding files throughout the levels that give you challenge stages, which does add to the replay value. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner definitely improves a lot of both the story & gameplay aspects from the first game, but it’s average presentation holds it back from having major appeal. It’s still a fun action game & worth checking out if your a fan of sci-fi or mecha games.
Title: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner HD
Console: 360 & PS3
Rating: M Developers: KCEJ & High Voltage Software
Release Date: October 30, 2012