As you can probably tell by my posts about how to start watching Gundam, I’m a big mecha fan… Specifically, I’m a fan of the so-called “real robot” genre of mecha anime and manga. That specifically refers to robots and mecha that are pure machines, like tanks, that are piloted and often mass-produced. The focus is as much on the people surrounding the mecha and the machine itself.
However, when the PlayStation 2 first launched, the choice of high quality “real robot” games was few and far between. However, there was one game that came out that piqued my interested. And although many would have bought the game purely for the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo disc bundled with it, the game itself is what we’ll be looking at today. Let’s take a look at Zone of the Enders, and see whether it was worth the cost, or if you really were paying for an expensive demo disc.
The base opening for Zone of the Enders is taken straight out of the mecha anime tropes. You control a young boy named Leo who lives in a colony near Jupiter. When the colony comes under attack, you end up inside the cockpit of an Orbital Frame, the mecha in Zone of the Enders. This, for those who don’t know, is a very common start to mecha anime, especially Gundam. So, whilst this may seem like a bit of a cop-out, it’s actually a great move by the writers and developers. Anime fans will be pulled into the game immediately because the opening is so familiar. They could even feel that this is exactly the mecha game they’ve been waiting for, as it effectively puts them in the shoes of their favourite characters (in a sense).
From there, the storyline actually feels like the first half of a season for a mecha anime. It is relatively fast paced but offers little in the way of surprises. On top of this, the character development is minimal, and whilst it does exist, it also feels like only the first half of the events… And that’s because it is; the story actually culminates in Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner.
Because of this, the story of the first game seems to end far too quickly, leaving you with many questions and pretty much no answers. Therefore, if you really want to enjoy and stay engrossed in the storyline of Z.O.E, you’ll need to play the second game as well.
Zone of The Enders, despite a deliberately unfinished story, really comes into its own when you look at the gameplay – especially when you consider that it was released in 2001. In terms of a genre definition, Z.O.E falls firmly into the Third Person Hack & Slash genre. You pilot the “Jehuty” Orbital Frame around the colony, travelling between stages. Then, when you enter a stage, you’ll have a mission to complete and a whole bunch of enemies to hack your way through. It’s a simple concept, but Zone of the Enders pulls it off really well. You just don’t get bored of beating your way through enemies, and part of that is down to the combat system.
You see, the Orbital Frames are almost entirely airborne, including the Jehuty. This means that you need to get used to moving around in 3D, learning to find ways to attack weak points (which aren’t marked like modern games)… This could be from below or behind… Or above.
There are also basic RPG elements in the game, which mostly came down to the fact that Jehuty gains experience points for killing enemies, and levels up when it gains enough. From here, the Jehuty’s skills and attributes get a boost, just like in an RPG. Finally, once you’ve beaten the game (which shouldn’t take that long), you’ll even unlock a local multiplayer module so that you can fight against your friends.
Zone of the Enders relies heavily on its ability to associate itself with other “real robot” anime and manga. This includes the overall visual style of the game, which is heavily styled to resemble an anime show. From characters to locations and mecha, none of them would feel out of place should anyone decide to make a crossover with an actual mecha anime series.
On top of this, the animations for the various different types of strikes and attacks that the Jehuty performs are delightful to look at.
Whilst dated by today’s standards, Zone of the Enders blew my mind the first time I saw it. Everything seemed so smoothly animated, with each enemy mech type also having its own unique style and design. The User Interface is incredibly clean, with all of the life bars, ammo and other data being shown in the corners and edges of the screen. This allows you to have a full and really open view of the entire battle.
And That’s All Folks
The first Zone of the Enders game, whilst acting as just the first half of the Z.O.E story, is an exciting and thrilling game. It is a shame that it finishes so quickly, and only really has you see the colony near Jupiter, rather than building up the world of Z.O.E more… However, for such an early game in the lifecycle of the PlayStation 2, as well as the first in a duology of main storyline games, it works very well.
The gameplay and graphics really sell Zone of the Enders, as the game is just so fun to play, and looks great for a game released almost 17 years ago to the day (it was released on March 1st, 2001 in Japan). If you’re a mecha fan, then this is a game you really need to try out! And if you don’t own a PS2, then there is always the Zone of the Enders HD Collection for PS3, which is a visual reworking of both the first and second game!
Have you played Zone of the Enders before? Would you be interested in trying it? Let me know in the comments below!