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• Zone of the Enders 2: The 2nd Runner

developed & published by Konami/2003.03.11
1-2 Players/1 DVD-ROM/Sony PlayStation 2

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Zone of the Enders was one of the better PS2 launch titles, but sold primarily due to the included demo for the then-unreleased Metal Gear Solid 2.  It had promise, and The 2nd Runner delivers on it and then some by dramatically improving every aspect of it.  The storyline no longer focuses on the timid Leo Stenbuck, but Dingo Egret – a hard-boiled runner disenfranchised with the military.  He unwittingly becomes the 2nd runner, and unlike Leo he’s ready to kick some ass.

Jehuty – Not Your Grandfather’s Giant Robot

Zone of the Enders is a mech action game, not to be confused with simulations like Armored Core.  Similar games, such as Virtual On Marz, don’t even come close to this one.  The action is fast and chaotic, but there is a method to the madness as each enemy demands a specific strategy.  Some enemies will defend themselves with shields, some like to rush in swinging, others will stay back and slam you with laser beams.

Jehuty comes equipped with lasers which can be charged up into a seething ball of death, or fired in a huge barrage at multiple targets.  If an enemy gets too close, Jehuty’s standard attack switches to a sword swipe (which can be charged up to destroy forcefields).  You can also grab an enemy, slam them into others nearby or use them as a shield.  Players can pilot the mech up and down and in all directions.

As players progress through the game they’ll earn a dozen sub-weapons which enhance Jehuty’s stock arsenal of lasers and melee weapons, as well as add extra functions such as the zeroshift.  The zeroshift for example allows Jehuty to warp through space, thereby crossing distances instantly – great for surprise attacks or dodging counterattacks.

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Thankfully the game features a much wider variety of enemies and bosses than the first game, as well as a strong set of scenarios for each level.  The bosses are some of the best I have ever seen – both in terms of challenge and design.  In one fight, a boss will conceal himself using a cloaking device.  In another, a computer virus takes over an ally’s orbital frame and you have to deflect its attacks with precise timing to avoid killing your friend – then grab onto the frame and disinfect the virus!

Some levels have you finding and protecting allies, others place you in the middle of a skirmish where you mustn’t harm the good guys, and my personal favorite – destroying an entire fleet of airships one by one with the Vector Cannon.  Tossing the 3d cinemas in favor of anime segments was a smart move, and the game’s many ‘codec moments’ now feature animated character portraits.  The many in-game segments can be directed by the Player with pan and zoom functions.

Visual Flair

When it comes to graphics, ZOE2 is arguably the best looking PS2 game out there. Yoji Shinkawa (famed character designer for the Metal Gear Solid series) delivers his unique brand of mecha, called Orbital Frames.  His beautiful designs are loosely based on Egyptian gods and look nothing like the boxy contraptions seen elsewhere.  Among my favorite details are the energy conduits coursing over the body, pulsing with life.  Fans of Konami’s Gradius series will be thrilled by the unforgettable appearance of the Vic Viper, an ingenious addition to the ZOE universe.

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The designers really went to town on the particle effects.  Lasers, sparks, electricity, and cel-shaded plumes of smoke fill the screen.  An army of enemies take to the air, often a dozen at a time.  In one stage taking a cue from Dynasty Warriors, your radar nearly fills up with red dots representing enemies.  While slowdown rears its ugly head in some parts, it is forgivable given the incredible amount of action on screen.  The environments range from the icy plains of Europa and desert canyons on Mars, to the futuristic interiors of interstellar craft.  Often there are interactive elements in the environment which can be ripped off to use as a shield or projectile.

Music & Voice Acting

The visuals are only outdone by the music, scored by no less than 3 composers.  Its feeling is similar in tone to the Matrix, mixing electronica with symphonic suites, perfectly matching both the kinetic action and epic storyline.

Unfortunately, the voice acting isn’t quite up to the standards set by Metal Gear.  Lines are stilted and poorly written, distracting from the situation at hand, but they generally suit the characters ok.  It’s not nearly as grating as in the original, so at least improvements were made.

Final Thoughts

ZOE2 features time trials, survival modes, a 2-player fighting game, and several options for future playthroughs.  There’s even a 3d minigame called Zoradius based on the first level of Gradius, complete with the classic Konami debug code.  Players unfamiliar with the events of the first game can watch a short compilation of important events and dialog.  All in all, ZOE2 is a finely tuned action game with a great storyline and memorable characters.  The game can be beaten in one sitting on easy mode, so do yourself a favor and play it on normal or hard mode.

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Quick Run-Down

PROS:

  • Excellent game design
  • Excellent production values
  • Good variety of missions, challenge
  • Many options increase replay value

CONS:

  • Too short, especially on Easy Mode
  • Voice-acting could be better

One sentence review: One of the best mech-action games ever made, easily outdoes the 1st game.

One word review: Thrilling.

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