Even having played video games for almost my entire life and having worked with them professionally for 20-plus years, there are still tons of titles and franchises I’ve yet to touch. One of the biggest that I’ve somehow missed until now was Zone of the Enders, the mecha-focused PlayStation 2 series that was the other project Hideo Kojima had a hand in back in those days.
Zone of the Enders is one of those names that now holds a cult status among certain segments of fans, and on a conceptual level, I can understand why. Though there have been plenty of games focused around giant robots fighting aliens, armies, or even each other across the years, many have been more serious sims, more light-hearted children’s fare, or simply crap. Zone of the Enders, meanwhile, feels like an experience that both pays homage to mecha-focused anime and has some actual care put into it.
As I said, I understand the series’ fame on a conceptual level—but maybe not a tangible one. Actually, finally playing Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner through this new “M∀RS” remaster, I’ve come away feeling really mixed on if that legacy is deserved. I know the best way to experience the game for the first time isn’t 15 years after it was created for the era it existed in, but as someone who lived through (and still plays) the PlayStation 2’s library, there are still elements here that I would have hated even way back then.
That leads me to one particular point in the game, and why my review of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS has arrived so late. Without trying to spoil things too much, there’s a part where you need to traverse what is essentially an invisible mine field using only the spoken directions of a co-pilot. I tell you, with zero hyperbole, that it has been years since I’ve hated something in a game as much as I hated what awaited me there. It’s not even that that particular segment was all that difficult—it was just the absolute perfect mixture of frustration and annoyance. The navigation your co-pilot offers up is obnoxious (delayed by atmosphere-building comments that come every single time they give a command), many trajectory changes come from repeatedly having to make the most minute of course corrections, and following directions perfectly can still lead you off path to be killed instantly.
I fell into the trap many people fall into in other games, where the more frustrated you get, the worse you play, but the more determined you are to win, throwing you into a downward spiral of assured failure. I walked away for a few days, came back, and finally brute forced my way through to the next part of the game. There—still fuming over how much I hated that stupid minefield—I found two more stages that were just the epitome of tedium. I finally got through, completed an admittedly enjoyable boss fight, and then ran into an enemy I realized I just didn’t have the patience for at that point. Instead of choosing to continue when I died, I instead just exited out—which I almost instantly regretted as I remembered the game doesn’t auto save. I’d have to do everything I’d just accomplished all over again, including the minefield.
In that moment, I was ready to give up on Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS. I almost never quit a game once I’m committed to reviewing it, and hadn’t even considered doing so since Blue Estate back in 2014, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. The game had mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted me in a way that games normally never do, and I knew I couldn’t fairly review it in that state. So, I just walked away for a week and half, putting The 2nd Runner completely out of my mind, so that I could come back to it with a clear head and calm heart.
And really, I’m glad that I did, because Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS does have some legitimately enjoyable and iconic moments to it. When things work, they work fantastically, and flying your mechanized Orbital Frame “Jehuty” around the battlefield in order to take out the forces of BAHRAM can feel incredibly unique on a gameplay level. Backing up that gameplay are some genuinely clever ideas, from specific mission objectives to the enemies that you fight to the long list of additional weapons that you unlock over the course of the game. All of that is then backed up by some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top, stereotypical anime-level storytelling and dialog, and it’s all so completely awful in the most adorable way possible.
It’s just, in contrast, when things then fail, they fail to a spectacular degree. Those fantastic core gameplay concepts are marred by problems like an awful camera and an incredibly frustrating lock-on system. When missions aren’t on the higher end of creativity, they devolve into “just throw a bunch of enemies at the player” tedium which gets really old really fast. As interesting as some of the subweapons are, there are so many times when it’s just quicker and easier to use the same few choices over and over—or simply grab enemies and keep chucking them at one another. I’m also not a fan of the game’s save system, as while it allows you to save at any time, you’re actually only saving your progress chapter-wise, not to where you’re actually at at that moment. Finally, while I appreciated the narrative side of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS, it really is a complete and utter trainwreck that will turn off most normal players.
I’ve played many games—especially back on PlayStation 2—where I’ve overlooked huge flaws because I loved the experience they were giving me, and there was just nothing else like them out there to offer me better. I really think that’s the case with Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. There are some legitimately good pieces of a great overall idea, but they’re accompanied by too much other junk, but there’s also not a lot out there that’s even like this in the first place. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS gives longtime fans a better-quality version of the original game with some new bonuses (like VR support, which I admittedly didn’t try because I don’t have the stomach for VR) to freshen things up a bit. If you’re one of those people who deeply love the game, then you probably already own this release. If, instead, you’re like me, someone who had missed out on the ZOE train for all of these years, then the tale of robot-fueled revolution might be better off remaining as the fantasy version you hold in your head.
|Publisher: Konami • Developer: Konami • ESRB: T- Teen • Release Date: 09.04.2018|
It’s easy for me to understand how Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner captured the attention of players back in the PlayStation 2 era, as it offered, and continues to offer, some gameplay ideas and experiences that still don’t exist in abundance to this day. Even back then, however, some of what it does would have been inexcusable to me—and playing the remastered Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS in our modern era, those weaknesses are just too hard to ignore.
|The Good||At its high points, zipping a giant robot around landscapes battling all sorts of mechanized foes is pretty thrilling; storyline and voice acting is awful in all the right ways.|
|The Bad||Too often the action becomes a total slog as you fight the same enemies over and over—while also fighting the camera and lock-on systems.|
|The Ugly||Replying “…that’s serious” with a smile when you’ve just been told that the enemy superweapon will “swallow the entire solar system.”|
|Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS is available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Konami for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|