The HD collection of our favourite classics from a bygone era is starting to become more and more popular in today's market. We have seen Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, and Hitman, all announce or launch a HD collection of titles to varying degrees of success.
The idea of revisiting popular games from past consoles, upgraded with HD graphics, is a great idea but as the popular TV show Dragons Den has taught us, not all ideas are worth investing in. This then brings me to Zone of Enders HD Collection, a HD re-release of the cult classics Zone of Enders and its sequel, Zone of Enders 2: The 2nd Runner.
Originally developed and published by Konami for the PlayStation 2, these games launched into a market craving mech and anime inspired battles amongst the offering of other PlayStation 2 titles. The Original games were successful enough to launch a 26 episode TV show and feature length anime movie that expanded the franchise.
It surprised me then that after owning a PlayStation 2 and being a fan of anime (including mech titles such as the Macross Universe) that I had heard little about Z.O.E on its original launch. Speaking to many of my friends, they talk about this being a classic but I went into the HD collection with no real ties or emotions for the series.
Being new to the series my first impression was that of the anime action video showcasing the game as a precursor to selecting which game you wanted to play (Z.O.E or The 2nd Runner). It looked amazing, action packed and really thrilling. I was actually excited about playing the game and I hadn't pressed a single button yet. The universe and graphics looked great and I had heard so much positive word of mouth, I was expecting the title to be a sure bet.
It was with disappointment then, that 20 minutes in, I was ready to call it a day. As I sat myself down to play Z.O.E the main protagonist Leo was awful. He was a high pitched moaning child that reminded me of the worst characters of days gone by. As we have matured and the games industry has progressed we have moved away from this stereotype child character and for me he wasn't likeable enough to want to continue helping him on his journey. This is a real problem for any game if the player cannot relate to the protagonist.
It then got worse as I realised that the anime scenes from the start of the game had been exchanged for very poor, some may say amateurish 3D graphics. I was not expecting a lot from the in game graphics but the cut scenes were probably worse than those in game. This was a HD collection but even porting it to HD did not improve anything graphically.
This then brings us to one of Z.O.E HD's biggest floors in that across both Z.O.E and The 2nd Runner there were instances of juddering and frame rate problems that I would have expected to have been ironed out from the original titles. Upon investigating, the original PlayStation 2 titles didn't suffer these issues and this is something new to the HD Collection, a disappointing addition for any fan of the franchise to come across.
The controls are something to admire but the gameplay style is nothing new and doesn't really excite me as a player as it perhaps would have on the game’s original release. You move into an area and button mash your robot into clearing the area of enemy mechs before progressing. As you move throughout the game you can expand your weaponry with different special attacks assigned to the B button, although these weapons add minimal value in the long term.
As I progressed through Zone of Enders I started to realise how dated it was, not just in terms of combat or graphics, but in its overall gameplay. You have to exit an area via the Start Menu, which generates a cutcene and loading screen that takes you to a glorified map you can fly around, then select another area to explore. The areas however are tiny, small towns that have invisible walls around them and that you are forced to revisit throughout the game. When it came to then saving my game, I realised I had to exit the area and go back to the map to save, it all just felt dated and unintuitive.
My overall experience with the first game was a disappointing one that left a sour taste in my mouth after so much promise. I had heard however that The 2nd Runner was a progression for the series and a much more enjoyable experience, so with a brave face I decided to continue my Z.O.E experience.
The 2nd Runner moves away from focusing on the charter of Leo and gives us a much more likable character under the guise of Dingo Egret, who stumbles upon the same mech featured in the original game, Jehuty.
The most notable thing about The 2nd Runner is that in every way possible the series has progressed. The graphics are better, removing the poor 3D cutcscenes in place of more anime video cutscenes. While this is great, the translation is a little off, as the voiceovers do not match the animation, but that is nothing new to any fan of anime (who watch the western translated versions over the original language recording).
Continuing on with the developments The 2nd Runner makes are the in-game graphics, the controls, which have been developed upon and improved, and the difficulty levels, which have been aligned to make the game a lot more challenging, even on the normal difficulty setting. In addition the characters and story are a lot more interesting and enticing for the player.
The best thing about The 2nd Runner is that there is a natural progression as you move from area to area. Yes, there corridors and the game is still very linear, and in some parts you need to revisit areas you have already been to, however unlike the original game, this is far less noticeable and is actually an enjoyable experience (which I really can't say about Z.O.E)
It is a bit disappointing that the Game Boy Advanced game isn't included in the HD collection or that there isn't an inclusion of any of the TV show or feature length movie to round out the experience. For long term fans, an additional piece of material would have been a nice touch but instead we just have two straight ports of the original games.
For fans of the series, I am sure this will be an enjoyable romp, going back to the universe and reliving some great memories of the past, but for new players I would recommend looking at one of the more modern masterpieces than picking this up.