What is a Jehuty, you ask?
Can someone tell me where all the giant robots have gone? I mean, this is the gaming world! I shouldn't be able to turn my head without getting bitch-slapped by an EVA. Remember Armored Core, Front Mission, Sakura Wars, and Mech Warrior? And that's to say nothing of countless other franchises and one-off titles that starred giant, walking/flying/hovering death machines. I guess I like shooting zombies and terrorists with generic, real-world weaponry well enough, but I still find myself longing for jump jets, rail cannons, and laser swords.
It was this long-starved robo-lust that caused me to light up when I received a preview build of Konami's upcoming Zone of the Enders HD Collection. While it received mixed reviews from critics of the day, ZoE has reached cult classic status over the years and I was excited to re-experience the first, and play the sequel, The 2nd Runner, for the first time.
But hungry as I was for some hot frame-on-frame action, I'm a tad disappointed with how ZoE1 has held up, or more accurately, hasn't. The sharpening and cleaning afforded to it by modern tech has only highlighted how sparse and sterile the environments around you truly are. The design of your robot, Jehuty, is as iconic as ever though. It looks and moves like a leaner EVA Unit-01 and that sense of agility and ferocity still translates well in terms of gameplay. ZoE's claim to fame at the time was its speed compared to other mech-based action games of the day, though with the field so thin as it is now, the comparative impact is tough to see.
Without the whiz-bang factor working for it, its stop-and-go pacing and painfully voiced characters grate even more than they did when I played it at release. Jehuty's pilot might be even whinier than Shinji Ikari (totally possible), and has far less reason to be. And his shy, would-be girlfriend is no Rei Ayanami either. Both VO's were insufferable back when the game was visually impressive, but now? It just drives me to drink. Yes, killing people is wrong, even if they want to kill you, I get it kid. Please go blow something up before my buzz wears off?
Thankfully, The 2nd Runner fares far better. I missed it when it hit store shelves in 2003 and it's since become something of a rarity, consistently commanding a price on Ebay that I wasn't prepared to pay. Not only has time been kinder to it visually, but the combat is enhanced and the pacing rectified. It sheds most of the adventure-ish, pseudo-exploration of the original and streamlines it into a cohesive action game. And as an action game, it can still entertain today, allowing a freedom of motion along three axes in a way very few games ever have. Sure, the story isn't really any better, but unlike the first, you spend more time fighting than wandering about and sitting through cutscenes, so it all comes out in the wash. As a bonus, this re-release also includes content from the Europe-only special edition, making it available to North American fans for the first time.
All this said, there's an imagination behind the franchise that I still find alluring. This is an odd choice for an HD remake because it was neither a critical darling nor a smash commercial success. Zone of the Enders is an IP that garners an inexplicable love and fascination, and for me, it still does, flaws and all. I have a feeling other fans of the series will feel the same way, especially when they first boot up to see the new animated opening set to the still breathtaking “Beyond the Bounds”—a track so thoroughly good that, even having never previously played the game it came from, was familiar to me.
The 2nd Runner and a Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo alone should justify the $40 price tag for series fans, but based on what I've seen, I'm not sure this collection is going to rope in new players. I guess we'll see when it hits retail on October 30th.
PS: Am I the only person who wants a Chrome Hounds sequel?