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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Konami
Developed by: Konami JPN
Distributed by: Ingram Entertainment
Genre: Action
Players: 2
Rated: M (Mature)
Release Date: March 11, 2003
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: Link

After searching all over Amazon and EBay for almost a year I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner, the sequel to Konami's 2001 Zone of the Enders (that game with the MGS2 demo). Out of all the mech games I've seen based off of anime shows, ZOE2 is the only one that fully succeeds in making me feel like I’m controlling an anime space battle.

The central element in ZOE's design is a battle system that sort of mixes flying with hack n' slash combat to give the player the ability to tear through large groups of enemy mechs with ease. 2nd Runner takes the system established in the first game and refines the control scheme, adds new weapons and abilities, and makes it look a whole lot prettier.

What makes 2nd Runner is the intuitiveness of its control scheme. You have basic controls for attack, dash, controlling altitude, locking onto enemies, and using different weapons. But even after going through the tutorial to learn the controls, by the time I had reached the fist boss maybe 10 minutes into the game, I had already started to figure out different strategies for the game completely on my own. This gave off an impressive feeling of control despite all the chaos that was ensuing onscreen.

The battle system in 2nd Runner is further streamlined by the fact that things like locking on to enemies and controlling the camera are mostly controlled automatically, breaking the battle system down to simply dashing between enemies and cutting through them with incredible speed while at the same time using the different skills you learn throughout the game to formulate and put into action different tactics on the fly in order to cope with the ever-increasing variety of situations the thrown at you. The main tool that allows you to do this is ZOE2's selection of weapons, which do well to deepen the game’s fighting system.

Throughout 2nd Runner Jehuty – your mech, which in this game is called an Orbital Frame, will receive many different weapons that cause different effects. With one weapon you could slam enemies into walls to inflict more damage, with another you could use decoys of Jehuty to distract enemies, and with another you could create a shield to heal yourself. Jehuty also has the ability to grab nearby objects and enemies, using them as weapons and projectiles. On top of this, most of the enemies you fight in ZOE2 pull their attacks from the exact same selection of weapons that you have at your disposal, allowing you to experience being both on the giving and receiving end of each weapon, letting you more intuitively learn the strengths and weaknesses, and thus the full range of usefulness for each one feel more intuitive.

ZOE2 seems to take the engine from the first game and add in some use of cel shading in the lighting effects and explosions, which all look incredible when the game displays battles of dozens upon dozens of enemies flying and fighting with only occasional framerate dips. The whole effect is enriched by the game's automatic camera, which often puts the action in a more cinematic angle without compromising gameplay. The mechanical designs of Yoji Shinkawa, known for his work on the Metal Gear series, also prove to be another source of the "cool" factor in ZOE2's visuals. It's only when you look at all of this: the flashy explosions, the lasers, and Jehuty zipping through it all effortlessly, and then realize that you are in complete control of everything that's going on, that the excellence in ZOE2's design becomes apparent to you.

The only thing that bugged me when it came to combat in ZOE2 was Jehuty's combat AI, ADA. 2nd Runner could have been much better if it had put a little bit more faith in the player's intelligence. ADA plays a pivotal role in both the game's story, and teaching you the game’s mechanics. But a lot of the time ADA tends to try to hold your hand a little too much, pointing out battle strategies that you probably could have figured out on your own given a little bit of time.

There were also many times, probably almost half of the main game in fact, where I thought that Konami may have tried a little too hard to keep the gameplay varied. Where I thought the battle system was quite deep enough to keep me into the game, Konami also threw in a lot of different kinds of missions in between battles that really came off as being more annoying than fun, mainly because ZOE’s control system just didn't seem suited to them.

When I'm piloting a robot that can destroy entire armies of machines with incredible speed, doing things like navigating through minefields, escorting others, or babysitting entire squadrons of soldiers in what could have been an incredibly entertaining climactic battle end up being situations that simply aren't fun, and because of how persistent they become over the course of the main game, become chores that really drag down the overall experience.

After completing story mode however, which will take you seven hours max, the game does allow you to go back and play through all the game's different battles in a sort of mission mode that lets you set up different parameters like difficulty and weapon availability, further adding replay value. There is also a versus battle mode in the game, but because of how ZOE's camera is obviously made with one player in mind and how the lack of special weapons really cramps the two-player mode’s sense of strategy, this mode doesn’t really hold up to the rest of the game.

Not only does 2nd Runner succeed in allowing you to literally control an anime-style space battle right out of something like Gundam or Macross, it also offers a decent storyline told through animated cutscenes designed and directed by Nobuyushi Nishimura, known for his work on the original Patlabor series as well as several Gundam TV series’ (including Wing).

If you didn't play the first game, 2nd Runner offers a short recap movie on it's events in order to bring you up to speed. Although the storyline of 2nd Runner does expand upon that of the first one and really acts as a sort of macrocosm to ZOE1's microcosm, it's still a relatively simple plotline that doesn't get in the way of the rest of the game. Taking place two years after the first game, The main character focus has been shifted from Leo Steinbuck - the kid from a Jupiterian colony on the outskirts, to Dingo Egret - a former member of BAHRAM (the bad guys from the first game), who has returned to the story's central battlefield on Mars in order to stop a secret weapon from being used on Earth’s forces.

This change in focus allows the story to shift towards a larger scale as well as present the sources of some of the conflicts presented in the first game. For instance, the main character of ZOE2, Dingo, sheds a little bit of light on Viola - the main villain from the first game. You also finally meet Nohman - the leader of BAHRAM - the organization that attacked the colony during the first ZOE. The story of 2nd Runner also centers on the connections between Jehuty, the Orbital Frame that Dingo has taken control of, and Anubis, the one that Jehuty met at the end of the first game but was completely unable to defeat. Even with all this going on, Dingo is really just in it to find and kill Nohman, a madman who’s simply bent on total destruction.

ZOE2 features many different characters, both new and returning from the first game, all of which are adequately well acted by the game’s English voice cast, or at least as well as you could expect from an English dub.

The space opera storyline and anime cutscenes kinda act like the final piece in creating a full experience that allows you to watch a story that features the staples of any good anime series and at the same time actually participate in and take control over the kind of combat that you would normally see in those shows.

Closing Comments
Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner is a game that attempts to give the player the chance to engage into large scale battle situations the likes of which are usually only seen in the most over the top anime shows, and succeeds in that purpose by refining the battle system of the first game into one that is intuitive and fast-paced, giving you a great amount of control over seemingly chaotic battle scenes. Added onto this is a storyline that expands upon the conflicts of the first game and wraps up most of its loose ends, painted by the character designs and animation direction of one of the more influential people in the world of 90s mecha anime.

This alone probably would have made ZOE2 my single favorite game based on an anime license. However, there were too many segments where it felt like Konami was trying to force more variety into the game rather than focus on further filling out the battle system, which is ultimately what drags the game down from getting one of my highest recommendations to just being recommended for a rental and maybe a purchase if found cheap, which due to this game's rarity, is probably very difficult to come by.


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